The reputational and financial risks of the mismanagement of water and wastewater systems is the subject of a new report published today. The document, ‘Process water and wastewater treatment in the food industry’, points to the vast volumes of water used in food and beverage production and urges companies to do more to offset risk.
The food and beverage industry uses vast volumes of water, and treatment of process water and wastewater is essential to every production plant. These are complex and costly processes, with every site required to meet specific local health & safety and environmental discharge regulations.
“There are significant reputational and financial consequences of putting people, products or the environment at risk through poorly managed systems and processes,” says Dale Kavanagh, Industrial Sales and Business Development Manager, from Watson-Marlow Fluid Technology Group (WMFTG). “Yet there are practical steps companies can take to tighten their procedures and make their processes more efficient.”
Process water - used for food washing and preparation, pasteurisation, cleaning of equipment, steaming and sterilisation, or as an additive or stabiliser - accounts for the largest water use in the food sector, around 31 per cent. At the other end of the production line, wastewater must undergo high levels of treatment prior to discharge or reuse.
Across the world legally binding environmental regulations, such as the European Water Framework Directive, the US Clean Water Act and the Australian National Water Initiative are in place to protect rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater from pollution. They stipulate treated effluent must meet high quality standards before being released into the environment. Food and beverage companies in breach of water quality requirements risk prosecutions and large fines and even having their discharge permits revoked.
The most efficient plants opt for a combination of preventative, reactive, proactive, and predictive approaches. Operators carry out corrective actions promptly and establish procedures to ensure processes are operating effectively, but choice of equipment also plays a key role.
“Water and wastewater treatment are critical to safety and efficiency in food and beverage processing plants and must be maintained to a high standard,” says Kavanagh. “Selecting equipment that is reliable, effective and easy to operate and maintain is especially important in a hazard-critical area like chemical dosing, where the risk of human error has to be minimised.”
The downloadable report explores the critical process of water treatment in food and beverage production, presents case studies and offers practical guidance. It looks at how to mitigate risks from breaches in health & safety and compliance.
Water is an increasingly scarce resource and as the report shows, food and drink is the industrial sector with the highest water consumption. The final part of the report looks at sustainability issues and advises that identifying opportunities for water efficiency at every stage of the process means producers can move towards more sustainable practice.
An innovation accelerator hub to drive transformation within the water sector can be a game-changer, a British Water industry briefing heard.
Heidi Mottram, chief executive, Northumbrian Water, outlined plans for the UK Water Sector Innovation Centre of Excellence at the trade association’s Insight Briefing, held on 21 May 2021, which focused on innovation.
The virtual hub, one of 11 winning entries set to receive funding from the first round of Ofwat’s Innovation in Water Challenge (IWC), is a partnership between several water companies, including Northumbrian Water, and will promote collaboration in and beyond the water sector.
Mottram told attendees, who included suppliers and utilities: “There is huge talent in the water sector, both in companies and the supply chain. I feel very confident that together, working in partnership, we can help improve performance for customers, our community and the environment.”
Stressing the importance of supply chain input to the development of the Centre of Excellence, she said: “We’re interested in ideas on how to make the platform work, so we can build it in a way that works for everyone - the supply chain is critical. We want this to be an absolute game changer in terms of culture.”
Mottram also discussed Northumbrian Water’s open innovation policy, the achievements of its unique innovation festival and its approach to supplier engagement.
She said: “The open and collaborative approach we adopt for innovation is really critical to the way we work with our framework partners in our day-to-day working. I’m really proud of how we’ve engaged with them in finding efficient options for delivery of capital projects, by building strong collaborative partnerships, sharing skills and delivering smarter solutions.”
The briefing also heard from John Russell, senior director of strategy and planning, Ofwat, who gave further updates on the regulator’s £200 million innovation fund, highlighting first-round winners of the IWC, and outlining the Water Breakthrough Challenge, which closed to entries on 3 June 2021. Both challenges are being run by Nesta Challenges, with Arup and Isle Utilities also delivery partners.
Russell said the innovation fund was not only about new technology but also non-technological innovations, such as the use of systems, processes, people and commercial arrangements.
