Influent Flow Forecasting Made Easy

Like the wastewater industry, most food and beverage manufacturing facilities are equipped with massive data systems to monitor and optimize the wide range of operations. These similarly regulated industries are increasingly adopting Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) into their processes to better manage systems and procedures.

Though many water industry professionals recognize the potential of A.I., the public health implications of delivering top-quality wastewater in addition to aged production infrastructure, municipal operators and engineers have not yet enjoyed the same benefits of these technologies.

Several large corporations have invested heavily to develop broad “solutions” to address the challenges of water production industries. Yet, these systems have been hit or miss due to the wide range of data streams and particularities within plants across the water industries.

For decades, water treatment process decisions have been made by plant operators based on information spread across a wide range of systems. Calculations are often made by hand and cautious decisions are chosen to avoid the vast array of potential risks – often without regard to cost or process efficiencies. Recognition of patterns of system behavior is nearly impossible as a variety of staff are tasked with administration of multiple machines on an irregular basis.

What if there was a way to recognize the risks and achieve optimal efficiencies that could address the specific challenges faced by an individual plant, without additional infrastructure investment?

One of the many benefits of the marriage between machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, as utilized by Pluto AI, is the ability to recognize the differences in individual system behavior and processes to make more informed decisions to improve plant efficiencies while controlling for potential risks.

Utilizing the existing data from each individual plant, the EZ Influent Flow Predictor will forecast influent flow and detect anomalies to help operators predict future plant behavior and upcoming challenges. The machine learning aspect of our proprietary algorithms analyze and continuously learn from the existing data that impacts incoming flow and Artificial Intelligence maps out the data to provide actionable insights to operators to determine the best course of action based on the range of potential risk factors present.

Our unique system of dashboard insights and alerts have helped customers achieve compliance and save thousands in operational costs.  A pilot version of the EZ Influent Flow Predictor is available for free to a limited number of treatment plants, learn more about how to enroll.

Predict Tomorrow’s Influent Flow With Today’s Data

Wastewater plant operations make important operational decisions based on the influent flow rate to the plant, and despite the ample availability of sensors, there is no accurate industry standard for predicting influent flow rate to the plant.

Knowing the performance of a collection system is difficult because there are few industry-recognized benchmarks on what “performance” is and how it should be determined. Performance of sewer collection systems are often simply educated guesses. Quantifying the areas of highest inflow and infiltration can be difficult due to large networks of pipes, the expense of water monitoring, and varying weather conditions impacting soil saturation.

Municipal sanitary sewer collection and conveyance systems are an extensive, valuable, and complex part of the nation’s infrastructure. Collection systems consist of pipelines, conduits, pumping stations, force mains, and any other facility collecting wastewater and conveying it to facilities that provide treatment prior to discharge to the environment

Plant operators are responsible for ensuring there is enough treated water available for pumping into the distribution or discharge system as well as enough water to maintain ongoing operations. Many operators overlook production water in addition to effluent pumping rates when determining influent rate, this factor ensures treatment is consistent.

Influent flow rates are usually estimated by the operators based on experience and local weather forecasts. These back-of-the-napkin calculations are necessary to engage in master planning for the future of the facility. Determination of the future capacity should be based on needs and sizing, as well as the plant’s ability to meet regulations in the future, and expected timing to update or build new facilities, are all impacted by the irregular and unpredictable amount of influent entering a system.

EPA estimates that the more than 19,000 collection systems across the country would have a replacement cost of $1-2 trillion dollars. The collection system of a single large municipality can represent an investment worth billions of dollars. Usually, the asset value of the collection system is not fully recognized and the collection system operation and maintenance programs are given low priority compared with wastewater treatment needs and other municipal responsibilities.

Typically, small amounts of infiltration and inflow are anticipated and tolerated. Yet, unpredictable weather can increase this load and cause overflows. Management of these events are costly in terms of unplanned labor expenditures, repair of damaged equipment and health and environmental impacts sometimes incurring monetary fines and coverage on the evening news.

As one of the most serious and environmentally threatening problems, sanitary sewer overflows are a frequent cause of water quality violations and are a threat to public health and the environment. Beach closings, flooded basements and overloaded treatment plants are some symptoms of collection systems with inadequate capacity and improper management, operation, and maintenance. The poor performance of many sanitary sewer systems and resulting potential health and environmental risks highlight the need to optimize operation and maintenance of these systems.

Wastewater collection systems suffer from inadequate investment in maintenance and repair often due in large part to the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” nature of the wastewater collection system. The lack of proper maintenance has resulted in deteriorated sewers with subsequent basement backups, overflows, cave-ins, hydraulic overloads at treatment plants, and other safety, health, and environmental problems.

