Studies estimate that up to 40% of water typically lost to leaks and theft could be reclaimed using intelligent analytical solutions and that power costs caused by these leaks could be cut by up to 30%..

A quiet revolution is taking place with digitalization. (Image: 2014/Yiu Yu Hoi/Getty Images/Moment RF/MR)
A quiet revolution is taking place with digitalization. (Image: 2014/Yiu Yu Hoi/Getty Images/Moment RF/MR)

What does digitalization mean? It is all about the use of data. How it is monitored, stored and processed across the whole industry from the creation of the pump to its installation and lifecycle of operation. Its impact is potentially profound but pump manufacturers are still coming to terms with the implications. 

Dr Sönke Brodersen, chairman of the VDMA Pumps + Systems Association, said: “Digitalization is something manufacturers and customers are looking for and we see tremendous possibilities. We are a very conservative and traditional industry but there will be a change in our markets, how data is used and processed to the advantage of clients.”

In this new digital era, there are potentially huge advantages but like any revolution there are major risks which have to be assessed and validated as much as possible.

Dr Brodersen added: “There is also a lot of cost, not only between technicians, which is very important, but on a different level, where we have to deal with data security, data ownership, technological solutions and the level of the business model.

“We are in the phase where everybody’s looking to shape the future. There is no clear strategy but every company is working on possible solutions knowing there is no one solution for one pump and one compressor in that one item.”

Digital world

The collection of data is a relatively familiar concept for individual manufacturers. But in the digital world it can be shared relatively easily. This presents a problem in terms of competition but it can also mean more information is available and so better products can be created without every manufacturer having to re-invent the wheel.

Dr Brodersen added: “The first wave of digitalization focused on business to consumer. Now we are looking at a business to business environment where many companies are open and willing to share data.

“Operators are collecting huge amounts of data from their processes but there is a hesitation to share it with suppliers so we also have to think about the common benefits that can stimulate companies to be more open and transparent.” 

Data management is a major challenge. It can range from financial and production statistics to sales figures and social networks, all of which can be stored in the cloud. It is something that Wilo has embraced and is using to its advantage.

Through the cloud, products can be connected and many building installations managed easily from one remote location. (Image: Steffen Schnur/Getty Images/Moment RF/NR)

Sales manager Gero Böhmer said: “The cloud contains this big data, transforms it into smart data and is already a reality in our 4.0 factory in our headquarters in Dortmund. This will decrease our production lead time and increase quality, cost efficiency, and capital reduction.”

Different processes have been applied to customer relationship, supply chain and product life cycle management. In product development, digital prototypes were produced before the products became a reality.  

Communication is another key to digitalization. Through the cloud, products can be connected worldwide and many building installations managed easily from one remote location. Similarly with individual products, a pump can be connected to Wilo when it is sold. It will include an intelligent detection monitor and will lead the customer to any issue and show them the required service times.

Mr Böhmer added: “We might even send a service technician out before the customer requests it. Collecting such valuable information helps ensure continuous quality improvement worldwide and identifies issues with a product at an early stage. Most of this is already included in our new systems and pumps and a team of more than 100 developers are working in this area.

“We have four main pillars for product digitalization. Products need to be smart, easy to use, customized and have a high level of connectivity. We make complex technologies user friendly, simple to use, energy-efficient, and high performance.”

Completely integrated

At Siemens, digital management has become completely integrated into its key oil and gas and water markets with the goal being to maximize performance, efficiency, lifespan and safety through remote monitoring, pre-emptive maintenance and simulated training.

Its Oil and Gas Manager project planning tool can provide all this predictive data which allows companies to assess how a product will perform in the field. Data can also be used to offer assessments of how a product will perform in a particular situation, reducing risk and expense while other areas such as health and safety, energy efficiency and even CO2 emissions can also be predicted for its entire lifespan.

Siemens’ Smart Water Management program addresses particular challenges in the water industry including the detection of costly leaks, the costs of energy-intensive pumping stations and the damaging effects of waste water during periods of heavy rainfall.

Studies estimate that up to 40% of water typically lost to leaks and theft could be reclaimed using intelligent analytical solutions and that power costs caused by these leaks could be cut by up to 30%.

The company’s SIWA technology monitors a plant and indicates leaks. It optimizes the efficiency of pumps, aerators and compressors and controls waste water flows by analysing data and reacting to the results. This results in resulting in lower cost and higher energy efficiency. 

Different scenarios of a network infrastructure can be programmed to simulate different operating modes and conditions while acting as a training module for operators.

For example, at the Elbaue Ostharz plant in Germany, a simulation was run to supply 90 million cubic meters of water over 600 kilometres. The SIWA Optim solution optimized pump schedules to improve efficiency and reduce energy consumption cutting operating costs by more than $370,000.

Similarly at the Erftverband sewage plant in Kaarst, Germany, significant cuts in energy consumption were achieved using a custom process automation solution based on the Siemens Simatic PCS 7. A total of three Simatic embedded controllers running the Simatic WinAC RTX PLC software are responsible for controlling the plant ensuring optimum efficiency.

Siemens is also developing 3D printing as part of its digital services portfolio. The company recently developed the first successful commercial installation and, critically, safe operation of a 3D-printed part in a nuclear power plant.

