Siemens Water’s App: SIWA LeakPlus

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Case Study Overview

Water scarcity is gradually emerging as a significant problem faced by nations worldwide due to growing population and urbanisation levels.

Reducing water wastage

Water scarcity is gradually emerging as a significant problem faced by nations worldwide due to growing population and urbanisation levels. According to the United Nations, the rate of water consumption is twice that of population growth and continues to rise. If this trend persists, it is estimated that approximately two-thirds of the global population will encounter water scarcity by 2025. Aside from the insufficiency of natural resources, inadequate management of water resources contributes to the occurrence of water scarcity.

Water leakage is a global issue and contributes to the problem of poor water management practices. In order to become suitable for consumption, the water we drink is treated as it goes through the transmission and distribution system to get to our taps. Globally, we lose on average more than 20% of the water that goes through that process. Despite the massive investments that go into its collection and treatment, a large proportion of that water seeps into the ground. In some countries (Bulgaria, Ireland, Romania), those figures rise above 30, 40, or 50%. In a small number of countries (the Netherlands, Denmark) they are below 10%.

Nonetheless, in all cases this represents a waste not only in terms of the cost of the investment towards its treatment, but also in terms of misusing a valuable resource that is becoming increasingly scarce, as the recent UN water day highlighted.

As the water infrastructure ages and deteriorates, and expenses rise, it is becoming more crucial for the water industry to avoid the wastage of costly treated water. Detecting leaks in complex water distribution systems can be an arduous task. Employing artificial intelligence that relies on sensor data can substantially cut down on the time required for such work. To analyse the ever-increasing amount of recorded data in water systems, a correspondingly robust solution is necessary.

In this case, Siemens has introduced SIWA LeakPlus, a solution that reduces water losses in water distribution networks with the help of artificial intelligence. A software-based tool, SIWA LeakPlus can be used as an add-on to enhance the capabilities of a digital twin of a water plant by providing additional data and insights related to leaks in the water distribution network.

How does it work?

SIWA LeakPlus, powered by BuntPlanet, is an innovative cloud-based application that enables operators to automatically detect pipeline leaks with minimal effort. It combines real-time monitoring, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and hydraulic simulations to offer a comprehensive solution for water distribution networks. This solution allows data from various sensors to be collected and analysed to identify anomalies that indicate leaks. Using this solution allows leaks to be detected, located, and repaired promptly.

For example, VA SYD, a Swedish water company that operates a total of around 5,000 kilometres of pipelines (2,000 kilometres of which are for drinking water), uses SIWA LeakPlus in two distinct ways. The first of these is a data-driven approach and the second is a model based approach.
The data driven approach uses flow metres inserted into the water company’s network. This allows them to understand the flow that goes through each pipe to build its characteristic profile over time. An AI model is then used to understand how the network affects the flow metres and determine what the normal performance is. Using this information, the AI model is able to detect abnormalities.

Secondly, it interfaces these data with a hydraulic model based approach. Hydraulic models use a ‘first principles’ approach to understand the movement of water through pipes. Information about the diameters, lengths, and gradient materials of the pipes is used to determine the flow characteristics. Importantly, it also collects information about how the pipes interact with one another and how the water moves through them.
This application runs thousands of different scenarios for how the water should be moving through the pipes and compares that to the actual measured data. Based on these calculations, it ascertains where there are variations within the model compared to what is being measured.

Significantly, this allows the user to not only recognise the existence of an abnormality, but to find out where it is located in the network with great accuracy. This application helps the user find the section of pipe that is causing the problem and accurately determine the size of the leak to help support the planning of rehabilitation measures. The early detection also prevents any further damage.

What are the benefits?

Why should we use such a tool? Considering the two aforementioned applications, we can see direct benefits for the end users. It allows them to identify leakage and its location within their network easier and faster. Importantly, it helps them identify very small leaks, including those that are not visible to the naked eye.

For VA SYD specifically, using SIWA LeakPlus contributes to their overall goal of reducing the 10% of wasted water due to leaks – the so-called non-revenue water – to less than 8%. This advances their ambitious target of becoming a climate-neutral, energy-positive water utility by 2030.
Moreover, the incorporation of live data of the network to change the digital model and the integration of different data streams into one model potentially provides various benefits, such as improved collaboration and efficiency. By bringing together different live data systems used to manage asset operation, water companies can create a network of enhanced digital twins to gain a more comprehensive view of their water systems.

Using a solution like SIWA LeakPlus can facilitate the transition towards a connected network of digital twins of water plants by providing a common language and framework for data sharing and analysis, and promoting collaboration and coordination among different stakeholders.
A connected network of digital twins of water plants would allow operators to monitor and optimise the performance of multiple plants and distribution networks simultaneously. This could help to improve overall efficiency, reduce costs, and ensure the delivery of safe and reliable water to customers.

However, to achieve this level of integration and coordination, it is necessary to establish a standardised approach to data collection, analysis, and sharing. This is where a solution like SIWA LeakPlus can be helpful.
SIWA LeakPlus provides a common platform for data collection and analysis related to leaks in water distribution networks. This platform can be integrated with other digital twin systems to create a seamless network of interconnected systems.

By using a common framework and language for data sharing and analysis, operators can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the performance of the entire water system, from the source to the customer. This can help to identify opportunities for optimisation and efficiency improvements, and support informed decision-making.

Important lessons to be mindful of

Often, people who are excited about developing digital twins are enthusiastic about the potential of the technology and wrongly assume everybody else is as well. Those who are interested in developing digital twins should not fall into the trap of having a solution looking for a problem. Instead, they should begin with understanding a problem and providing a solution with a strong value proposition.

Equally as important to the built technology is understanding the product itself, as well as where and how it fits with the potential users: quantifying benefits, ways to bring these to the customers, channels for adoption, and mechanisms for scaling.

Challenges to improving digital twins within the water sector

Developing a tool such as SIWA LeakPlus like this takes many years. This particular product is a collaboration between Siemens and a startup company located in Spain, called BuntPlanet. The joint development and its introduction to the market have been central to the project. It is important for large companies and small companies to work together. For the development of SIWA LeakPlus, Siemens and BluntPlanet adopted an agile approach.

In terms of the barriers experienced throughout the process, they could be categorised into core technical, user-based technical, go-to-market, and customer culture and finance.

The core technology, which includes aspects such as running the hydraulic models in a way that is computationally efficient, is difficult to achieve. Another consideration is ensuring that all edge cases are accounted for within the AI model development, so that the model is not missing out on potential opportunities. This process is time consuming and entails an internal search challenge that is difficult to navigate.

In any digital twin, having something really clever at the core of it is necessary but not sufficient. You have to have it in a way that is easy for operators and people to engage with so they can meaningfully act on it.

Adam Cartwright
Head of IoT applications, Siemens UK

When it comes to the potential improvements of digital twins in any industry, there are a few additional considerations one should keep in mind:

  • Customer needs should be factored in at every step in the process.
  • Large infrastructure businesses are by definition risk-averse because of the potential impact of risk, making new technology adoption challenging. Hence, sales channels and the sales process itself should be adapted to maximise customer success.
  • Similar to the way that risks drive budget allocations and procurement decisions, they also drive customers’ reticence to choose and adopt new technology. This represents another area where the involvement of users and an effective promotional strategy come into play to build trust in the sector.

Many thanks to Adam Cartwright, Head of Internet of Things applications for Siemens in the UK, for generously sharing his time to discuss SIWA LeakPlus.