Managing these complex water systems relies on heavy physical infrastructure and reactive governing attitudes. This is changing with the development of cyber-physical systems, real-time monitoring, big data analysis and machine learning with advanced control systems through the Internet of Things (IoT). These “smarter” systems; in which technology, components, and devices talk to each other and feed information to each other in a more sophisticated way bring about a more optimized, efficient process.

Data provided by weather radar are important in weather forecasting. Rainfall data are typically introduced to provide stormwater information at different locations in the vicinity of the wastewater treatment plant. Several consecutive days of rainfall appears to correlate with increased WWTP flows, indicating a trend that is historically related to interflow.

Goals of prediction to prevent overflows:
  • Reduce ratepayer costs by implementing all cost-effective I&I reduction projects
  • Minimize liability from water pollution and public health risks by eliminating storm-related SSOs
  • Proactive reduce overall I&I to avoid capital costs of capacity expansion in anticipation of future population growth
  • Eliminate enough I&I to offset the environmental and regulatory impact of sewer system expansion and increased water demand

Though sensors helped to combat the overflows in South Bend, Indiana for a while, they could only read out that they were being overwhelmed in a recent storm. Yet, if the data from those sensors flowed into a system powered by Artificial Intelligence, operators could have a forecast to predict that storm and may have be able to proactively divert in preparation.

Predictive influent flow rate information is helpful to determine the the most cost-efficient schedule of operating wastewater pumps. Pluto AI has developed a state-of-the-art prediction system which delivers a high accuracy influent flow forecast based on weather forecasts, recent influent flow trends, and the hydraulics of the plant and sewer system to predict influent flow into a wastewater plant.

To assess extraneous water entering your system at least a year of influent flow data to the treatment facility should be examined. Pluto recommends two. Contact us to learn more about integrating predictive forecasting for overflow prevention into your system.

Sources:
https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/south-bend-s-smart-sewers-overwhelmed-by-floodwaters/article_cb75b63c-aaa9-5b39-9c9c-df4fcd2b62b3.html
https://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dep/water/laws/i-thru-z/omrguide.pdf
https://www.globalw.com/support/inflow.html
https://www.ce.utexas.edu/prof/maidment/giswr2012/TermPaper/Boersma.pdf
https://www.mountainview.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?blobid=6979

Highlights from the 2018 Membrane Technology Conference

Back in March, I attended the opening day of the AWWA & AMTA Membrane Technology Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida to meet Pluto customers. I wanted to learn more about the challenges facing them and explore the new processes and solutions being employed to meet those challenges.

The conference opened with an inspiring keynote address given by Water for People CEO, Eleanor Allen. Her speech offered a glimpse into the progress made through collaborative partnerships of social entrepreneurs around the world to provide potable water to the millions in need. Distinct from the technologically-focused presentations given throughout the day, this talk was an uplifting reminder of the life-sustaining impact of the advancements and efforts of the water industry’s products, services, and people.

After the lunch hour, Val Frenkel Ph.D., PE, D.WRE., of Greely and Hansen, presented a thought-provoking presentation entitled “What We Don’t Know About RO.” Dr. Frenkel provided a comprehensive review of the history of RO systems and the introduction to the commercial marketing dating back to the 1970s. He discussed the impact of specific system configurations to enable different types of RO systems to achieve individual targets of product quality or meet specific operating procedures for different applications.

Dr. Frenkel went on to describe pretreatment of membranes as a cost-effective way to insure integrity. Now that the performance of RO systems is no longer a question of achievability, the longevity and integrity of the RO membrane is the new focus for furthering system performance.

Another talk that stood out was a presentation by Pierre Kwan of HDR, regarding the Basin Creeks membrane operation, “All-Gravity Membrane Filtration: Design and Operational Considerations.” Kwan described an almost certainly unique circumstance of having a water reservoir with enough altitude above the plant to not only eliminate to the expensive pumping usually required but, created the complication of managing high pressure, instead.

Building a sustainable operation under these conditions had several interesting ramifications. Along with this gravity challenge was the high-water quality requirement, the two-stage membrane process implemented was impressive. The net result of this unique system design was that this facility consumed only 5% of the energy typically expected of a membrane plant. Kwan painted a vivid description of how thoughtful, custom design can overcoming the geographical and infrastructure challenges; the result was an compelling speech about how to achieve energy efficiency in the face of adversity.

Overall, the advancements in membrane integrity analysis and the appetite for increasing efficiencies is a rich area for predictive technologies. Pluto’s predictive analytics dashboard has helped several utilities and companies determine convenient cleaning schedules and discover optimal points for normalization of RO membrane trains, typically with a 3-5x ROI. Click here for more information (link to Demo)

Pluto AI Raises $2.1M for Smart Water Management

On World Water Day, I’m excited to announce that we have raised $2.1M in funding from some of the top Silicon Valley VC firms including Refactor Capital (cofounded by David Lee of SV Angel and Zal Bilimoria of Andreessen Horowitz), Fall Line Capital (cofounded by Eric O’Brien of Lightspeed), 500 Startups, Unshackled Ventures, Jacob Gibson (cofounder of NerdWallet), and a few other amazing investors. With such an awesome team around us, 2017 is going to be fantastic.

