An open way of working

A new telemetry system for the water industry was launched in Peterborough in March. Natasha Wiseman went along to find out who would benefit

The WITS-DNP3 telemetry protocol final release is expected in April/May in the culmination of a seven-year project that has involved 26 industry partners and a cost of about £5M. The standardisation of telemetry to a common, open protocol should deliver cost savings to the water companies and create greater flexibility and, hopefully, innovation in the monitoring and control market.

The WITS project was set up in 2003 by water professionals to address the lack of inter-company cooperation and standardisation in the telemetry sector, particularly focusing on monitoring operational assets by telemetry systems.

The initiative was established by individuals from a number of the water management organisations in conjunction with consultants from Grontmij and Parsons Brinckerhoff, to provide greater flexibility in product selection and lower costs when replacing telemetry components.

Until now, having purchased a telemetry system, it has been difficult and costly to connect to third party field devices to the
existing system.

The provision of a universal protocol will enable much greater choice in selection of external devices, much the same as a computer USB port permits any compliant device to be connected to a PC.

The WITS management committee has worked with a core group of vendors to achieve this goal and standardise the way remote telemetry outstations communicate with the main system. The six vendor companies who formed part of the founding membership are already testing WITS-DNP3 enabled products. They are Metasphere, ITT Water & Wastewater, Schneider Electric, CSE Controls, Serck Controls and Technolog.

The product testing and accreditation is expected to be completed by October 2010, signalling the end of the project an its handover to the water industry. While the founder members have shared the cost burden of the research and development, the protocol is open to all.

A user group is being set up to look after the protocol once the project closes. New users will be able to access the WITS DNP3 application notes for the price of the not-for-profit membership fee.

The user group will also manage future changes to the protocol, such as additional functionality. The aim is to protect the protocol and ensure that it is not diluted by individual users making their own adaptations.
Instrumentation companies are also looking ahead as compatibility with WITS-DNP3 is expected to open up their kit to a wider range of customers.

Compatibility may also bring economies of scale, lowering manufacturing
The first standardised instruments are expected to reach the market within the next 12 months. The likely outcome is communications top-ends on instruments such as flow meters or rain gauges which no longer need an outstation to communicate back.

Guy Fitzpatrick, market development manager for monitoring and control at ITT Water & Wastewater welcomed the new standards and said that the benefit was to be able to make one protocol to be shared across depots internationally. He was also keen to explain that the company had developed a convertor so that pump controllers could be switched to the new protocol at a later date.

"These new standards will ensure that users have much more freedom to select from a wide variety of field devices for use on their systems, ensuring the elimination of costly protocol emulations and, in turn, ensuring increased competition."

An estimated 30,000 RTU replacements are expected to take place across UK water companies during the next AMP and the question on the lips of delegates to the launch was - how soon will the water companies make the switch? At Severn Trent Water (STW), the answer is - within the next 10 years.

Speaking at the launch, the utility's telemetry strategy service manager, Julie Robinson said that STW's legacy system consisted of 6,000 networked telemetry outstations. The company had decided on a planned switchover rather than a replace-on-fail scheme.

After undertaking feasibility work, STW expects to have replaced all its pre-AMP1 systems by April 2011. A rolling programme
will then undertake about 800 outstations each year, reaching completion in AMP6.

Anglian Water is taking the opposite approach, moving towards a replace-on-fail switchover programme. It expects to undertake 3,200 outstation replacements in AMP5.

Systems integrator Capula is working with Rockwell and Multitrode to deliver Thames Water's framework for process remote telemetry units (RTUs). Legacy replacements are estimated at 5,600 in AMP5.

In the words of WITS chairman Malcolm Tyler, "You can take what we've done, implement it and squeeze out the benefits."

It is for the end users - and the supply chain - to analyse just how valuable those benefits are.

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