Welcome back to the second blog in the series relating to a recent Twitter poll we launched to gauge industry audience insights and sentiments in specific Industrial Automation (IA) sectors.  These IA vertical markets include Oil & Gas, Food & Beverage, and Water & Wastewater.  As a reminder, we had just over 32,000 individuals engage with us on their understanding of their industry’s organizational strategies and plans.

This week, we will be covering some thought provoking results involving the Water & Wastewater sector. The question we asked via Twitter was “How much unplanned system downtime per incident is acceptable when it comes to water treatment?”. Almost half of respondents (45%) simply did not know. This blog will discuss the importance of continuous uptime in water treatment and will educate readers about the implications of downtime in wastewater facilities.


Can you recall a high-profile incident where a water crisis made national headlines?  Just looking within North America, how about the poor water sourcing choices that led to the poisoned water of Flint, Michigan?  Or the drought in California?  Or the wastewater sewage pollution that occurred on the East Coast after Hurricane Sandy?  Although not all these issues may not have been a result of downtime – they certainly stress the criticality of water treatment safety.  High profile cases like these really make people think about the quality and management of their drinking water.

Let’s talk about how unplanned downtime occurs in the Water sector.

According to the 2016 AWWA SOTWI Report, here are the top issues facing the Water industry:

  • Renewal & replacement (R&R) of aging water and wastewater infrastructures
  • Financing for capital improvements
  • Public understanding of the value of water systems & services
  • Long-term water supply availability
  • Public understanding of the value of water resources

While these are all relevant issues, all with their own domino effect of consequences, I am going to focus on the top two.  R&R of aging infrastructures, as well as the struggle of financing capital improvements and subsequent delays can both materially contribute to the increased probability of unplanned downtime of SCADA systems that govern the operation of water facilities.

Obviously, the increasing challenges related of raising the financing for capital improvements can further delay the start to refresh aging infrastructures, consequently deepening financial risk exposure.   It’s a dangerous and costly cycle that is a strong contributor to unplanned system downtime – forcing the water facility to perform what would normally be an automated task, manually.  This further increases costs while opening the possibility for human error when dealing with, for example, disinfection/chemical additives or filtration systems/UV operation.

Now that we know how downtime can occur, here are some effects of unplanned SCADA downtime for water facilities:

  • “Blindness” from the plant level to the entire district that an outage has occurred
  • Inability to control remote locations
  • Loss in integration with reliability systems
  • Loss of data/report generation
    • Could affect compliance
    • Loss of analytics

So, now that we know what could go wrong with even momentary unplanned downtime, let’s talk about how much it could cost.  Now, this metric certainly depends on the company size, industry, production volume, etc., but according to the Aberdeen Group, the cost of unplanned downtime went up $260,000 per hour on average between 2014 and 2016.  However, this metric is only monetary.  We must remember that unplanned outages in IA industries, like water and wastewater, can result in damage to the environment, people’s health – and even death. Unfortunately, as practitioners in this field know, it can require a very critical outage to create the momentum needed to provide capital and accelerate decision making to update an infrastructure.

So –  let’s ask the question again:

How much unplanned system downtime per incident is acceptable when it comes to water treatment? And what if you were not sure of the answer, how could you better inform yourself – and your stakeholders?

Here are some options for you to get started

Want to learn more about the cost of downtime in IA? Check out this infographic.  You can also learn exactly how much downtime is costing you by checking out this Cost of Downtime Calculator.

Another great way to explore the challenges associated with automation and instrumentation in the water and wastewater sectors would be to attend WEFTEC – the water quality event, September 30 – October 4, 2017 in Chicago, IL. Stratus will be there. We are proud to join this event because this is an Industry that we are at the forefront of, and so are many of our customers. If you are attending, please visit us at booth #7847.

Follow us on Twitter @StratusAlwaysOn to watch out for the next in the series!

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