Canadian Consulting Engineer

Managing a Plant in 3D

January 1, 2011
By ISL Engineering and Land Services

water treatment

water treatment

The northern community of Zama City in Mackenzie County, Alberta, is home to 250 permanent residents and has a transient population of nearly 4,000. This remote community, approximately 900 kilometres north of Edmonton, receives potable water from a new water treatment plant that began operating in 2009.

The plant is a Level 3 water treatment facility that treats well water under the influence of surface water. It has an aeration tower to strip dissolved gasses and oxidize iron, two green sand filters to remove iron and manganese, and two nanofiltration membrane units. These units remove raw water hardness of more than 800 mg/L, as well as viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.

Due to the remote location, experienced technical staff to operate the plant might not always be readily available. To operate a Level 3 plant efficiently and safely is not an easy task, given the myriad of different data types that need to be accessed quickly. Typically, water treatment plant operators have to work with a variety of cumbersome reference sources such as thick O&M manuals that do not have all the required information, dog-eared record drawings, and sometimes, if they’re lucky, dusty photographs for viewing images of now hidden components.

To make things easier for the operators of the Zama water treatment plant, ISL Engineering and Land Services developed 3DOM-IS, a 3D Operation and Maintenance Information System. Whereas Building Informational Modeling (BIM) software can be used in building design, 3DOM-IS goes a step further – this interactive information system supports the client and operators in the operation and maintenance of the facility, after the engineer’s role has typically ended.

Developing the project required the expertise of ISL’s environmental infrastructure engineers in addition to GIS, database and 3D visualization specialists. Along with specially-written code, the 3D software engine was developed using a variety of freely available, open source code, making the software easily customized to clients’ needs. The result in Zama is a virtual replica of the water treatment plant, with 3D graphics and programming linked to the myriad of plant operations’ data.

The system is set up to be easy to use and familiar. The operator navigates the virtual 3D facility much like a first person shooter in the computer gaming world. He “walks” up to a specific component and screen-clicks it. 3DOM-IS immediately displays the information contained in the database for that component, or for the sub-system the component belongs to. Now, the operator has quick access to the vast array of associated data: shop drawings, equipment catalogues, plant record drawings, standard operating procedures, maintenance instructions and logs, SCADA screens, and even training videos.

Similar to a geographical information system, 3DOM-IS incorporates a layer system so the operator can choose which layer he or she wants to see. Within this environment, operators and trainees can get a holistic understanding of the facility and experience areas such as an underground reservoir, or the inside of a pressure filter, that they could otherwise only see during a plant shut down. The software can also easily be copied onto a laptop, enabling remote operational assistance and troubleshooting.

The universally accessible PDF format is used for key downloads and is set up to be searchable. The standard operating procedures are set up as Microsoft Word files, so these can be updated if needed. Once the file is updated, the information is automatically updated in the 3DOM-IS system. The system also enables the facility’s global maintenance task sheet to be quickly accessed and displayed. These capabilities all help the facility owner respond to Alberta Environment’s requirement for water treatment facilities to have complete standard operating and emergency response procedures in place by April 2012.

The 3DOM-IS system is slated to be used in other small and medium-sized water treatment plants that ISL is working on, such as the Dene Tha’ First Nation’s Chateh Water Treatment plant (due for completion in March 2011), and the new Thorsby and Drayton Valley water treatment plants.

 Owner:Mackenzie County, Fort Vermilion, Alberta

Prime consultant:

ISL Engineering and Land Services Ltd, Edmonton

Software development support services:

Zousar Shaker and Greg Ellis, Edmonton


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