Leveraging DigiFed’s cross-border innovation model to solve pressing industry challenge

Instrumentation Technologies working with ACCIONA to deliver innovative solutions

Businesses across industries are integrating technological advancements to streamline their operations and maintain a competitive edge. By embracing digitalization, companies can establish a more efficient and productive workflow, potentially leading to higher revenue and greater customer satisfaction. The implementation of digitalization allows for the utilisation of real-time data to make informed decisions. As more and more businesses recognize the benefits of digitalization, it has become essential for companies of all sizes and industries to adopt it into their operations.

Acciona’s water business is actively leveraging its technical expertise and innovative capabilities to address various challenges related to water scarcity, sanitation issues, and increased demand for this critical resource. The company is at the forefront of the water treatment industry, spearheading the design, construction, and operation of reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plants, drinking water treatment facilities, wastewater treatment plants, and tertiary treatments for water reuse. In RO desalination facilities, the core of the system are RO elements, whose status is critical to guarantee the quality of the water produced in the process. At present, the benchmark procedure to assess the status of RO elements relies on manual probing the permeate tube of the RO elements located inside a pressure vessel, using a plastic or stainless-steel tube. This process is incredibly labour-intensive, time-consuming, and impractical, particularly for large-scale desalination plants that contain thousands of RO elements as part of their facility.

This process revealed a clear need for a miniaturized digital sensor that can fit into the small space of the permeate tube, measure important parameters of the water, and transmit the data. To achieve this goal, several fields of expertise (microelectronics, communications, materials science) had to be mastered.  

For a large water management company such as Acciona, whose main business is building infrastructure, embarking alone on such a specific and complex objective would have been a challenge. The key was finding the right entity, possessing the right knowledge as well as the extensive research and development needed to bring a new technology to the market in the required timeframe.

Driven by this challenge, Acciona joined forces with the DigiFed program and participated in the Digital Challenge Innovation pathway. Through this pathway, DigiFed aims to assist EU industries in digitising their products and services. Utilising the Digital Challenge Innovation Tool developed and executed by Digital Catapult, DigiFed establishes collaborations between prominent industry players and technology start-ups and SMEs, thereby expediting the integration of cutting-edge technologies. By leveraging cyber-physical systems and embedded systems, DigiFed empowers these industries to penetrate new markets. 

The objective is to develop a solution for a practical, proposed challenge. This is a chance for advanced digital technology start-ups, SMEs, and mid-caps to be selected through an open call and receive match funding. These selected companies will solve industry challenges that have been set by corporate businesses, also known as Digital Challenge Owners, who act as early adopters. The goal is to tackle significant digitization challenges. The third parties chosen are granted program funding of up to EUR 110K, which includes co-funding from both DigiFed and the Digital Challenge Owner. This funding will enable them to create and construct novel solutions, products, and services that meet the Digital Challenge Owner’s business requirements. Additionally, the innovators have a span of 9 to 12 months to develop and test these solutions, preferably at the Digital Challenge Owner’s premises.

Attracting and selecting the ideal innovation partner

In the context of the Digital Challenge pathway, Acciona, the Digital Challenge Owner, engaged in a collaborative effort with Digital Catapult to establish and improve the digital challenge, which also included identifying the key traits and functionalities of the digital solution. In addition, DigiFed framed the open call, and distributed it throughout a broad innovative ecosystem, evaluated potential candidates capable of resolving the industry challenge, and pinpointed technology innovators with a strong potential for developing a successful product. Furthermore, the collaboration involved scrutinising various proposals and ultimately selecting the most suitable candidate to deliver the innovative solution.

With over 25 years of experience in specialised R&D projects, Instrumentation Technologies, a technology innovator equipped with a highly skilled engineering team, has taken on the challenge put forward by Acciona. Their task was to develop an end-to-end solution that would facilitate remote real-time monitoring of the reverse osmosis membrane’s performance in pressure vessels, enabling predictive maintenance, without halting the plant’s operations.

Supporting solution development

Throughout the project, Instrumentation Technologies developed a TRL 6 prototype encompassing a broad range of expertise, including hardware, software, calibration procedures, wireless power and communication, data transfer, measurements, miniaturisation, and housing design for harsh environments. During the development phase, they successfully leveraged DigiFed’s ecosystem when it was not possible to procure specialised components from the market due to unavailability or long lead times. The industrial prototype underwent testing and validation both in lab environments and in a simplified yet relevant industrial setting at Acciona, where it was integrated into a testing seawater desalination system.

The developed solution fulfils all the required and desired criteria outlined by the challenge owner Acciona at the project’s outset twelve months ago. It allows for the real-time digital assessment of reverse osmosis membrane performance, providing visibility into pressure vessel performance, facilitating the identification of problematic membranes, and enabling the integration of the measurements into active operational strategies without the need to halt the plant’s operations. 

Digital Catapult acted as a monitoring partner in this project, utilising their Digital Challenge Innovation Tool and implementing a comprehensive project management approach throughout the project offering a structured environment to monitor the progress and the results. They leveraged their diverse skills and expertise in innovation, engineering, evaluation methodologies, and project management to provide a 360-degree perspective.

Accelerating Innovation Across Borders: prototyping solutions for unique business needs using European ecosystems

Using DigiFed‘s program and Digital Challenge Innovation tool, the digital challenge owner, Acciona, was able to explore new European suppliers and engage with technology innovators and experts to develop a customised solution for their real business challenge. This process allows for a de-risked, cost-efficient, and accelerated digital transformation of their business operations, ultimately expediting their overall journey towards digital transformation. Additionally, the technology innovator, Instrumentation Technologies, was presented with a chance to address a real-world industry challenge, expand their existing value proposition by creating and implementing a new product, and enhance its value through top-notch technical expertise, innovation support, and access to pilot sites for testing and validation. This opportunity also allowed the innovator to identify potential new commercial prospects and new markets.