The flow-on effect of the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been increasing in importance for the water industry. But how is that impacting Australia's approach to water scarcity?

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been increasing in importance for the water industry. But how is that impacting Australia’s approach to water scarcity?

Already a very dry continent, Australia’s water scarcity issues are likely to be exacerbated by changes to weather patterns – caused by climate change – as well as the increased demands of a growing population.

Australia is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. However, water is not among them. As the world’s driest inhabited continent, Australia has always faced challenges in terms of meeting its water consumption needs. Its average rainfall is roughly 470 millimetres a year – well below the global average. Temperatures in Central Australia can reach and exceed 50 degrees Celsius. Further to that, what rainfall Australia does receive is concentrated along the north and east coasts of the country.

The twin challenges of climate change and population growth compound Australia’s inherent water scarcity. Indeed, the Productivity Commission noted in a 2021 report that drought conditions are likely to become more frequent, severe, and prolonged in some regions – owing to climate change – and that reductions in supply should be expected alongside growing demand due to population increase.

In this context, providing safe drinking water is a key challenge, and more sophisticated and effective methods of treating water are crucial to meeting today’s and tomorrow’s demands.


Industry expert Freddie Coertze is the National IoT Business Manager and Digital Strategy Leader for ifm. He said that ifm’s goal is to help maintain Australian water networks and help make them more efficient.

“In Australia, maintaining our water networks is a make-or-break issue,” he said. “This is why ifm is committed to working with local companies tackling water scarcity issues.”

Not all water is created equally or even recycled equally. Each state and territory has its regulatory frameworks, primarily managed by each jurisdiction’s Environmental Protection Agency (or equivalent). These departments or agencies govern how different types of wastewater are treated. Those regulations also set the quality standards to be met when transforming wastewater into usable water for different purposes. On-site wastewater management systems need to perform effectively and be appropriately managed to reduce risks to the environment and public health.

Among the criteria governing wastewater handling are the source of wastewater, site constraints, treatment methods, and the quality of effluent needed for proposed end-uses of treated water. Australian states and territories have their own regulatory frameworks that govern the conditions under which permits for the construction, installation, and alteration of wastewater management systems will be granted.

Grant Smith, Senior Applications Engineer at ifm, says that the challenge for wastewater treatment operations is to run plants effectively along the entire cycle – producing a result that is economical, effective, safe, and in line with environmental regulations. Accounting for these various factors means there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“At ifm, we understand the customers’ needs and focus on offering scalable solutions that are the best fit for the application,” said Smith. “We offer solutions for water and wastewater treatment plants, including the physical hardware. We also take a consultative approach. It helps us understand the customers, and we know that every application and project is different.”


According to Smith, ifm has supplied various IO-Link Solution wastewater treatment projects. They provide hygienic pressure sensors that continuously detect the tank’s pressure, temperature, level, and flow. The solution sees the pressure sensors connected via IO-Link Masters back to a PLC [Programmable Logic Controller]. Integrating IO-Link sensors into wastewater treatment plants allows for greater accumulation of monitoring data and process transparency from the machine level to ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] software.

IO-Link is a short-distance communications network that connects smart sensors and actuators – components responsible for moving and controlling a mechanism or system – back to an industrial control system, allowing for richer and more transparent data monitoring and doing away with complex physical wiring processes.

Coertze noted that in more traditional environments, different sensors would each have to be wired back through separate channels. With IO-Link, there is just one channel with all the information about what’s happening inside an operation. Variables such as pressure, temperature, level, and flow are gathered in one place. IO-Link allows the transition from traditional 4-20mA analogue data collection methods to a more digitalised process that ensures a continuous flow of accurate and lossless data.

“In the past, conversion losses and EMC interference during the analogue signal transmission of the level caused inaccuracies and errors,” he said. “The IO-Link utilises purely digital transmission of the measured values. That way, the exact measured value is transmitted to the controller, eliminating any risk of signal interruption.”

Coertze pointed out that screened cables and associated grounding are no longer necessary. Instead, the data can be transferred via industry-standard cables. Furthermore, expensive analogue input cards are no longer needed with the new technology.

“These features save time,” Coertze said. “There’s no need to integrate different data outputs. That also means that companies can save money in the volume of engineering hours needed to integrate different data sets from different operating systems. That also saves on operating costs.”

The IO-Link system is a plug-and-play system. Users screw the cables into place, and the system is ready to go. That’s why it is great for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

“With IO-Link, you will get more diagnostics for less wiring,” said Youssef Attallah, New South Wales Branch Manager of ifm.

