Simon McLain

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Engaging Technology: Data to Excellence


People love technology, and to engage with technology is to be human. The archaeological evidence of early human’s use of tool fragments from the homes of our first human ancestors tells stories of family groups gathered together learning the skills required for survival. Small refinements and occasionally leaps in technology where made of a timescale that spanned centuries, most likely in response to environmental changes forcing adaptations to be made.

Today our love of Smart Electronic Technologies has made them ubiquitous, and the array of competing technologies is blistering, with companies all striving for pre-eminence in their sector. Technological refinements no longer take centuries or even decades, they can be implemented in months. Technological leaps also appear frequently, as do the prevalence of ‘me too’ or imitator technologies.

Unfortunately many of these ‘new’ technologies are also little more than an innovation in how the data is presented. The actions required for capturing value, such as; asset protection, water & energy optimisation and reducing total cost of operation often remain dependent on individual expertise. Often requiring data to be pooled together from multiple systems.

Group benchmarking and optimisation projects across multiple sites have enabled improvements in value capture, opening up individual site knowledge and sharing lessons learned across wider groups. The number of members in a knowledge group has increased, mainly through plant assessments reviewing operational data. Knowledge remaining key to converting data into value captured and often depended on the right people and data being manually linked together into an appropriate network of experts..

Over the past 2 decades NALCO Water Industry has passed through several epochs. Firstly; basic measuring and monitoring, then data logging and communication in the form of alarms. More recently data points have been presented in a simplified Dashboard formats. Up until relatively recently for us converting this data to knowledge that will problem solve and optimise asset life, water and energy use has similarly been dependent on individual knowledge of Utilities Engineers, Plant Operators working with our Sales and Service experts being pooled together into a network.

Such advances have enabled my company to identify and respond in real time issues such as; when de-aerators aren’t operating correctly, condensate return has been contaminated and cooling tower blowdown is excessive. When coupled with advanced modelling software that calculates the optimal water chemistries for each individual system design and operation these are powerful tools for reducing Total Cost of Operation and protecting vital resources.

For example recently one of our customer in Ireland uses condensate from the Evaporators as feed water for the two 10 bar package boilers. Historically the condensate occasionally had upsets where some contaminated water was passed forward to the boilers. This caused scale formation on the level probes resulting in the boilers tripping out. As a precaution the TDS set point of the boilers was always set at a very low level typically 600 ppm.

Nalco suggested that dump valves be fitted onto the return lines which would dump condensate based on conductivity. This coupled with advanced modelling software the use of Nalco Nexguard chemistry has allowed the boiler TDS set point to be increased to 3500ppm resulting in significant water and energy savings.


Excellence in the near future is about engaging the technology and networks of experts to not just react to out of spec. data or seek optimisations, but to connect multiple digital technologies and automatically take action to capture value.

The next Technological leap in enabling Excellence is the automated connectedness that is linking devices, with digital knowledge databases and people (from local site to boardroom). NALCO Water has recently partnered with Microsoft to produce technologies that capture data from multiple sources, uses knowledge database recommending actions to key personnel, and then automatically taking the corrective action that engages both people and technology.

For instance, the digital technology has now makes the water and energy nexus visible to the Boardroom where they can see the Cost of Operation Performance of each if their process systems online, benchmarking against each other and comparing to the optimised model.

It is now at the stage when if an out of specification condition is detected and cannot be corrected automatically, for example a failed probe resulting in excessive water or energy use. A work order for the probe’s replacement will be automatically generated; the nearest service employee identified and assigned the work. Their equipment stock checked to ensure they have the appropriate replacement parts and orders placed to replace parts used then their visit to site scheduled. Eliminating the requirement for individuals to spend time manually manage each step in the chain, enabling them to focus on the value capturing activities.

The Excellence is engaging technology that automatically understands the challenge and automatically implements a fully connected response that involves technology and people. Excellence is giving a voice to the data.


About Simon McLain:

Simon McLain is a District Manager at NALCO Water, a technology company that provides Total Water Management solutions to diverse range of Industries. With eighteen years’ experience in Water related industries Simon now leads a Team of Technical Sales Representative and Equipment Engineers who serve the Irish Market.

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