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Detroit’s Combined Sewer Outfall Facility Replaces Obsolete Control Systems

Configuration Tools from Rockwell Automation Help Nation’s Largest Wastewater System Reduce Design and Commissioning Time


Detroit’s Wastewater Treatment Plant is one of the largest in the United States, serving more than a third of Michigan’s population. The plant’s size and complexity are rooted in a convergence of three major forces: industry, water and weather. The city’s population exploded in the 1920s with the advent of automobile production. The newly minted “Motor City” continued to grow, ranking among America’s top 10 major metropolises for the rest of the 20th century. The city is also synonymous with water: Its name comes from the river that runs through it, which French explorers called Rivière du Détroit and translates to “River of the Strait.” That strait – today’s Detroit River – leads to Lake Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes. Like many of America’s urban waterways, the Detroit River and its tributaries were once badly polluted by raw sewage and storm water runoff. Construction of the city’s treatment plant in 1939 and a major series of expansions and upgrades over the next 50 years significantly improved effluent water quality. But a major problem remained: Heavy rains and snow melts sometimes overloaded the treatment plant, allowing polluted storm water to run into the Detroit River and the connecting Rouge River. The Rouge – which lies at the center of a large watershed in the metro Detroit area – was so polluted by chemically laden runoff that the river caught fire in 1969.

To better protect the rivers from runoff, the city began building a network of combined sewer overflow basins 25 years ago. Today, the department operates eight such basins, strategically sited in places where storm runoff would otherwise reach the rivers. By capturing and substantially treating the storm water, the basins play a major role in protecting the surrounding watersheds, and the people and wildlife living there.

In just the first three months of 2011, for example, the basins collected more than 5 billion gallons of runoff that would have otherwise escaped into waterways. While a third was pumped to the main plant for treatment, the rest of that water was treated in the basins.


Rockwell Automation PlantPAx Process Automation System, which incorporated:

  • Allen-Bradley ControlLogix programmable automation controllers to provide advanced processing capabilities, while continuously collecting critical operating data
  • Tightly integrated HMI using FactoryTalk View SE to allow instant access to real-timeinformation and operational trends
  • PlantPAx Library, which includes the basic building blocks for the system, including HMI faceplates customized for specific plant roles, in addition to rich info-laden icons and full documentation
  • Water Wastewater Accelerator toolkit helps rapidly deploy a project as it includes procurement specifications, a quick start guide, and sample controller and HMI configurations for common applications, such as lift stations, dosing pumps, head works and solids handling


Reduced deployment time

  • Resulted in a 50 percent reduction in design time, contract oversight, and post-contract documentation and support
  • Provided process control with advanced networking and diagnostic capabilities
  • Increased access to process data for better preventive and predictive maintenance

Reduced Engineering Hours and Costs

  • Saved estimated $120,000 in configuration and systems integration time
  • Saved $90,000 in factory-acceptance testing and startup/commissioning

You can read the entire whitepaper here.

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