Industrial symbiosis and digitalization: The evolution of water management into "Industrial Water 4.0"


Chemical production is simply not possible without water. Used as a coolant, solvent, reagent or product constituent, water is an indispensable resource in the process industry. Digitalization continues to expand its footprint in chemical production, and you already hear the term "Chemical Industry 4.0". So what does this mean for industrial water management? The DECHEMA paper "Industrial Water 4.0", which will be presented at ACHEMA, provides the answers.

Is there already a "Water 4.0" for Industry 4.0? According to the German Water Partnership the answer is “yes”: It has defined the term "Water 4.0" and understands it as the linking together of sensors, computer models and real-time control combined with heavy use of intelligent networks and the Internet. "Water 4.0" is based on the fourth stage of industrial production.

Particularly in industrial operations, water systems need to be closely linked with production. As production becomes increasingly flexible and network-integrated, for example to produce smaller batches or even make personalized products, industrial water management must likewise become more flexible and network-integrated.

Industrial Water 4.0 establishes a link between Industry 4.0 and Water 4.0. It has three major aims:

  • digitalization of industrial water management itself
  • tight integration with digitalization of industrial production and
  • tie-in to digitalized municipal (waste) water management and water resource management

Digitalization in industrial water management

Integration of all levels in the industrial water management hierarchy encompasses every layer: field sensors, the control system and operating level, the management level right through to modeling and simulation on the network or in the cloud using autonomous Cyber Physical Systems (CPS). This is understood as vertical integration of industrial water management. The end goal is transformation of water and waste water treatment systems into adaptive systems which interact with their operating environment. The self-adjustment capabilities should include independent output regulation and flexible, autonomous reaction to change without degradation of operational performance.

In industrial water management, these cyber physical systems make use of Internet and Cloud based networking to support water supply and waste water disposal strategies right down to the end user. Digitalization provides a way of linking real and virtual water systems. Assistance systems used for process simulation and to support decision making create the basis for real time and predictive modeling to reduce risks and costs.

At the systems level alone, digitalization in industrial water management creates a whole new range of optimization and cost reduction opportunities:

predictive maintenance can reduce component failure rates and production stoppages to enhance operational reliability. The permanent presence of experts on site is unnecessary. They can provide remote assistance over digital links. This can have a positive impact on system performance.

Evaluation, simulation and optimization of individual components creates an opportunity to significantly increase the capacity of the entire system by making maximum use of the performance potential of each component and eliminating bottlenecks by implementing simulation-based improvements. Systematic component optimization also extends the life of the system.

3D visualization of production cycles in time, space and the process can help identify and eliminate weaknesses and flaws. This in turn can shorten walking distances for operators, reduce the effort involved in routine tasks and increase the efficiency of material flows.

Given the enormous savings potential on new investment projects, simulation-based optimization has obvious advantages. It helps reduce changeover times and scales down the size of refurbishment projects to only what is essential. With the aid of 3D simulation, integration of pipework into the existing network can be optimized. New plants and equipment can be designed to meet the exact needs. Operator training on virtual systems significantly reduces commissioning time.

Networking between industrial water management and production

Industrial water management supplies water for the production process, so the two are very closely linked. Digitalization and increased flexibility in production have a direct impact on the interfaces with water management (water supply and waste water treatment). Adaptability to production conditions includes a time element (reaction time to changing conditions) and a process & quality element (adaptation of purification processes as requirements change).

Two operational units at a site or company interconnect and optimize their water and information flows, so what we are talking about here is horizontal integration.

Horizontal integration of industrial water management creates an opportunity to increase connectivity between production stages and water systems (water conditioning, effluent treatment, cooling water circulation) throughout the entire system cycle. Significant economic potential can be exploited: coordinated planning, standardized instrumentation, interoperability of hardware and software solutions and coordinated operation of systems connected in a network. Similar to energy management which is part of a Manufacturing Execution System (MES), the aim of horizontal integration of water management is to "plan, assess, monitor, analyze, control and ultimately reduce water consumption" (and the associated material and energy demand). (See VDI, 2017). This approach increases transparency on water demand and usage in the various production segments at the machine level. It presupposes a suitable data acquisition system and the sensors needed to capture the data. These tools make it easier to predict production-related water demand and the resulting effluent load. Proactive measures can be taken to avoid bottlenecks and critical states in process water conditioning. In addition to the simple acquisition of volume flow data using counters and flow meters which is now standardized, online measurement of substance parameters plays a crucial role in operational water management to assure optimal product quality and production efficiency. From the viewpoint of the production facility, back-coupling of water conditioning into the production process is undesirable. The process is primarily focused on the product and not water conditioning. If critical states occur in water conditioning, though, horizontal integration can provide a basis for running production at "minimal level" or determining the duration of critical periods. The inclusion of production planning data or defined production conditions can increase the accuracy of predictions about compliance with threshold values. For highly flexible production, the integration of water utilities among other things can be vital for just-in-time production or demand-based production.

