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  • Helping a water utility overcome communication redundancy limitations

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The Collaborative Automation Partner Program (CAPP) works with technology partners who provide essential elements to our overall customer solutions.

The Collaborative Automation Partner Program (CAPP) works with Strategic Partners around the world who provide essential components to our overall customer solutions. This strong collaboration between Schneider Electric and Gold Strategic Partner Niobrara R&D was showcased in a project for Dallas Water Utilities.

Over the years, intelligent valve/gate actuators have become very popular in industrial process control solutions. They are cost-effective options because they reduce communication wiring as compared to the more typical signal wires. Additionally, these actuators deliver important diagnostics information to plant maintenance staff, helping to improve system life cycles.

Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) provides water and wastewater services to approximately two million people in the Dallas metropolitan area. It operates three water treatment facilities (Bachman, Elm Fork and Eastside) and two wastewater treatment plants (Central and Southside). DWU’s objective was to develop the Southside process control system expansion project in line with their mission to plan for the future while also providing reliable service to its customers at a fair cost. 

In addition, DWU needed to implement significant enhancements to the automation control schemes at the Southside wastewater treatment plant. Its last requirement was to introduce more contemporary network bus technology, such as Modbus, along with intelligent valve/gate actuators to become more efficient during the installation and maintenance of the system. They selected Schneider Electric to provide the best possible solution, and Schneider Electric, in turn, worked with its Automation Partner Niobrara R&D.

The challenge

One of the primary goals of this project was to utilize intelligent valve and gate actuators to reduce wiring costs and deliver valuable diagnostic information to plant maintenance staff. However, some challenges needed to be addressed: 

  1. The ring network with EIM actuators communicating to Quantum PLCs via two Modbus ports had never been done before. Schneider Electric, Niobrara R&D, EIM Controls, and the design team worked together in planning and configuration meetings to ensure a successful outcome. Schneider Electric advocated the use of a third-party communications QUCM card, because it would support two Modbus Rs-232 ports.

    This product from Niobrara would allow Modbus messages to be routed to/from independent Modbus slave devices. Each port on the QUCM card usually operates independently. However, Niobrara was extremely confident they could develop the right firmware to make the QUCM support a Modbus ring that would achieve the right redundancy for the customer.

  2. The compatibility factor: Early research showed that the QUCM module could only be placed in the local rack of a PLC. In this case, Southside would experience continuous wiring problems with actuators located at different parts of the plant that did not have PLCs with processors, but instead had RIO drops communicating to PLCs in other locations.

The solution

To overcome these challenges, additional programming was required so that the QUCM module could perform the redundancy DWU was looking for. The successful collaboration between Schneider Electric and Niobrara R&D resulted in the best possible customized solution for the customer. The new firmware would allow the actuators to be configured in a ring topology for better communication.

The solution used a Modbus serial network with ring topology to provide reliable communication and control of the intelligent valve actuators supplied by EIM Controls. 

This solution was able to dramatically improve the response times in communications with the EIM valves. Also, the QUCM could adjust its own response time based on the actual response time of the valve. The success of this project was possible thanks to the commitment of the Schneider Electric field personnel and CAPP partner Niobrara R&D.

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The Collaborative Automation Partner Program enables you to build a complete solution by selecting technology from our partners and integrating it with the Schneider Electric offer.
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