Pluto is an analytics platform for smart water management. We enable water facilities like treatment plants or beverage processing plants to prevent water wastage, predict asset health, and minimize operating costs. We use cutting edge Artificial Intelligence (AI) to achieve this. Our pilot customers include some of the largest water and beverage companies in the world.

Around 2.1 trillion gallons of clean water is lost in the US every year. With more than 150,000 water facilities in the country, this continues to be a massive problem.

Our goal is to address this issue by maximizing the water resource efficiency. Growing up in Gulbarga (town in southern India), I experienced the effects of water shortage firsthand. I feel that AI has been limited to first-world problems so far, which is why Pluto plans to use it to solve a meaningful problem like the ongoing water crisis. After having published 7 books on AI, I’ve become good friends with it.

Aging assets contribute heavily to water loss, with the average age of U.S. water pipes at 47 years. Replacing them is very expensive! We leverage large amounts of existing data to extract actionable insights that enables water facilities to manage their assets better. Pluto extracts wisdom from unstructured data in real time to enable operators and plant managers to take proactive action.

We are aiming to disrupt a massive industry that is in dire need of a solution. Andrew Ng very nicely posited that AI is the new electricity. It is transforming many industries and water is no different. Pluto is at the forefront of a huge wave of change in the world of water.

Contrary to what people might believe about AI, we are actually using it to create more jobs. We need more water operators to use the insights provided by us to take action. In order to scale it up and have a meaningful impact, we need your support. We are actively hiring right now. If you want to collaborate with us in any capacity, feel free to ping us at hello@plutoai.com.

According to Leonardo da Vinci, water is the driver of nature. Pluto provides the Iron Man suit to that driver.

Deep Learning and the Water Industry

For years, the water industry has been thought of as a slow moving sector that’s resistant to change. This makes it difficult for startups to come up with creative solutions and iterate on them quickly. Water utilities are filling up with new, vast amounts of data that can be utilized to create unforeseen jumps in operational efficiencies and margins. But it’s difficult for startups to build and test solutions because the water industry doesn’t want to change its status quo. This creates an unfortunate barrier for modern technologies to enter the water market. Why is it relevant now? Why do we need to care about it?

Winter is coming

After years of prolonging and promoting the status quo, time and change seems to be catching up with the industry. A change appears to be on the horizon, not only technological, but also psychological. Two key elements have sparked this potential inflection point within the industry — 1) rapid decay of our nation’s water infrastructure 2) proliferation of low cost internet connected devices.

Pipes seem to work just fine. What’s the big deal?

A large portion of our nation’s water infrastructure is either approaching or has passed its useful life. One might say — So what? Well, this decaying infrastructure promotes the waste of water resources via leakage and pipe bursts. They also contribute to the introduction of harmful elements into the nation’s drinking water — look no further than the lead crisis at Flint, Michigan. Not only is it irresponsible to waste our most precious resource, it’s dangerous too.

Where’s the data?

In addition to replacing the physical infrastructure elements like pipes, one might also wonder about the IT infrastructure. Luckily, given Moore’s Law, we have seen an amazing increase in processing power coupled with an equally amazing decrease in prices; especially for hardware devices. The age of internet connected devices is upon us when you look at sensors, smart meters, and so on. This ecosystem of internet connected devices is collectively referred to as Internet of Things (IoT). This system allows the industry to collect, analyze, and act upon real-time data coming into their IT systems.

How do we analyze that data?

The internet connected devices generate a lot of data continuously. One might wonder — Why do we even need fancy techniques to analyze the data? Why can’t we just use thresholding and call it a day? Well, the good ol’ ways of using manual thresholds to make huge business decisions are not sufficient anymore. The complexities of modern data far exceed the simplistic techniques that people use. We need a machine that can analyze sequential data and extract relevant insights from it. This machine should be capable of adapting to shifting baselines, prolonged delays between cause and effect, learning to detect new anomalies, and so on. A human looking at spreadsheets and manual processes is not going to help you manage your modern infrastructure. This is where Deep Learning becomes extremely relevant. People tend to think of it as some dark magic. It is actually a really effective tool that understands sequential data from sensors like no other technique ever has. It’s beautiful in so many ways!

Moving forward

As of right now, the world is only in the 4th inning of the IoT revolution and the US water industry might be even further behind than that. With that said, the future looks potentially bright when one considers the power and responsiveness of the real-time monitoring capabilities the IoT devices offer. Additionally, as the water industry’s analytical sophistication and mindset increases, they will have the ability to leverage these data streams into predictive insights, in addition to reactive monitoring. Some areas of opportunity include predictive asset management, anomaly detection, demand forecasting, and operational efficiency.