Going on to speak about the wider aims of the fund, he said: “We want to see things that are as much about the architecture of innovation. How do you culturally encourage innovation within the sector?
“Another theme is scalability and deployability. We are as much interested in ideas about how you take innovation that may have already been tested and actually role it out at scale across the sector.”
Russell added that for future competition rounds, Ofwat would be looking at how it can provide stronger incentives for supply chain companies to pitch their ideas.
“We are thinking hard about how we can provide more of an opportunity for third party innovators to interact with companies on specific challenges,” he said,
Discussions during the briefing also covered Ofwat’s Price Review 2024 (PR24), funding for green investment and utilities’ water efficiency programmes.
British Water’s Insight Briefings were launched to give water sector companies of all sizes the opportunity to hear updates, share views and ask questions about key issues affecting the industry. Chaired by British Water chief executive Lila Thompson, the video meetings take place monthly, are free to attend and open to members and non-members.
The next event takes place on 25 June 2021. Register at British Water’s website: https://www.britishwater.co.uk/2021-insight-briefings-session-6.aspx
A game-changing UK partnership that is bringing significant improvements to leak detection rates globally has been recognised by the water industry.
Technology specialist Ovarro and UK utility Anglian Water Services collaborated on the development of remote leak detection device Enigma3hyQ and cloud-based analytics platform PrimeWeb.
Between April 2018 and January 2021, the system found 6,783 leaks on Anglian Water Services’ network, with a 1:1 ratio of leaks found to points of interest issued. The sensors are effective in finding leaks over long distances and inside plastic pipes and have gone onto be rolled out globally, including in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and across Europe.
The achievements of the collaboration were recognised by the Water Industry Achievement Awards on 27 May 2021, which named it Alliancing and Partnership Initiative of the Year.
Judges commented: “This project stood out from a list of high-quality entries with a clear demonstration of the benefits of approaching a major regulatory and customer issue in an innovative way. The collaborative nature of this initiative and the open sharing of knowledge has delivered significant improvements in Anglian Water’s leakage detection rates.”
Leakage remains one of the biggest concerns for the water industry and Ofwat is expecting companies to adopt new techniques to tackle it in AMP7. In collaborating on the Enigma3hyQ project, Ovarro and Anglian Water wanted to develop technology to increase efficiency when compared with traditional acoustic detection, save time, free-up staff and improve leak detection on plastic pipes.
The utility approached Ovarro in 2017 with an idea to adapt existing technology by combining two products – a correlating noise logger and a site-based hydrophone. A development team was established with experts from both organisations to create the Enigma3hyQ system’s hardware and software elements, including a workflow management app and PrimeWeb.
The team refined processes around performance reporting, target outcome delivery, training and integration with business-as-usual leakage operations. Following a trial on 40km of mains in Louth, Lincolnshire, Anglian Water Services began fully embedding the technology.
Anglian Water Service’s smart water strategy manager Andy Smith said: “We very much created the Enigma3hyQ technology together. We didn’t want to just accept what was on offer, we wanted to collaborate to drive for the best solution for the challenge we faced.”
Josh Britton, Ovarro global product line manager, said: “We are thrilled our collaboration with Anglian Water to develop the Enigma3hyQ system has been recognised by our sector peers at the Water Industry Achievement Awards. The project’s success shows how much can be achieved when suppliers work in partnership with utilities, place high value on feedback and take their ideas forward to develop new solutions.”
In 2021, the technology was updated further, resulting in the launch of the Enigma3-BB, a remote leak detection device which uses the Enigma3hyQ technology but which is installed directly into an operational meter box chamber – a first for the industry with this type of technology.
Water utilities are steadily replacing legacy IT systems with Software-as-a-Service applications as confidence in data security builds. As subject matter expert at technology provider Ovarro, Alan Cunningham discusses the latest developments
What is software-as-a-service and where does it fit with water?
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications are cloud-based programs and associated operating instructions that can be accessed via any device with an internet connection, as opposed to a software product that is entirely installed on a device or network. A technology such as Google Docs, where documents are stored on a cloud server, is one example that many will be familiar with.
There may be a small local installation required, for example a mobile app, but data and access are largely managed by the supplier on their systems.