The potential for reducing reaction times and increasing flexibility now go far beyond the individual line or system. Particularly in batch production, for example the production of active ingredients in the biotechnology industry and the majority of processes in steel production, estimates of process water flows can be improved by acquiring and consolidating production unit data. This is a key factor for creating an industrial symbiosis at chemical and industrial parks.

Thinking further ahead: "Industrial Water 4.0“, municipal (waste) water management and water resource management

Industrial water management can only function through interaction with the external operating environment. This primarily means the municipal (waste) water sector and the management of natural water resources (groundwater and surface water), which mostly involves public authorities. Increased digitalization in the municipal (waste) water sector with the introduction of Water 4.0 places new demands on the interfaces between municipalities and industry, particularly with regard to the optimization of information flows. For sites where natural water resources play an integral role in water management, digitalization at the interface to approval and enforcement authorities will become increasingly important for monitoring and compliance purposes.

The water and waste water industry is faced with the challenge of adapting its systems to ongoing demographic, structural and climate change. More and more consumers, both private and industrial, are concentrated in densely populated urban areas. The result is greater demand for water and higher effluent volumes. In response, the demands placed on water quality are becoming continually more stringent. Particularly in industrial processing, the supply of properly conditioned water has a crucial influence on productivity and process quality. In some regions of the world such as India and Latin America, water scarcity and poor water quality have become an impediment to economic development. As a result, the general public is becoming increasingly aware of the need for protection and sustainable management of water resources. Even in countries like Germany, contamination of groundwater and surface water with trace pollutants and other environmentally harmful substances from industrial effluent, the excessive release of nutrients from agriculture and the problem of micro plastics is creating new challenges for water conditioning.

Additional conditioning stages have to be added to the purification process, or modifications need to be made to existing processes to comply with more stringent threshold values. To the extent possible, plant operators should ensure that during natural events such as heavy rain and severe weather, flooding of effluent treatment plants and uncontrolled release of polluted waste water are prevented. Increasing flexibility in production causes fluctuations in water demand and water volumes. The water supply and effluent treatment systems must be designed to handle this flexibility. Last but not least, demographic change creates the need for plant operators to harvest the knowledge and experience of their employees who work in water conditioning so that this expertise can be passed on during training.

Sustainable water and waste water management depends on the existence of a circular water management system. Both structurally and in the IT domain, the industrial and municipal demand and (waste) water flows must be interlinked. This creates an opportunity to exploit synergies in many areas which can enhance the efficiency and quality of water conditioning and effluent treatment. Integrated monitoring of the water supply can speed up the detection of leaks, ensure compliance with threshold values and guarantee needs-based management of water and waste water flows.

Once digital links are established between industrial and municipal (waste) water management, data from real time monitoring of water volumes and quality can be input into an information or early warning system not only during normal operations, but also during exceptional weather events or toxic surges in the water infrastructure. Plant operators can use model-based optimization systems to generate forecasts which in turn form the basis for making recommendations on operating parameters. Data acquisition systems provide reliable data which generates maximum real-world benefits for system operations. Simulations of inflow and outflow volumes can be generated by integrating weather data and geoinformation systems, and this data can be linked to the operating parameters of the different systems. With this approach, it would be possible for example to create buffer capacity for extra water volumes prior to a heavy rain event or adjust effluent treatment operating parameters to match the new composition of the effluent.

Still work to do in digitalization

That however presupposes more intensive networking between the various organizations and systems as well as solutions for acquisition and analysis of data from a wide variety of sensors and systems.

At a time when digitalization in industrial production and the process industry (e.g. chemicals, steel, glass/ceramics) is rapidly advancing both at home and abroad (e.g.  Industrial Internet Consortium, Made in China 2025), digitalization in the world of water management is not at a comparable level. There are many reasons for this, ranging from unresolved data and IT security issues, inconsistent data collection and a lack of harmonization to the absence of organizational structures, knowledge gaps and the size of the investment needed for implementation. The simulation and modeling tools also have significant gaps.

Global possibilities

If the system design potential is fully exploited and operations are dynamically adjusted to meet the requirements of the production process on a needs basis, resource consumption can be reduced by a substantial margin, and the reliability of the water supply and waste water treatment can be significantly improved. This applies to both industrial water management and the linkages to industrial production, municipal (waste) water management and water resource management. Industrial, domestic and agricultural water use and the management of natural water resources can be coordinated.

Digitalization in industrial water management also facilitates increased de-coupling between production and fresh water consumption. Worldwide, this approach can reduce the risk of production restrictions or interruptions due to water shortages at industrial locations where water stress is a significant problem. It also creates opportunities to increase production without a dependency on additional fresh water resources.

The relevance of Industrial Water 4.0 goes beyond the water technology industry and the domestic market. The Industrial Water 4.0 approach also promotes the export of technology, equipment, engineering and other services, and also enhances the competitiveness of the industrial production and process industry in international markets.

Quo vadis? Position paper provides answers

The DECHEMA position paper "Industrial Water 4.0 - Opportunities and Challenges of Digitalization for Industrial Water Management" addresses precisely these issues: What is the potential of Industrial Water 4.0, what are the obstacles and how can they be overcome? The paper will be presented at ACHEMA on June 12th, 2018 and will also be available at


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