Automation Lessons Learned at Iron Bridge Water Plant

  • August 18, 2014
  • Siemens
  • Feature

By Bill Lydon, Editor

In June, I toured the City of Orlando’s Iron Bridge Water Treatment Plant. Bill Wood, Manager of the Industrial Automation Group, and Guy Mecabe, System Manager of Wastewater Systems, discussed their systems philosophy at the plant. The city owns and manages four large wastewater treatment facilities with associated remote pumping and lift stations. The Iron Bridge plant was originally built in the 1980s to treat about 5 million gallons of wastewater per day. After several modifications and upgrades, it can now treat and reclaim up to 40 million gallons in that same 24-hour period. The facilities standardized on Siemens controls, drives, power distribution, and Profibus and PROFINET communications network.

Bill Wood manages the Industrial Automation Group’s (IAG) technical staff within the Wastewater Division of the Public Works Department. The group is responsible for all automation and network systems for the city’s treatment plants, 200+ lift stations, and the water collection system. Guy Mecabe is responsible for IT Operations at the wastewater treatment facilities. He manages the IT professionals that program and maintain more than 40 Windows servers, both physical and virtual, 200+ workstations, HMIs, and 300+ PLCs. In addition, the group installs and maintains CAT5, CAT6, and fiber optic network systems.

Bill Wood described the value of their systems and lessons learned. His practical and “can do” philosophy was clear. Below is a summary of Wood’s automation philosophy for the plant.

Efficient Operations

Automation has enabled them to do more with fewer people. This is at a time when it is hard to find qualified workers and there are budgetary challenges.

Information Access

Automation simplifies operators’ decision making, and the system provides readily available information. Siemens human machine interface (HMI) touch screens are located inside every process station and linked to the facility-wide Industrial Ethernet network. The HMIs provide real-time information for all systems. The reach of the system network has grown dramatically by design to increase the productivity and efficiency of staff. Authorized managers, operators, and technicians can view the Iron Bridge plant from any onsite HMIs, laptops, desktops, tablets, or smart phones. They can also monitor and control operations at other sites and lift stations throughout the city.

Distributed Control & Monitoring

Their philosophy is to use distributed control and monitoring over a reliable network. To minimize risk, they implemented a distributed architecture by placing a PLC in every process station. Every starter bucket can be remotely monitored to check the status of smaller feeder breakers. This allows staff to detect and reset faults over PROFIBUS using Siemens SIMOCODE devices, which makes them visible on the network.


The central Florida region is known as "Lightning Alley" by meteorologists. Thunderstorms generate hundreds of thousands of bolts that cause billions of dollars in damage each year. A lightning strike could instantly cut power to this plant and damage equipment. Bill Wood uses surge and lighting protection on a wide range of devices. He knows the cost is justifiable because it prevents costly downtime and repair. PLCs and networks have UPS (uninterruptible power supply) redundancy. The facility has three 2,800 megawatt diesel generators to ensure the plant continues operations during storms.

In-house Operation

Bill Wood and his staff take responsibility for the design and implementation of the automation and control systems. They believe this in-house expertise provides the best value for the operations. They don’t have to rely on outside engineering or system integration services, which may not be available when they need them. Based on experience, this approach also saves time and money. Staff clearly understands the systems, making them a valuable in-house resource.

Remote Access

The water district has a number of remote locations monitored using licensed radios today. To lower cost, they are exploring replacing the licensed radios with cellular devices. Cellular reliability has improved dramatically over time.

Maintenance Management

The automation system information is stored on an SQL database. The CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) is linked to the database using stored SQL script procedures. They migrated from a plant-wide data historian that was based on a proprietary database structure and was difficult to interface with the CMMS.


The Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is also connected to the automation systems to provide immediate access to water quality and process information.

Bottom Line

It was a pleasure to talk with Bill Wood and Guy Mecabe about their in-house automation expertise and systems. They implemented and are continually improving a reliable, cost-efficient system to serve the community’s water needs.

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