Water companies have traditionally used software products, for example billing systems, installed on their networks. This creates a number of challenges; in particular, it is difficult to install security updates or other upgrades and it is generally harder for suppliers to support the products. Maintaining legacy systems, for which the original technology and infrastructure may be increasingly obsolete is an expensive business but remains a widespread issue for utilities globally.
SaaS provides a mechanism for suppliers to continually evolve the software offering and meet the changing requirements of water companies. The approach typically includes a relatively low upfront cost with regular subscription costs to fund sustainment of the software and the convenience of ongoing support.
How can utilities’ security concerns be addressed?
It is fair to say that water companies have been reluctant to consider any software product that hosted their data outside of their own corporate network, on the basis that they wanted full control of information security. However, in the last five years there has been a big shift in the adoption and scaling-up of SaaS products.
Now that companies are starting to realise the benefits of a SaaS approach, binding contractual agreements and certified standards are providing the reassurance that their suppliers are doing as much as possible to reduce security risks to an acceptable level and manage them effectively.
The key standard for utilities to look for is ISO 27001, the internationally recognised best practice framework for information security management. While the standard is not new it is now widely implemented and recognised globally.
In what areas should utilities be embedding SaaS solutions?
Water companies should now be looking at SaaS opportunities across the board, whenever they are considering a software purchase. They should be weighing up the pros and cons in every case, looking in particular at ease of integration with other systems and data security requirements.
What operational challenges can SaaS solutions help to solve?
One area where legacy systems can be an issue for water companies is the control room, where a 24/7 response team monitors alarms on the network. We know that in many cases sewer flooding and pollution events can be traced back to an initial alarm that was not effectively dealt with.
The new AlarmVision system from Ovarro is a good example of how SaaS can help to solve this challenge. Typically, the number of alarms being raised is too high for staff to investigate fully and action accordingly. They are often swamped by nuisance alarms - for example, a remote device that has an intermittent 3G signal and alerts every time communication is lost - which may mean that a more important alarm is missed.
There are also periods of ‘alarm flood’ where, for example, a power failure at a site results in many alarms being raised due to stopped devices, with a mains failure alarm representing the root cause buried among these.
AlarmVision can connect to an existing alarm system and help water companies understand whether they are in control and how they can improve if not. It identifies regularly occurring alarms and provides analysis of how the pattern of alarms received match shift patterns, so these can be adjusted if necessary. All of this helps ensure that when a significant alarm is raised the required action is taken, reducing the risk of customers or the environment being impacted and penalties occurring.
What are the risks of maintaining legacy systems rather than moving to SaaS?
A major issue is the escalating cost and information security risks to water companies of maintaining legacy systems developed using increasingly obsolescent technology. As an example, extended support for Windows XP ended in April 2014, after which users of the operating system ceased receiving further support or security updates from Microsoft.
One Ovarro client requested continued support of a legacy system that was incompatible with later operating systems. To achieve this, we had to take substantial precautions to maintain a secure support environment that significantly impacted on the cost of the support contract.
What steps should the sector be taking now to avoid pitfalls in future?
Companies should be reviewing their existing IT systems and identifying any that are not using the latest versions of operating systems or other infrastructure such as database management systems. In each case, they should be obtaining costs and timescales from suppliers for upgrade.
Where costs are significant, they should also be looking at SaaS alternatives that may provide a more future-proof solution without necessarily prohibitive upfront costs.
Which sectors should the water industry look to for examples of best practice?
The big tech firms are, of course, leading the way. Google and similarly Microsoft Office documents are increasingly hosted on the cloud with the option to edit in a browser.
More generally, lessons can be taken from any industry that is customer-facing and trying to meet increasing customer expectations. The financial services sector is an interesting case. High street banks have had to play catch-up with mobile app functionality initially offered by emerging financial technology firms, which became challenger banks with measurable market share.
Where is water lacking in comparison?
Water is a naturally conservative industry with a large legacy asset base, focused on keeping the pipes flowing and maintaining water quality. Globally, the financial incentives to innovate are usually low, particularly where there is risk involved in doing so.
