An interview with Kilian Hesse, Managing Director of STEBATEC, about innovation, sustainability and technological developments in sewer network control.

INKA – Digital impulses in canal network management

Mr. Hesse, why is intelligent sewer network management essential nowadays?

Fig. 1: Changing conditions pose major challenges for sewer network management and urban drainage, but there is always free capacity if the catchment areas are unevenly irrigated.

Can you give us an overview of the INKA system and how it works?

INKA stands for Intelligent Sewer Network Control and is a system for the safe and efficient optimization of the sewer network. The INKA controller aims to dynamically change the flow rates so that the sewage treatment plant is hydraulically utilized as quickly as possible when it starts to rain without overloading it and without using up unnecessary storage volume in the sewer network. The second control objective, if the rain event is persistent, is to utilize storage tanks evenly or to prevent uneven filling of the storage tanks and basins in the sewer network. In simple terms, the system regulates the flow rates in the sewer network in such a way that the wastewater treatment plant is permanently utilized and the fill levels in the storage tanks and basins are as even and low as possible. This effectively prevents discharges, even if it is of course somewhat more complicated in reality; INKA was developed on sewer networks that sometimes have limited transport capacities, flow times that last for hours, during which a measurement also fails or the data communication connections are interrupted. We have learned to deal with these challenges.

Fig. 2: INKA processes weather radar forecast data to ensure long flow times and has a fallback system for situations in which data connections to the external structures are interrupted.

What advantages does INKA offer the sewer network operator?

We like to compare INKA with a driver assistance system – people trust this robot that is available as a support and is predictable. Trust in a system grows when it is predictable how it reacts in different situations, does not suddenly become independent or makes you feel dependent. With INKA, operators can optimize their sewer network and still retain complete control. The system is highly sophisticated and works in the same way for all customers. It is based on a control algorithm that has been tested and proven hundreds of times – no rocket science, no magic, it is simply an intelligent, sophisticated and understandable system that works well and does justice to the complexity of a sewer network. As an automation company, we have made sure that it can be very easily integrated into existing networks or connected to any process control system and used as a supplement.

The biggest advantage for operators, however, is that they can optimize their sewer network independently without the need for further programming work after commissioning. The “network configurator” included in the user interface gives the user access to all relevant parameters, such as upper and lower limits for dynamic flow rates, water body sensitivity, storage volume, flow times, etc.

In addition to the efficient use of sewer capacity, leading to a reduction in overflows and improved overall performance, the INKA system is essentially a practical tool for sewer network operation, providing clarity and understanding with its data visualization tools. Furthermore, INKA’s advanced technology ensures reliable operation, even under changing conditions.

Fig. 3: With INKA, everything at a glance and under control: simple configuration using “drag & drop”, comprehensible representation of the rain event, comprehensive hydrograph analysis and clear geographical visualization of the entire sewer network.

How does INKA help to improve water pollution control?

Thanks to the intelligent control of the sewer network and the dynamic optimization of discharge volumes, the INKA system makes a significant contribution to the sustainable protection of water bodies by reducing or even preventing sewer network overflows. INKA additionally protects sensitive bodies of water by configuring a higher discharge prevention priority and effectively utilizes existing storage volumes and the existing treatment capacity of wastewater treatment plants.

In addition to the INKA software, we also offer the INKA road drainage system because there is great potential for optimization in this area. On the one hand, road runoff is often so polluted that it is worthy of treatment; on the other hand, it often leads to overloads in the combined sewer system and, when mixed with wastewater, to discharges of much more problematic combined wastewater volumes. The INKA road drainage system stores polluted road runoff from the first few millimetres of precipitation directly under the road and allows unproblematic runoff to seep away directly on site, or channels it into tree trenches or bodies of water. As soon as the sewer network and sewage treatment plant are at capacity again after the rain event, the INKA system coordinates the emptying of the surface water-filled storage tanks in the catchment area, thus ensuring safe transportation to the sewage treatment plant.

How does INKA help to overcome challenges in sewer network planning?

First and foremost, by optimizing the operation of sewer networks so that new projects can be set up on a reliable basis with greater planning certainty. If, for example, a new storage facility is to be built, a sewer network equipped with INKA ensures that the water volumes to be stored are actually available and cannot simply be routed to the sewage treatment plant or would usually still have room in other storage facilities. Another positive side effect, for example, is that the company regularly looks at the measurement data from the sewer network and becomes aware of measurement errors and can eliminate them.

INKA has a comprehensive data evaluation tool; for example, connected areas relevant to runoff are continuously recalculated with precipitation and runoff data in order to optimize runoff forecasts. This AI-supported verification of planning data is very helpful in planning.

How does STEBATEC position itself as an experienced and competent partner in the field of sewer network control?

STEBATEC has almost 60 years of experience in the development and implementation of automation solutions and measurement technology for water and wastewater systems. As an automation partner, we offer self-developed products such as flow measurement and process control systems, provide support from planning to implementation, carry out installation and service and support our customers during operation. With our competent sales partner in Germany, Pannach Messtechnik GmbH, we ensure that the products are also used in our northern neighboring country and that customers can benefit from our shared experience in the wastewater world.

Our connection to many sewer network and sewage treatment plant operators has helped us to make our products operator-friendly and practical. Our highly qualified experts are close to the action and are convinced that INKA not only enables efficient sewer network management, but is also a key tool for sustainable and optimum sewer network operation. We would like to invite you to convince yourself of the numerous advantages of INKA and to shape the future of the water world together with us.