Water industry takes automotive based software for fluid simulation

| Global Environmental Processes

Ricardo is working with Southern Water on a technology transfer project to use automotive fluid dynamics simulation software as the basis for utility planning.

A research and development collaboration between Ricardo and Southern Water is demonstrating that advanced automotive technology can help the water industry in strategic planning for future resilience against the challenges of urban development, population growth and climate change.

Operating across an area of southern England extending through Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Southern Water supplies almost 530 million litres of drinking water from 94 water supply works, to almost 2.4 million people. Keen to explore new avenues for innovation in its operations, the company is collaborating with engineers at the nearby Ricardo Shoreham Technical Centre on an R&D project that could shape the future of strategic planning of water distribution networks.

The idea behind the research – the brainchild of experts from Ricardo Software and the water practice of Ricardo Energy & Environment, together with colleagues at Southern Water – is to adapt an advanced form of complex system design and optimisation software for application in the water sector.

At first sight, the challenges of strategic planning of water supplies might appear very different to those of designing a state-of-the-art car, truck or bus. The automotive industry makes intensive use of simulation software to optimise the many fluid-based processes in both the combustion and coolant systems of modern vehicles. Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) products such as Ricardo’s IGNITE system modelling software enable the development of advanced control systems working on the principle of monitoring through sensors for temperature, pressure or the presence of oxygen, fuel and exhaust compounds. The thinking behind the project is that while the water distribution network of a town, city or region exists on a fundamentally different scale, it still obeys the same laws of physics of a vehicle system and, therefore, can be modelled using essentially the same simulation processes.

The collaboration has seen Ricardo and Southern Water engineers working to adapt the IGNITE software to enable the simulation of city and regional water distribution networks. This includes the development of new building-block models into a library of water system ‘components’ including reservoirs, pumping stations, abstraction points, treatment works and metered areas.

The next step in the project will be to demonstrate the new software tool by modelling the water distribution network of the city of Brighton. This city is projected to have a significant increase in population over the coming years, but is currently heavily reliant upon ground water abstraction, with obvious risks if overused. Once this first region has been modelled, the company intends to extend modelling to include other zones within its distribution area. If the project is successful, Southern Water intends to use the new water system simulation package, based on IGNITE, as a strategic tool to guide future decisions – such as how and where they will need to replace assets within the network, and where will they secure future water supplies from.

“The water industry is keen to boost its capacity for innovation to address the challenges faced as a result of pressures such as urban development and climate change,” said Ricardo director for water and environment Daressa Frodsham. “While at first glance the water sector might appear a very different domain, there are many opportunities where the automotive industry can help. Computer-aided simulation and optimisation, and advanced sensors, prognostics and control system technologies, are common to both industries and enable us to deploy automotive-derived skills and techniques with great benefits to the water sector. We’re extremely pleased to be working with Southern Water therefore, in creating a technologically advanced strategic planning tool for water networks, based on an existing Ricardo Software product, and hence improving the future service to water customers.”

Recognising the potential value to its water industry clients, Ricardo is investing heavily in cross-sector technology transfer and software product development in response to significant demand for advanced virtualisation tools. In addition to providing high performance automotive engineering services, the company has a multi-industry environmental team of over 500 specialists in air quality, climate change, energy, sustainable transport, infrastructure planning and scarce resource management. Ricardo draws on this broad and unique combination of expertise to explore novel approaches to support water industry clients in delivering innovative solutions and greater value to their customers.

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