Ecolab completes its first major equipment installation enabled by mixed reality

Source: press release, 26 October 2020

Mixed reality enables Ecolab major equipment installation
Mixed reality enables Ecolab major equipment installation (illustration: Ecolab)

With COVID-19 reducing in-person access to energy plants around the world, Ecolab is using new digital solutions to deliver its water, energy and sanitisation solutions.

Ecolab used mixed reality to guide the installation of PURATE chlorine dioxide generators at multiple facilities for one of the largest independent midstream energy infrastructure companies in the US. These installations mark Ecolab’s first use of mixed reality to install, test and deliver a chlorine dioxide generator solution for cooling tower operations at an energy plant.

Mixed reality combines elements of virtual reality and augmented reality to create a blend of the physical and digital world that users experience through mixed reality headsets. Ecolab leveraged the technology to install three PURATE generators, which generate ClO2 and can be more effective than bleach or bromide solutions in controlling the fouling and microbial problems that can reduce the efficiency of heat exchangers in cooling towers (EPA Reg. No. 1706-242).

“Due to the travel, social distancing and plant access restrictions in effect for COVID-19, a typical installation process that involves several on-site engineers was not possible for this company,” says Steve Kramarczyk, a corporate account manager for the Global Heavy division of Ecolab. “Still, the company wanted to realise the cost and logistics savings PURATE offers, so we were able to use mixed reality to safely oversee its installation.”

By wearing a mixed reality headset, a single Ecolab field representative was able to transmit on-site visuals and critical data to a team of Ecolab engineers working remotely. Similar to a guided space mission, the engineers, whose combined experience totalled more than 50 years, were then able to guide the representative through a variety of operations at the plant that included:

  • Inspection and planning.
  • An installation process in the cooling towers that involved lifting the PURATE generator into place with a crane.
  • Inspecting valves, monitors, electronics and checking for leaks.
  • Mechanical and control testing of the PURATE generator, wet testing it with water, and finally, testing it with its chlorine dioxide chemical solution.

The installations took approximately 1.5 days each and the results were near instantaneous. The PURATE ClO2 solution is more effective than competitive products, which results in fewer shipments of chemicals to the company’s plants. This means there is less time spent onboarding supplies, reducing logistics and labour needs, as well as the time spent handling chemicals, which contributes to the customer’s health and safety goals. Fewer chemicals on site enables the company to better optimise its available plant space. PURATE also operates in a wider pH balance than bleach or bromide, which will offer the midstream company more flexibility in its treatment options in the future.

“Digital technologies like mixed reality will have a transformative effect in the energy sector,” Kramarczyk says. “Not only will companies that embrace them be able to perform major equipment installations, they will be able to better assess risk, monitor their operations and improve their efficiency. Ecolab has spent decades building relationships with our customers and learning about the innerworkings of their operations. It’s this intimate knowledge that enables us to leverage our digital solutions effectively for our customers.”