When one SCADA is better than five
The Utility Department at the city of Fort Smith, Arkansas, provides water and wastewater services to 150,000 people within the city limits and in the greater area. The department recently replaced five disparate SCADA systems with a single, robust software platform. This brought numerous benefits for the department, including continuity of operations across four plants (two water, two sewer), stronger security, improved reporting and uniform HMI graphics that standardise operations and training across all sites.
The new SCADA, which includes 51 RTU sites, puts all data into one seamless system. In choosing and implementing the software for the project, the utility department worked with systems integrator Brown Engineers of Little Rock. The two organisations worked closely on the project for a year, completing it in late 2019.
The utility now uses Ignition software from Inductive Automation — an industrial application platform with numerous tools for building solutions in HMI, SCADA and the IIoT.
Lance McAvoy is utility director for the City of Fort Smith Utility Department and the project had been a goal of his for quite some time, and he is happy with the result.
“First is continuity of operations,” he said. “I can look at all the SCADA with the plants, distribution system and collection system all from one terminal as opposed to having to go to individual locations to see each one. We have four treatment plants and two of them are located in other counties. One of them is a 45-minute drive from my office. Now we can jump on a terminal and diagnose remotely.”
Training is also much easier now, as the utility has been afforded a means to create a uniform visual standard for screens across all the facilities.
“In the past we had multiple integrators with the SCADA software we were using,” McAvoy said. “There was no continuity in screens as to what red meant, what green meant, what yellow meant. Now everybody is on the same page. If I have to pull an operator from one plant to another, when they get over there they’re looking at the same SCADA system. And the security is a huge factor: we have a much more secure system than we did before.”
The five legacy SCADA systems were installed at various times over a number of years, and there were different versions of the software. The HMIs were therefore not uniform, and neither were the naming conventions. Data was also trapped at each facility.
Brown Engineers replaced all five legacy systems with Ignition. It cost the department two-thirds what it would have cost to upgrade the old software. The utility also gained more modern technology, greater access to data, streamlined operations and scalability for future needs.
To kick off the project, Brown Engineers did a workshop at the beginning of the process to show the department what Ignition could do.
“In the workshop, we showed the staff a lot of the features of the software,” said Dee Brown, principal and co-founder of Brown Engineers. “That was both in terms of graphics and user-defined types (UDTs) development. We got the staff to agree to the colour schemes upfront, and from there it was much easier to keep everything with the same look and feel throughout the system.”
Brown also got input from the department, which was incorporated into the design.
“The workshop was very helpful,” McAvoy said. “We brought in the supervisors at the plant to get the buy-in, to show them that this actually is going to make our lives easier.”
A critical aspect of the project is the Ignition Gateway Area Network, which enables the department to connect multiple gateways together, allowing many distributed features between gateways. It synchronises data across all sites.
“They have five gateways with master/backup redundancy,” Brown said. “The master/backup connections go through their IT facility at a central location. They have a troubleshooting page in case some of their wide area network goes down, and the screens have a tree view of the navigation menu on the side.”
Operators and managers are now also seeing more data than ever before.
“We have status overview pages for the treatment plants and pump stations,” said John Guthrie, project manager for the upgrade. “I can see the information for every pump station in town. I see if there are any new alarms or any pumps we need to address, and I look over the plants to see how they’re doing.”
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