AI technology controls pressure and reduces loss by leakage in water networks

Software already used by Coca-Cola Femsa to reduce liquid waste from the soft drink bottling process has cut water waste due to leakage by 2%, equivalent to 2.5 million cubic meters per year, in distribution to a region comprising seven municipalities in Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil, whose sanitation services are provided by private concessionaire Prolagos.

The system is called Leaf and was developed by I.Systems, a firm supported by PIPE, the Innovative Research in Small Business Program of the São Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP. The technology developed by the startup controls several variables in a production line based on fuzzy logic (a branch of Artificial Intelligence, or AI) and is currently used by more than 35 companies.

"Control of water pressure in a distribution network is considered one of the most important operational factors in water distribution," says Igor Santiago, president of I.Systems. "Low pressure may be insufficient to transport the water to the most distant or highest points in a city. High pressure increases leak losses and may lead to burst pipes."

According to Santiago, Leaf system's main advantage when paired with Brazilian sanitation industry standard technology has to do with its ability to monitor the entire distribution network in real time and in an integrated manner. Conventional technology in Brazil uses booster pumps to direct water flow via high pressure and pressure-reducing valves (PRVs) to stabilize pressure at certain points.

Prolagos, the private company responsible for providing public sanitation services for the municipalities of Araruama, Armação dos Búzios, Arraial do Cabo, Cabo Frio, Iguaba Grande, São Pedro da Aldeia and Saquarema, had been pursuing an integrated and automated solution to control boosters and PRVs in its distribution networks in order to reduce leak losses.

"The technology available until now basically looks at water pressure before the pump or valve and decides what the booster or PRV should do. The problem is that this may have an impact downstream, such as lack of water in taps or a pressure jump that could lead to a pipe burst," Santiago says.

72h-period water network automated operation

The solution developed by I.Systems uses AI to interconnect variables such as time and date (including whether it is a holiday), local temperature, time of year and whether it is vacation season, among others and adjusts water pressure accordingly in the distribution network.

The software uses all this information to adapt pressure instantly to changes in demand and can predict supply requirements for periods of up to 72 hours.

"Based on this dataset, the AI system makes a projection and assigns water pressure responsibilities to each booster and PRV in the network," Santiago says.

"It's as if all the pumps and valves in the network operated as a single intelligence, in a global and integrated manner, instead of individually. This means, for example, that it prevents activation of a valve causing unwanted effects elsewhere in the work. In sum, it optimizes the operation as a whole."

The system took a week to adapt to the region's water supply profile and then automatically optimized pressure control. The result was a 5.8% reduction in the average flow rate without jeopardizing supply.

More efficient control thanks to the software also resulted in a 15% reduction in the minimum nighttime flow rate and hence cut losses throughout the network.

Investments on Leaf's conversion and adaptation

Prolagos' president prospected Santiago and his partners on the possibility of equipping his own distribution systems with Leaf after having acknowledged the results I.System's software provided for Coca-Cola Femsa – a 31% reduction in waste due to variations in injected liquid levels and cut losses due to excessive fizzing by 42% for the brand's largest bottling plant in Latin America (in Jundiaí, São Paulo State), as well as being able to control pressure and flow valves at the same time, which allowed a saving of 500,000 liters of soft drink and 100,000 PET bottles per year.

"Our answer was that it was designed for industry 4.0, whereas this new application to control water pressure in a distribution network had more to do with solutions for smart cities", said Santiago. "We accepted the challenge and decided to do an initial diagnosis. To this end, we submitted a project to PIPE and were accepted directly for Stage 2 of the program [involving research execution]."

A new market

"Given the good results achieved by using the software to control water distribution, the opportunity arose to extend its use to water abstraction, encompassing the entire water supply system in the Lakes Region," said Santiago.

Segundo ele, a empresa tem apresentado essa solução para outras concessionárias de serviços de saneamento no Estado de São Paulo e outras regiões do país para viabilizar a implantação dela em outros locais.

Santiago underlines that I.Systems has presented the solution to other water and sanitation utilities in São Paulo State and other parts of Brazil as a first step to its implementation elsewhere.

Among the obstacles, the firm has faced in its efforts to take the solution to other Brazilian cities is the utilities' limited infrastructure. Most do not have a sufficient level of automation to enable valves to be controlled remotely.

"Many utilities still use manual control systems, meaning an operative has to be sent out into the field to change valve aperture. In these situations, our system can't work," Santiago said.

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About São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP)

The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) is a public institution with the mission of supporting scientific research in all fields of knowledge by awarding scholarships, fellowships, and grants to investigators linked with higher education and research institutions in the State of São Paulo, Brazil. FAPESP is aware that the very best research can only be done by working with the best researchers internationally. Therefore, it has established partnerships with funding agencies, higher education, private companies, and research organizations in other countries known for the quality of their research and has been encouraging scientists funded by its grants to further develop their international collaboration. For more information: http://www.fapesp.br/en.

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