Case study: Water filtration plant automation

The team had a large-scale automation project goal of integrating 121 water filtration plants

By David Ubert and Francisco Alcala April 23, 2020

This project, completed over three years from 2011 to 2014, included an automation program for 121 water filtration plants.


  • Provided automation design and integration services for 121 water filtration plants islandwide.
  • Developed robust and complete programmable logic controller programs that will allow this aqueduct and sewer authority to operate the plants remotely.
  • Worked with plant operators to transform the operational organization to ease the change from the current manual plant operation to a modern technology-based organization that can operate a plant remotely.
  • Worked in two parallel tracks: restructuring while building automation capability.

Input/output density: 121 sites with an average of 800 I/O point that is equivalent to 96,800 I/O points.

Complexity: Standard simple process in multisite facilities with aging facilities with some level of variation on process and control architecture and diverse projects in concurrent execution.

Resources: Project management and design team, programming standardization and test team and implementation team.


  • Existing infrastructure with many automation legacy systems.
  • Project team conformed by several organizations:
    • CDM Smith program management team, design team and lead integration team.
    • Process control supplier in charge of panels, instrumentation and installation. A process control supplier is the denomination of a contractor or vendor that commonly provide control panels, instrumentation and integration services.
    • Supervisory control and data acquisition vendor integrator responsible of corporate data integration.
    • Application system provider contractor responsible for human machine interface
    • Application system provider contractor in charge of application deployment and commissioning.
  • Several levels of variation on the filtration process and control system.
  • Geographically distributed work site, some with difficult access.
  • Changes in scope and schedule constraints.

Success factors:

  • Conformation of project management, design and integration team with vast experience on water filtration projects.
  • Develop standards library for PLC and SCADA applications that fit all applications through a parametrizable setting.
  • Filtration plants were organized by clusters to simplify management and operation.
  • Execution of a thorough project management process with five phases:
    • Preconstruction tasks.
    • Hardware readiness.
    • Startup readiness.
    • Endorsement and approval.

Author Bio: David Ubert is an automation technical strategy leader at CDM Smith; Francisco Alcala is an automation engineer at CDM Smith.