The original, obsolete water impeller, Siemens' 3D printed prototype and the resulting 3D-printed replacement installed and operating in Krško NPP in Slovenia.

The replacement part produced for the Krško nuclear power plant in Slovenia is a metallic, 108mm diameter impeller for a fire protection pump that is in constant rotating operation. The water pump provides pressure for the fire protection system at the plant.

The original impeller had been in operation since the plant was commissioned in 1981 and its original manufacturer is no longer in business but that was overcome by using the 3D printing technology to produce a perfect copy. As a result, older plants can continue operating and extend their life expectancy providing major savings.

A Siemens designed and manufactured water pump impeller using Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing is operating in Slovenia's Krško nuclear power plant.

Further evidence of the importance of a digital strategy can be seen at global business GE which now describes itself as “the world’s leading digital industrial company.” Recently GE’s Water & Process Technologies announced a collaboration with American Water to provide “a digital alliance that will enable the water industry to harness the power of data and analytics to improve national water infrastructure.”

Analyzing data

To do this, Water & Process Technologies will use its InSight cloud-based Asset Performance Management platform which connects industrial equipment, analyzing data and so helping cut environmental impacts and operating costs associated with water production, treatment, transportation and delivery.

Heiner Markhoff, president and CEO, Water & Process Technologies, said: “We are developing software, advanced predictive analytics and diagnostic tools that will give operators the real-time data they need to better manage their critical water infrastructure assets 24 hours a day.”

Water & Process Technologies is also working with water analytics and technology providers, WaterSmart Software and Smart Earth Technologies (SET) to improve the overall operation of water utilities.

“Using data, remote control and analytics, we are working to transform the way water utilities operate, helping them run more efficiently while also improving the service and value they provide to consumers,” said Ralph Exton, chief marketing officer, GE’s Water & Process Technologies.

Such alliances make it clear that unlike traditional manufacturing where a product is developed and manufactured to meet as many applications as possible at considerable cost in terms of time and money, using digital technology means bespoke solutions can be applied to specific situations if necessary. By continually building data, greater efficiencies can be applied across the board with experience gained from every new project through ongoing development of applications.

In the case of GE, joint applications being developed include digital consumer communication and engagement tools that deliver billing information, leak identification, remote valve control, resolution notifications and insights into water usage.

This information will make it easier for consumers to understand their water consumption habits, save money and protect their property from costly water damage.

Similarly, GE Power recently signed a multi-year service agreement with Centrais Elétricas de Sergipe S.A. for a new combined-cycle power plant in northeastern Brazil. The agreement includes operations, maintenance, repairs and digital solutions as well as the OpShield cybersecurity system.

GE Power has signed a multiyear service agreement with Centrais Elétricas de Sergipe S.A. for a new combined-cycle power plant in north-eastern Brazil.

Digital solutions including Asset Performance Management and Operations Optimization, which run on the Predix platform while OpShield is a specialized internet-connected sharing firewall that helps protect critical infrastructure by monitoring and blocking malicious activity directed at plant assets.

Industry 4.0

Pump manufacturer KSB describes digitalization as the fourth industrial revolution or “Industry 4.0.”  It says: “This combines real-world production and digital processes to create cyber-physical systems. In the Industry 4.0 vision, these encompass the entire system and all processes – also referred to as a smart factory.”

The aim is to adapt production quickly and efficiently in response to changing conditions and new orders. Products and services include the Sonolyzer app for smartphones and tablets that can determine the efficiency of fixed-speed pumps in just 20 seconds.

It does this by recording the noise emitted by the fan of the electric motor and matching it to performance data entered by the user.  By correlating the performance data entered by the user with the hydraulic systems database developed by the manufacturer, the app can determine whether the pump is operating at part load and lets the user know if any energy could be saved by optimizing the hydraulic system or the drive.

All data can be uploaded to the cloud which is then used for continual product development.

Similarly the PumpMeter pump monitoring unit continually analyses performance, providing data directly connected to the process control system. This can then be used to make adjustments to ensure maximum efficiency.

Each physical pump produced by KSB has what it refers to as a “digital twin” based in the cloud. This allows information on the condition, operation and history of the physical pump to be called up at any time. It registers every change in the real product and serves as a central source of information.

KSB’s Sonolyzer app for smartphones and tablets that can determine the efficiency of fixed speed pumps in just 20 seconds.

The data is stored in the cloud and can be accessed on a tablet or smartphone using the QR code on the pump set. As a result, a service engineer not only has direct access to technical data but also the entire pump history, maintenance measures and test reports with photos.

The potential for digitalization is seemingly limitless. It allows for the collection of vast amounts of data to be applied to even an individual pump or to create bespoke solutions for specific areas of operation. The future will no doubt provide further breakthroughs in service and efficiency as the quiet revolution continues.


Steve Davis, Digital Business Transformation Leader, GE Water & Process Technologies +1 215 681 7732

Dr. Sönke Brodersen, Chairman, VDMA Pumps + Systems Association, +49 623 386  3311

Gero Böhmer, Wilo SE, +49 231 41 02 7504

Siemens AG, Water Industry, +49 69 797 6660