The advances in technology that underlie Industry 4.0 will reshape the business and economic landscapes over the next 10 to 15 years.

Boston Consulting Group

The principles of 4.0

The third industrial revolution saw a step change in our ability to gather data and automate processes. The fourth – known as Industry 4.0 – will see this data used to improve connections between these processes. Resulting in better human decision-making, an increase in machine-to-machine communication or in full automation.

The most innovative industrial companies are already leveraging far greater levels of connectivity to improve their primary production process. However, many of these same companies are yet to recognise the impact that Industry 4.0 could also have on the secondary processes such as the supply and treatment of water.

Operational risks and opportunities

Industry 4.0 is more than software or technology, it’s a strategic decision which will fundamentally alter (and improve) the way a company operates. As such, it is as relevant to secondary processes such as wastewater treatment as it is to the primary manufacturing process and it can help manage operational risks.

We often see the same three operational risks related to wastewater treatment plants at our clients.

High opex

Calamities or underperformance at industrial wastewater treatment plants. This can result in incidental operational costs that can be extremely high and is at odds with the continuous pressure to reduce costs and become more efficient and effective. We see unnecessary cost as a result of high energy and/or chemicals consumption or suboptimal biogas production, all as a result of suboptimal operation.

More stingent discharge standards

The second operation risk is (non)compliance: to meet the applicable environmental and discharge standards. Here we have on the one hand standards that get more stringent every year and on the other hand the fluctuations that industrial wastewater is known for; industrial wastewater, when compared to municipal wastewater, has a big variety in flow and composition (even more so after primary processes are optimised!), making its treatment quite a challenge. Non-compliance can lead to fines, negative publicity or even put the whole production at risk.

Limited in-house knowhow

Thirdly, we must acknowledge that wastewater treatment is a secondary process. This often means that Industries only have a couple of in-house experts and operators with the proper knowledge and experience to run a wastewater treatment plant. Losing one or two key people can already lead to substantial problems, simply because their knowledge leaves the organisation with them.

Aquasuite - management of operational risks

In a way these three risks are connected. Not enough in-house knowhow can lead to non-compliance, resulting in high incidental costs. Applying data and software to improve on your plant’s performance will minimise these risks and even create opportunities of cost savings. The Aquasuite software in combination with our expert operational support, will help you manage these operational risks. How?

Aquasuite connects to the existing system (SCADA, PLCs, process databases) and sensors. It then collects and analyses historic and real-time data to make predictions. Aquasuite’s virtual operator uses the predictions to control the day-to-day operations with optimum efficiency and effectiveness. As an operator and manager, you can supervise the performance of the treatment plant through dashboards and data visualisations, which helps you focus on the right events and to make informed decisions, fast.

Industry 4.0: it's about people

Discussion of machine-to-machine communication can perpetuate the idea that the goal of automation is to replace the human workforce. In fact, human input is essential to the successful implementation and full exploitation of Industry 4.0. Our consultants work directly with your on-site operators allowing us to create a powerful and effective partnership in operational support. This human relationship provides the opportunity to combine the specific expertise of the on-site specialist with our industrial wastewater treatment domain knowhow and advanced Aquasuite software. As a result, you leverage the best of both human skills and the power of automation.

Our goal is not just to improve efficiency and robustness of the treatment plant, but also to increase and secure the on-site knowledge, so that it becomes and remains accessible to you, our clients. We do this by combining Aquasuite software and expert operational support by our team of industrial water experts. And, because of the Aquasuite software, we can do this efficiently and remotely. Our clients agree that this is a powerful combination.

  4.0’s secondary potential | Royal HaskoningDHV

Hand-in-hand with sustainability

As mentioned earlier, the improvements 4.0 could bring to the quality and accessibility of data can ensure the company remains compliant with regulation, reduce costs and is able to build a back-up system to safeguard knowledge and expertise. Alongside this, the advances could support industry as it seeks to find more sustainable ways to use water and energy and to deal with waste. Expectations around the circular economy will also benefit from improvement in communications both within individual sites and in the wider industrial ecosystem.

Application of Industry 4.0 (and Aquasuite and Operational support) will lead to both a cost reduction and risk reduction. Through optimised information and control can we ensure compliance, reduce cost for energy and nutrients, increase biogas production and most important, prevent calamities as much as possible. The Aquasuite platform in combination with expert operational support ensures that the operational knowhow remains secured and that the treatment plant can continue to operate.

As cherry on the cake: a well managed treatment plant often is a sustainable treatment plant, lower energy consumption (carbon footprint), and recovery of energy (biogas) and raw materials.

Join the transition

Naturally there will be challenges as we transition to the greater automation heralded by the arrival of Industry 4.0 but there is also huge opportunity. The most forward-leaning companies could see significant positives in terms of efficiency, continuity and ultimately profit if they take a holistic view of their processes rather than seeking to only optimise the primary process.