Data Innovation Yields Proactive Operations – Using Dashboards for Productive Plant Performance

Last Modified: Jan 28, 2019


  • Paul G. Biscardi PhD, PE, Nathan Boyle PE - Hazen and Sawyer

Advanced membrane treatment systems require a comprehensive array of instrumentation and routine water quality sampling to monitor and optimize plant performance. It is well known throughout the membrane industry that analyzing and trending the large data sets recorded by online and laboratory instruments, is vital to understand plant performance. Manipulating raw data into useful reports allows for operations staff to make informed decisions in adjusting the treatment process to maximize production and water quality. Membrane fouling, scaling, clean-in-place timing, process change monitoring, and pilot testing are just a few of the treatment optimization and operational areas that benefit from sound data analytical technique.

Dashboards are tailored reports that visually and interactively display a snapshot of key performance information and trends in a user-friendly format. They are typically updated automatically and are simple to operate. Similar to dashboards on motor vehicles, dashboards in treatment facilities are not intended to provide all available data on demand. Nor do they replace the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA) found in membrane treatment systems. Rather, dashboards focus attention on key performance and critical control point information, so operations can check the health of the plant in a ‘snapshot’ and then investigate if an issue is identified. For the purposes of this discussion, a dashboard would also be defined as including several “under-the-hood” components which can assist or fully automate data-entry, data-cleanup, analytics, forecasting, and collaboration.

Dashboards can be developed using a range of interfaces for presenting the information including Microsoft Excel®, vendor and proprietary software, integrator-developed, and the emerging application of ‘business intelligence’ solutions. Dashboards can be tailored for both operations staff and overall organization goals. For example, a management dashboard may focus on production, cost, and key water quality parameters while an operator dashboard would look at more comprehensive details of individual processes and help the operator with scheduling routine maintenance such as a clean-in-place.

To further explain the advantages of utilizing dashboards, several case studies are presented which demonstrate how modern dashboarding tools can effectively leverage the enormous amount of data collected by a membrane system, providing a more manageable data set to assist with plant optimization. The case studies include (1) reducing man-hours through implementation of full-scale membrane dashboards in California, (2) improving collaboration during pilot testing of membrane and non-membrane processes, and (3) designing custom dashboards for monitoring reverse osmosis (RO) biofouling. The approach used for each of these case studies involved developing a list of key performance indicators (KPIs) and target values to monitor processes; developing cleanup rules to remove null and outlier values; normalization of data to provide up-to-date information corrected for feed water conditions; and generation of the dashboard reports.

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