Water is energy, and no one understands that better than the water utilities and the service providers who support them. For more than 25 years Water Control has provided expert services for leak detection and pressure management to the Irish water utilities, supplying measurement and control solutions that are essential to the water and wastewater industries.
The rise of IoT has enabled a new generation of devices that send real-time information from the water network, to aid monitoring and regulation of water delivery. But like the water network itself, there are many links in the data chain that gets the information from source to endpoint. Partners include manufacturers of specialist equipment such as hydraulic control valves, service providers like Water Control, and the water utility itself. Which of these should provide the underlying communications – the mobile SIMs – that ensure uninterrupted, reliable delivery of data?
“In the past, customers provided their own SIMs, but that had challenges,” recalls Breifne Conroy, Water Control’s technical director. There might be delays in the delivery of SIMs, or faults in the pre-testing, which meant SIMs weren’t ready for use when engineers arrived on site for an installation.
Alternatively, the equipment manufacturers could provide the SIMs, but that gave Water Control no oversight or negotiating power over data contracts. “We knew we wanted to provide all the SIMs for the equipment we install – but we needed an Irish provider who could give us roaming SIMs that were multi-network, and who understood that reliability is everything in our business,” Breifne said. “That’s what we found in Thinglabs.”
Today Thinglabs provides multi-network SIMs that reliably transmit live and historic data from multiple points within the water utility’s distribution network. This data is used to provide information for better network management, to verify service levels, and to provide the essential remote comms for pressure modulation.
Thinglabs also works with Water Control to provide groups of SIMs that are pre-tested and ready for service, for delivery to equipment manufacturers. The equipment makers then install the SIMs into their controllers before shipping, with the SIMs set to switch on at a future date.
Using IoT Dash, the Thinglabs control panel, Water Control can individualise each SIM with customer name and site-specific information. The dashboard also lets Water Control verify that comms are functioning before engineers go to install equipment with customers. “We’re able to verify the full data chain before we go on-site,” he said, “and there is no data chain without Thinglabs.”
Having a partner who could provide SIMs that fit into any device is a key consideration, too, Breifne said. Thinglabs SIMs provide comms for the mobile devices that Water Control’s field engineers use for data gathering, and for GPS positioning and deployment of water leakage sensors. IoT Dash lets Water Control put different classes of SIMs into separate management groups, for better visibility and control.
Water Control’s relationship with Thinglabs has also empowered it to use mobile comms more widely in its operations. A field engineer can now use a waterproof tablet and app to add health and safety documentation and assessments while on-site – this cuts paperwork and the opportunity for error. “From a management point of view, we also know where the team is and can provide that information to customers in real time,” Breifne said.
And the value to water customers of reliable, continuous comms from their distribution infrastructure can’t be overstated, he said. Using data sent via the Thinglabs SIMs, the water network has the capability to self-regulate, detecting when pressure has fallen below a critical threshold and increasing pressure into the system.
That’s the kind of automation that will become more critical as demand rises, reservoir levels become less predictable, and delivery costs grows – a major cost of water production is pumping, which consumes electricity, an increasingly expensive commodity.
Breifne says that Thinglabs’s expertise, and their understanding of the criticality of the service Water Control provides, is also essential. “They communicate highly technical information in a non-jargon way, and we trust them to deliver what we need,” he said. “It’s also a relationship that we can grow with: we’re looking forward to working with Thinglabs in the narrowband area. They’re a vital link in our data chain.”