To add to the challenges of water scarcity and aging infrastructure, the water industry is now tasked with achieving a 16% reduction in leakage by 2025. HELEN COMPSON speaks to one company who are challenging conventional approaches and are already helping utilities meet the target.
Inflowmatix is that rare beast, a company capable of developing, manufacturing and effectively integrating advanced monitoring technologies, with modelling and optimisation applications as a core part of their offering.
Thanks to the supreme quality of the data collected by its InflowSys™ Edge system – and indeed the size of the resultant databank – Inflowmatix has a unique advantage in being able to apply its patented algorithms and analyses to tackling leakage, supply interruptions, asset management and water quality.
Now, hot off the presses, the company has a new, expanded package that builds on the strengths of its already established InflowSys™ Edge product line, which incorporates the InflowSense™ pressure devices that do the legwork.
But before we talk about arboricity™ and its boundary-busting ability to integrate with other systems, let’s set the context. Where did Inflowmatix come from?
The story begins when Inflowmatix was founded as a company by Dr. Ivan Stoianov in 2015 to make good use of a decade or more of research carried out at Imperial College London. CEO Dr. Mike Williams and COO Robin Bell were in at the beginning.
If Inflowmatix can be described as having a mission, it is to help water network operators control pressures and optimise their services, embracing the subjects of resilience, asset management, leakage and water quality in the process.
By mapping where the customer’s network is most at risk and exposing dynamic pressure variability, it can present a detailed picture of pressure surges, unusual usage patterns, negative pressures and asset misbehaviours.
The company has harvested the expertise of water industry specialists, engineering experts and world-class academics to bring cutting edge solutions to water utilities around the world
According to Robin “When we set up the business, we started out with the aspiration to provide analytical solutions to our customers, so it is all about solutions based on numerical, mathematical and computational approaches.”
“The company has been founded on the dynamics of pressure variations in water networks building on the innovative work carried out at Imperial College London by Ivan and his postgraduate team over many years working hands on with industry partners.”
The hardware needed to come first as there was nothing currently in the market that was capable of the spatial and temporal accuracy and resolution required. The result: InflowSense™, the pressure sensors that are part and parcel of the InflowSys™ product portfolio.
The brand has since been extended to InflowSys™ Edge, reflecting the advent of devices that can sense anomalous behaviour at the edge of the communications network as well as across the entirety of the water network.
As a standalone system, it typically comprises an optimised number of InflowSense™ devices that are deployed to provide insights into the behaviour of the network on a zonal basis.
In contrast, to address a gap in the market, arboricity™️ takes a top down agnostic approach. Mike clarified: “arboricity™ builds on the solid foundation of InflowSys™, but integrates other data sets to provide a more insightful input for the water utilities.”
A prime example of this ability to integrate is the SERENE™ ‘DMA Health Index’ product Inflowmatix has built in partnership with Black & Veatch, one of the water industry’s tier one suppliers.
“Black & Veatch supply consultancy services in management, logistics and delivery to companies around the world, but principally in Britain.”
“Combine what they do with arboricity™ and you can see where we’re going with this – together we are driving towards healthier and more resilient water networks.”
DMA insights from the sharp end are crucial if the industry is going to meet what is the most ambitious leakage control programme set in decades. “Success will require just this type of digitally-enabled network management,” Mike said.
The starting point is the integration of multiple in-house and customer systems to collect the data required. The sensor and network data is then brought together in one, seamless platform.
Using 12 key network parameters, lagging/leading and supporting features are brought together in concert to create a DMA Health Index score through our SERENE™ product. This provides a unique network view on how a DMA is performing towards key regulatory targets, based on a narrative of real-time measured network behaviour.
The resulting DMA Health Index – offering multiple, scenario based assessments – provides the mechanism by which water companies better understand how and where investment can be targeted most effectively to reduce leakage.
Mike said: “SERENE™, and the relationship with Black & Veatch, is just one example of what arboricity™ can do – it can and will go much further.”
“We are actively integrating with other platforms such as hydraulic modelling systems and thereby building on its versatility.” Mike acknowledges there are many software packages for hydraulic modelling in existence, but they all require data to be provided by the utilities to be of true value. This is governed by the accuracy, resolution and timeliness of such data, as well as the standard of the calibration process used.
The calibration of hydraulic models is typically something of a ‘dark art’, carried out by consultants with little reference to external validation. As a consequence, it often delivers results of minimal value to network operators, despite having significant associated costs.
Furthermore, hydraulic models tend to be deprived of regular maintenance and as such, their operational value depreciates rapidly.
Inflowmatix has solved these critical constraints with a proprietary ‘model calibrate and maintain’ process that involves making the initial model calibration a low-cost deterministic process.
It does this by combining the high spatial and temporal resolution data acquired by InflowSense™ with robust mathematical optimisation methods and analytics delivered by arboricity™, and then both automatically and recurrently maintaining the model’s performance and accuracy.
All of the Inflowmatix technologies are tailored to one end, said Robin. “Ever greater pressure is being placed on the water industry. Ofwat as a regulator has been very incisive in its approach to improving the customer experience not only in terms of reducing leakage by at least 16% through the Asset Management Plan (AMP period 7 – 2020 to 2025), but additionally demanding resilience of supply whilst reducing customer bills.
Mike summarises: “The Ofwat drive is in many ways leading the world – a good example of the regulator taking a focused and proactive approach to improving our use of water.”
“Our role here is to help operators build confidence in their network and support the industry in meeting its challenging targets.”