The Aerofloat experience

Attallah pointed out that ifm has worked with water treatment companies with sensor and control systems for many years. Its sensors and IO-Link solution is cost-effective for small-to-medium size enterprises.

One such enterprise is Aerofloat, an Australian industrial wastewater treatment specialist that ifm has been working with to help provide customers with affordable, Australian-compliant treatment services.

“Aerofloat is an ideal customer for ifm,” said Attallah. “It provides wastewater treatment solutions across various industries. As a homegrown Australian company, it gives new opportunities for ifm products to be utilised in new ways by new companies.”

Aerofloat has a history of dealing with a range of projects. One day, they could be installing a solution in a food factory, the next in a winery, and the third solution could be somewhere else again.

“No two days are the same,” he said. “For ifm, as a company with an international footprint, it’s great to see our products utilised in new ways for new customers. We know that ifm and Aerofloat are not only producing business benefits to the end-user. It will also contribute to the societal good through more provision of a scarce resource in Australia: water.”

History of Aerofloat

Michael Anderson, General Manager of Engineering and Operations at Aerofloat, co-founded the company in 2009. The other co-founders are father and Managing Director Ray Anderson and sister Katie Moor, the General Manager of Business Operations.

Michael says that Ray, a chemical engineer, was doing consulting work when he spotted an opportunity to solve a problem treating grey water on houseboats on the Murray River in South Australia. The three teamed up to address the issues, complementing their individual skill sets. They combined Ray’s vast experience in the wastewater treatment industry, Katie’s chemical engineering background and business acumen, and Michael’s passion and adeptness in product design.

“We got to work designing the product, got it certified to Australian standards, commercialised it, and installed about 200 systems,” Michael said. “That took roughly three years. At that point, the Environment Protection Authority relaxed its standards for greywater discharge from houseboats on the Murray. The market we had been solely catering to disappeared.”

Michael spoke about how Aerofloat had to pivot by scaling up the technology it had developed to supply a new product. That product was Aerofloat’s Dissolved Air Flotation systems (‘AeroDAF’) and designed for industrial wastewater applications.

From working on relatively small projects, Aeroflot has grown to do projects for industrial wastewater plants, breweries, and food manufacturers. There are also projects for local and state governments.

Aerofloat and ifm

“We’re committed to innovation and sustainable solutions,” Michael said. “We have several patented technologies, and we’re very R&D focused. I’d say our biggest point of differentiation is that we are an end-to-end solution provider in wastewater treatment. Every customer is different. Relationships like the one we’ve built with ifm are critical. We’ve done some reliable wastewater treatment plants exclusively fitted out with ifm instruments.”

Tim McCann, Operations Manager at Aerofloat, pointed to the ifm relationship being vital for Aerofloat.

“ifm is well known for reliable and high-quality products, so having their brand associated with Aeroflot is a great selling point for us,” McCann said. “Technologically speaking, ifm’s IO-Link technology suits us as a business. It saves us and our customers on time and wiring costs. We also gain more visibility in data collection than we’d otherwise have with traditional instruments.”

Building for the future

Michael adds that because ifm has so many instruments in its portfolio, there are always new products that can be added to Aerofloat’s arsenal in servicing its wastewater plants.

“With IO-Link, we can add a new instrument later without upgrading the control panel,” said Michael. “Traditionally, users want more PLC inputs and outputs under an analogue system. We can quickly and efficiently get the instrument into one of the field modules with a digital system. That’s faster and more straightforward. Having that scalability, flexibility and ease of add-on functionality is critical. It not only helps us respond to customer demands but also allows us to adjust to regulatory changes within the industry.”

McCann agrees that the ease of use for IO-Link has made a difference to Aerofloat. This is on top of the initial and ongoing support Aerofloat received from ifm.

“I wish IO-Link was available on all of our other instruments,” he said. “It’s so easy to set up and run. It’s also more cost-effective, and we’ve received fantastic after-sales support. Working with ifm has been a great experience for us.”

Project outcomes

In supplying innovative and ever-evolving instruments that assist with wastewater treatment, ifm is indispensable in collaborating with Australian businesses. The industry will only continue to grow in importance given Australia’s hard climate conditions, growing population, and more extreme weather events.

The partnership between Aerofloat and ifm provides enormous opportunities. Michael Anderson is looking forward to the future.

“We’ve got a growing and passionate team at Aerofloat,” he said. “The team is dedicated to solving environmental and water issues. We are proud to have such a reliable partner in ifm. We know they will support all the solutions we provide to our many customers nationwide.”

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