Concerns regarding security of data from a SaaS model remain to varying extents in different parts of the world and there is often a legislative need to retain data within the country, or even state, of origin. A particular issue in the UK historically has been that water companies have been incentivised towards up-front expenditure that can be capitalised, rather than the annual recurring expenditure associated with a SaaS model.
What role does innovation play?
The SaaS approach supports innovation by facilitating incremental product developments at affordable costs. This kind of innovation, and in particular extracting more information from existing datasets, represent huge opportunities for water. AlarmVision is a good example of this, helping companies see a bigger picture than they could previously.
How is Ovarro supporting the water industry in this area?
Our next-generation analytics products are being designed as SaaS products to reduce the costs of configuration, maintenance, support and upgrade. This builds on our expertise from our Primeweb cloud-based system used to manage Ovarro leak detection hardware.
Further analytics SaaS products are in the pipeline and in varying stages of trials with water company customers.
How do you see the SaaS landscape developing into the 2025-2030 asset management period (AMP8)?
I believe AMP8 is when the industry will shift from on-premises software being the norm to a substantial preference for SaaS solutions, with a proactive rather than reactive attitude to replacing legacy systems. Water companies are starting to learn the lessons from a short-term attitude to technology and the risks associated with infrastructure obsolescence.
Beyond that, I expect that the industry will start to embrace as-a-service models more generally, for example leasing hardware with payment models based upon availability of data.
This then ensures that the client does not get stranded with legacy hardware assets that are incompatible with future communications technology or software requirements.
British Water is pleased to announce the appointment of Rachel Lewis as new vice chair of its UK Forum, further building on the expert-driven support it offers the water and wastewater supplier community.
Rachel, joint owner and director, IQ Engineers, took up her post in May 2021.
She said: “I am looking forward to working with the British Water team and members and using my experience of growing a business within the industry to support others in the supply chain.
“Innovation is so important to address the challenges the sector is facing but both current practices and technical innovations are underpinned by people and skills. People have always been an important part of the sector and with an ageing workforce, we need to encourage a wider range into the industry to bring new ideas and experiences but also retain existing knowledge.
“SMEs are essential to this and the water industry needs to be supportive of them to ensure a diverse ecosystem of suppliers is retained to help meet the challenges ahead.”
British Water’s announcement follows its April 2021 appointments of Mark Coates, strategic industry engagement, Bentley Systems, as chair of the UK Forum and Tom Williams, chief executive, Enebio, as vice chair of the International Forum.
Coates said the three new appointments represent a period of change for the members’ association and the wider water industry: “It is the end of business-as-usual in our sector.
“Over the next five years, Ofwat is calling on water companies to reduce customer bills by 12%. At the same time, according to Ofwat, the sector needs to invest an additional £6 million every day over the next five years, all while striving to deliver a net zero water supply by 2030.
“This is providing the impetus to drive innovation further and faster. As new chair of the UK Forum, I look forward to working alongside Rachel, as well as with Tom, the British Water team and its members to champion the change our sector needs.”
Williams said: “I have been British Water’s USA export mentor for 10 years and, after a turbulent few years, the sector is now recognising the climate challenge we are facing and working together across the world. With our depth of expertise, amazing SMEs and new technology companies, British Water members are the future for UK international business.”
British Water chief executive Lila Thompson said: “I’d like to congratulate Rachel on her appointment as vice chair of British Water’s UK Forum, as well as Mark Coates and Tom Williams, who took up their posts in April.
“Their insights and expertise will add huge value to the support we offer our members, as the water sector undergoes a period of exciting transformation.”
British Water’s UK Forum supports members with an interest in the UK municipal and industrial market. The forum meets twice a year to review the water market, hear updates from leading industry figures and identify key challenges to be taken forward by British Water.
The International Forum, which is chaired by Andy Blackhall, managing director, Water Research Centre, enables members to connect with leading players in the global water industry. Services include access to business mentors, market briefings and businesses development meetings with key buyers.
The Technical Forum, which is chaired by Angus Fosten, UK business development director, Partech, coordinates all activities and technical developments affecting the water industry.
More details on the work of British Water’s forums can be seen at https://www.britishwater.co.uk/