Toward Water 4.0 with the digital twin

For many people, clean water is often taken for granted. Consumers enjoy a reliable supply of fresh water, and waste water is safely treated, thanks to smart, networked strategies like those from the Technical University (TU) of Berlin. There, innovative concepts are being studied in a realistic environment using a digital twin of a pump station.

Urbanization and climate change are placing stress on natural resources around the world. Take Berlin, for example: Since 2000, the city has gained almost 300,000 residents and today is home to a population of 3.6 million, a growth of 10 percent in just 20 years. By 2030, another 200,000 people could be added to that number. Compared to Asia’s booming megacities, this growth might be modest, but the city’s water resources are already feeling the strain.

Water supply: Dealing with global challenges

In addition, global warming is bringing an increase in lengthy dry and warm periods, while forecasts predict an increasing number of heavy rainfall events. “Dry spells result in odorous emissions from the waste water network and corrosion. Heavy rainfall can flood the sewer system, and this can lead to overspills of contaminated waste water into the environment,” explains Professor Paul Uwe Thamsen, head of the Department of Fluid System Dynamics within the Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Technical Acoustics at TU Berlin.

Optimal use of infrastructure due to digitalization

“Our research is focused on improving plant and system operation in the water industry in Germany, Berlin in particular, helping existing systems to operate more flexibly and more efficiently,” Thamsen explains. Digitalization provides important tools to network systems, for example, and to support novel approaches to data analysis in operation and maintenance. Thamsen and his team are now studying some of these approaches using a demonstration plant of a pump station that is currently being complemented with a digital plant twin.

Mixed systems are typical of brownfield plants, in the water industry like in any other industry. Using the digitalization portfolio from Siemens we want to integrate all these different systems into a uniform environment.
Professor Paul Uwe Thamsen, TU Berlin

Making digitalization a hands-on experience 

Siemens is an important partner supporting the demonstration plant with innovative solutions. “This is especially true when you want to demonstrate the benefits of digitalization in specific applications. Knowledge from fields like research, plant engineering, automation, and the plant operators’ expertise yields new inspiration and ideas on how to turn digitalization into a hands-on experience,” asserts Markus Lade, General Manager at Siemens AG Germany, Global Head of Water/Waste Water Vertical. 

Consistent digitalization and automation

At present, Siemens is implementing a comprehensive digitalization and automation solution that includes asset inventory and digitalization, process instrumentation, power supply, industrial communication and security, motor and pump management, the process control system, and engineering and plant simulation systems. 

The end point will be a single digital environment for all pump station information, from design to operation and maintenance data, including partially autonomous systems for fault detection and elimination. The bidirectional data exchange between process engineering with Comos and the Simatic PCS 7 process control system ensures that the information is up to date throughout the entire operating phase.

All the plant data in the digital twin

At the beginning of the project, all physical plant components were captured with Bentley’s ContextCapture software using photogrammetry and compiled into a 3D model. This model was then loaded into PlantSight, where it is integrated with other data to create a digital twin of the demonstration plant.


“This is a crucial step,” Thamsen comments. “It allows us to demonstrate that digitalization can be successfully used in brownfield plants, not just in a few greenfield projects.” Currently, the model data is linked with the Simatic PCS 7 process control system to create a complete digital twin that comprises all the engineering and operation data of the plant across its entire lifecycle.

We support this project of the digital twin for the demonstration plant, not only by supplying our products and systems but by making an active contribution to resolving the challenges of digitalization as a team. 
Markus Lade, Siemens AG

Applications show tangible benefits

Integrating intelligent tools into the demonstration plant has allowed Thamsen to implement the first innovative concepts. For example, power and voltage profiles can be analyzed with the Simocode motor management system, both locally and in the cloud. Moreover, optimization potential can also be derived from plant data using the model in PlantSight and cloud-based algorithms. This can help plant operators proactively detect and eliminate typical faults in pump stations.


One application targets pump clogging by fiber residues that become entwined in waste water eddies and build up at the pump wheel. In a worst-case scenario, the pump is blocked. “With the digital twin, we can detect clogging based on operation parameters and clean the pump through reverse operation,” says Thamsen.

Fast deployment in industry

Because the demonstration plant uses industry components that are also employed in many industrial waste water plants, new solutions can be deployed faster in the industry. “We can use our plant to demonstrate how to integrate solutions in an industry environment and show live results in the demonstrator. This helps reduce time to market for innovations,” Thamsen explains, adding:


“What we have here is not just a demonstration plant but a small-scale industrial plant with a process control system, drive systems, and sensors and actuators. With our digital twin, we are able to provide a hands-on demonstration of what digitalization looks like and make this complex subject accessible, including to operators in plants and to maintenance staff. This is what makes this project a true milestone for Water 4.0!”

Professor Paul Uwe Thamsen received his PhD in 1992 from the Pfleiderer Institute of Jet Propulsion and Turbomachinery at the Technical University of Braunschweig. Following several years at an international manufacturer of pumps and systems, he joined the faculty of TU Berlin as a professor in the Department of Fluid System Dynamics in 2003. He participates in many working groups and associations, such as the German Association for Water, Wastewater, and Waste (DWA); the Association of German Engineers (VDI); the German Engineering Federation (VDMA); and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Since 2017, he has also served as international chair for water and waste water transport at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim. 

In order to protect the city’s numerous water bodies as nature reserves and areas of recreation, Berlin’s universities, research institutes, authorities, and private enterprises are collaborating to turn Berlin into a smart city. This effort includes upgrading and optimizing the existing infrastructure step-by-step. The administrators of Berlin’s public waterworks wish to implement intelligent systems and infrastructure that will create a “sponge city” that can absorb rainwater and release it when it is needed. Numerous new infrastructure systems are being built for this purpose, but the optimal use of all existing plants is equally important.

June 2020


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