All Tied Together

A Colorado water district streamlines system monitoring and control with a SCADA-integrated network of wireless data radios.
All Tied Together
The new system based on FreeWave Technologies radios has enhanced reliability of data transmission, improved performance and saved time.

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A key to optimizing water district operations is to monitor key parameters such as tank levels, pressures, temperatures and functions such as pump control. Before 2007, Parker (Colo.) Water and Sanitation District had a communication system that monitored critical data, but in a cumbersome manner with limited integration of technologies.


When technological advances led the water district to replace its programmable logic controllers (PLCs), it also looked for a more efficient communication solution. This district selected and installed a SCADA-integrated network of wireless data radios that has enhanced reliability, improved performance and saved time.

Pursuing quality


Parker Water and Sanitation District has almost 17,000 single-family equivalents. It serves a growing community and a 43-square-mile territory. In line with its mission statement, the district sought communication technologies to provide services “economically and without interruption.” A highly efficient and reliable radio network was one way to enhance operations and help ensure that customers receive the best possible service.


The district looked to technology solution partner Process Control Dynamics (PCD Sales) for help in finding a real-time option for wireless technologies to integrate with its SCADA system.


Before finding a solution, the district used five types of radios for data transmission, each with different network settings. This made it difficult for the radios to communicate or talk over each other. Essentially, the system consisted of several incompatible networks, resulting in a disjointed, congested and noisy environment.


The system was able to monitor data, but there was at least a 10-minute delay in data transmission. Additionally, if a problem developed with the network, a SCADA programmer had to drive out to the field and fix the issue.

Complete overhaul


In 2007, the district’s 25 PLCs needed to be replaced. At the same time, the district decided to give its network a complete overhaul. The radio solution had to effectively transmit data across a hilly landscape with varied weather.


After replacing the PLCs, the district sought a best-fit radio technology that would enable faster, more reliable communication, help optimize water operations, and enhance public safety by constantly monitoring critical data in real time. Team members determined that an integrated system could transmit critical data in real time and as frequently as managers required.


PCD Sales directed the district to FreeWave Technologies, a provider of wireless data radios that easily integrate with SCADA systems. FreeWave also provided network design, path study analysis and diagnostic tools.


Tool Suite software, provided at no added charge, allowed the district to diagnose and configure the radios from the SCADA programmers’ desktops. This saved significant time by freeing technicians from driving to make on-site repairs on remotely located radios. Working with PCD Sales and FreeWave, the district mapped out and identified locations for network gateways. The team then had a clear path of development and a chance to test the radios before integrating them with the communication network.

Mix of models


The FreeWave radio models integrated with the network include:


HTPlus radios for industrial-grade, high-speed Ethernet communications that require high throughput. They operate in harsh environments and noisy RF conditions. Delivering data at up to 867 Kbps, they are designed for SCADA backhaul networks. The HT product family supports UDP, TCP and serial communications.


FGR Series Radios. These 900 MHz serial radios can be used in various applications and are available in ruggedized or water-resistant enclosures.


FGR2-IO. These 900 MHz input/output (I/O) radios provides high performance and versatility in wireless transmission of process-control signals. They offer transparent acquisition, transport and reconstruction of analog, digital and power signals, eliminating wiring. They are used for tank level monitoring, pump and valve control, temperature and pressure monitoring, and compressor station monitoring and control. 


The network had to be strategically designed to ensure effective data transmission. Today, Parker Water has separate networks for the wastewater and water sides of its operations. For wastewater, the network design consists of FGR master and slaves.


The water side design required more detailed planning and engineering. To ensure reliable data transmission, the network consists of three layers. The first layer is comprised of the network gateways. In the second layer, HTPlus radios are connected to the gateways. Some of these radios are connected through a subnet, essentially a subdivision of the IP network consisting of FGR radios (the third layer).

Improved performance


With the radios, the district can communicate with every PLC in its network. If the old network design with incompatible networks were to be drawn, it would look like a funnel. The new design would look like a flattened-out and evenly distributed path.


The new system allowed Parker Water to increase its bandwidth by a factor of 100, and the radios are far more portable than the previous technologies. If no radio is located where one is needed, the district can pull one from a less important location to repair a priority location in a couple of hours.


There is no need to wait for communication, as data is available in real time. District staff can program and modify the radios remotely and monitor the health of the radio network with FreeWave diagnostic software. For radio issues not immediately resolved in that manner, the district has used around-the-clock support from FreeWave to help make sure radios are up and running as quickly as possible.


By selecting a radio technology that integrates with its network, Parker Water achieved easy installation, and increased performance and reliability. As the district expands, it plans to continue adding FreeWave radios as needed.

Proceeding with planning


Much of the district’s success in establishing an integrated communication network can be credited to network design and path studies that allowed the utility to develop a network able to deliver real-time communication across long distances despite hilly terrain and varying weather.


Parker Water also cites its ability to diagnose and configure communication issues from desktops, along with quality support, as key success factors.


Every utility’s communication needs are different. Parker Water’s experience shows that utility decision-makers should do research and fully understand their systems’ requirements before settling on a technology solution. With help from PCD Sales and using FreeWave, Parker Water created a reliable network for critical data transmission.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS


Curt Goldman is marketing manager/utilities with FreeWave Technologies. He can be reached at cgoldman@freewave.com. Leo Kamenetskiy (lkamenetskiy@pwsd.org) and Clay Martin (cmartin@pwsd.org) are instrumentation and control/SCADA programmers with Parker Water and Sanitation District.



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