One, Two, Three, Automate!

Graybar helps city of Dickinson save time, energy and costs with three-step municipal-water solution

City of Dickinson

For a city nicknamed the “Queen City of the Prairies,” only the finest automation overhaul would suffice. So, when a summer snowfall, followed by a devastating tornado, blew through the city of Dickinson, N.D., and left its automated wastewater systems untouched, the city knew it had a royal winner.

For years, city employees had managed the municipal water systems, coping with erratically ringing alarms and sluggish network speeds. The 10-year-old supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system was becoming outdated, and manufacturers no longer produced many of the necessary replacement parts.

In 2008, the city of Dickinson conducted a facilities energy audit, which revealed an estimated $50,000 annual savings just by replacing the systems’ variable frequency drives (VFD).

Dickinson Public Works Director Skip Rapp chose Graybar to provide energy-saving products and solutions and upgrade the current SCADA system. Graybar contracted with Denny’s Electric and Motor to provide technical support and installation of equipment.

Step One: Automate

Like most municipal wastewater structures, the city of Dickinson’s network operates through a chain of lift stations that pump water from one section of the system to the next, until the water reaches the wastewater treatement plant, where it is treated.

From a remote base station, city employees monitor the water and wastewater systems. Real-time data is provided for wet well levels, pump run status, motor load, hours, water tower levels and system pressure. The employees have the ability to set the start and stop levels of pumps from the remote base station.

"The city’s existing control system was very slow," explained Graybar Sales Engineer Jerry Thompson. "The response times were anywhere from six to 15 minutes."

The existing communication radios needed to bereplaced. Phoenix Contact UHF radios were used to meetthe more complex and demanding requirements of both Citect SCADA and the telemetry panels that were installed. The digital data radios are configurable as a master, slave or repeater using the RAD-Link 400 software. The new Phoenix Contact UHF radios improved the response time to 5 seconds or less.

Working with control-panel manufacturer Alderon Industries, new electric panels were installed at the pumping stations. Each panel contained wireless sensor technologies manufactured by Schneider Electric and Phoenix Contact that needed to be programmed to control the water pumps.

For programming, Denny’s turned to Thompson and Alderon Integrator Joel Aslakson, who programmed the lift stations and SCADA system to recognize appropriate water levels, turn the pumps on and off, control the pump speeds, and communicate back to the city employees monitoring the system from the remote base.

"We used nine different software packages to program everything from the wireless radios to the VFDs and PLCs [programmable logic controllers]," said Aslakson. "Jerry was fully committed throughout the project and worked with most of the packages."

Step Two: Test

City of Dickinson CS monitor screenshot

In three months, the teams completed the project, installing 30 panels in 23 lift stations. But the finish line didn’t arrive without a few unexpected turns: First there was an unseasonable summer snowfall – the city’s first in 60 years – followed a month later by storms carrying a tornado that knocked out power and destroyed homes and buildings as it spun through town.

The storm hit as Thompson and Aslakson were driving to a lift station, and the two made it into the station just as the lights flickered out. As back-up generators brought the lights back on, Thompson and Aslakson peeked out from the station to see the tornado’s destructive aftermath.

Amazingly, all but one lift station were left untouched. "One of the stations blew away, but the two panels were left standing," said Aslakson. "We were so excited to see everything running, fully functional, and to see the radio communications working."

The new wastewater network had proven its durability, and now the teams turned their attention to the water treatment plant.

Working with its suppliers, Graybar created a wireless solution that reconciled the two systems and enabled remote monitoring and management.

Today, city employees sit at computer dashboards inside the remote base station and monitor the flows of the community’s water and wastewater systems. Information that took up to 15 minutes to receive from the pumping station now arrives in a matter of seconds. And when they need to adjust a water level, they simply touch an icon on the screen.

City of Dickinson CS Alderon Panel Image

To conserve energy, the city can decrease the power during peak demands so as not to increase pressure on the system. By controlling the drives, Dickinson expects to save approximately $38,000 in energy costs this year.

"All of our drives have the ability to talk to each other now," said the city’s Rapp. "Graybar helped us improve our systems’ energy efficiency and prepare for the future. We’re probably set for the next ten years or better."


Learn more about Graybar's services and solutions

CS City of Dickinson Case Study More Info