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Making Difficult Connections

July 22, 2020
Equipment connectivity is essential in a digital world. Having the right tools in place is crucial.

As more operational decisions depend heavily on the ability to consistently and securely access data, seamless connectivity to data generating equipment is a must. Doing so within a single plant manufacturing facility has its own host of challenges. However, when crucial equipment and infrastructure sprawls out across an array of geographical locations, the challenges and associated costs can compound quickly.

Case in point: Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). GLWA provides water and wastewater services for nearly 40% of Michigan’s population including the City of Detroit and approximately 100 suburban communities. GLWA’s infrastructure includes five water treatment plants, one wastewater treatment plant, 40 pump stations, eight combined sewage overflow (CSO) facilities, three interceptors as well as over 250 remote sites.

With a critical infrastructure that’s one of the largest in the country – treating over 1.7 billion gallons of water to serve 4 million people daily – GLWA needed to ensure a seamless data connection to their remote sites. Although the remote sites had power, they lacked the network connection needed to send pressure, flow, level and valve position data back to GLWA control centers.

With the goal of transitioning away from its reliance on a radio connection, GLWA added wired fiber connection to a few critical remote sites. However, they discovered that it was costing them close to $200K per remote site, and they quickly realized this was not cost-effective or scalable.

The solution? Finding a stable cellular solution that could bring everything together, Ali Abdallah, infrastructure administrator at GLWA tells IndustryWeek. To get the ball rolling, GLWA turned to Tempered and worked with a solution architect to deploy a proof of concept in a lab environment where it would be possible to quickly establish a data connection from GLWA’s control centers to a physical airwall gateway.

“The test demonstrated how seamless, simple and cost-effective it could be to connect to our critical remote sites,” he says. “We quickly realized how seamless, simple, and cost-effective it could be to connect to our critical remote sites. GLWA’s initial deployments were to 13 inflatable sewer dam sites with radio connection issues.”

After ensuring a data connection with a working proof of concept in their internal lab, GLWA deployed the Tempered Airwall solution to 15 of its most critical remote sites. These sites were able to share data on pressure, flow, level, valve position and more at a fraction of the cost of a wired fiber connection.

Also, knowing that Tempered’s modem accepts two different SIM cards provided GLWA with the freedom to use whichever cellular provider it wanted. Some of GLWA sites are underground, which can make it difficult to get a connection, explains Abdallah. “That was one of the first things I wanted to test,” he says. “After our Tempered engineer set up the software online and brought us the hardware, I took one of the connected laptops to an underground site, and it worked! The cellular signal was great, and it saved us from having to put an expensive antenna underground.”

Scalability was also crucial for GLWA, especially considering that the authority has so many locations to connect. “Every time we needed to connect to a remote site, all I’ve needed to do is send over another physical airwall gateway,” he says. “Instead of trying to troubleshoot older technology, or spend a lot for a wired fiber connection, we have a solution that is a fraction of the cost and much more effective.” 

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