Size does matter: How ABB’s giant flowmeter is set to ease water woes in Saudi Arabia

Case study | April 2, 2023

Accurate and real-time data from ABB’s biggest-ever electromagnetic flowmeter will help to optimize operations for a desalination plant in Saudi Arabia. 

With a booming global population and growing water scarcity, nations and governments are turning to desalination to produce clean, drinking water. Currently, there are about 16,000 desalination plants set up across the world with a combined daily capacity of 100 million cubic meters, providing potable water to more than 300 million people. To maintain the highest levels of energy efficiency, reliability and quality in a desalination plant it is crucial to measure various parameters accurately and consistently.

ABB recently completed the production, calibration, and shipping of the biggest electromagnetic flowmeter made by the company to date. The flowmeter was designed for the Yanbu project – a seawater desalination project in Saudi Arabia. 

Saudi Arabia gets about 97 percent of its drinking water from desalination, according to a recent ARC report. The Yanbu project aims to supply 450,000 tonnes of potable water per day to 1.5 million people in the city of Medina and its surrounding areas.  

As part of the project, ABB developed and calibrated a giant DN3000 flowmeter with an inner diameter of 3 meters at its factory in Shanghai, China. 

“ABB’s large-diameter electromagnetic flowmeter along with other measurement solutions will streamline operations at a reverse-osmosis desalination plant, which will help ease the Kingdom’s water scarcity woes,” said ABB’s Hymer-ShiPing Wen, who is General Manager of the Shanghai facility.

Developing a super-sized flowmeter

Electromagnetic flowmeters play a key role in a desalination plant, collecting data on water flow rates throughout the various stages in the conversion of seawater to drinking water.  

“The main reason for a customer to require a super-sized electromagnetic flowmeter would be the sheer volume of water that is being processed at a treatment facility. To obtain accurate data, you would need a ‘giant’ flowmeter with a low calibration that could measure flow rates for large amounts of water,” noted Ricky-WeiQi Jiang, Product Manager, Electromagnetic Flowmeters at ABB. 

ABB was a front-runner for this project because of its vast technical experience in other desalination plants in the region and the fact that the company had procured the OIML R49 certification. In addition to this, ABB’s Shanghai factory also updated equipment, tooling for assembly and welding stations, and the calibration device to develop the DN3000 flowmeter. 

High-precision electromagnetic flowmeters will allow plant operators to have higher control over processes as well as to ensure optimal pump performance while boosting production and energy efficiency. With an accuracy of up to 0.2%, the DN3000 flowmeter helps to enhance performance and reduce costs for the desalination facility. The customized device can maintain an accuracy of 0.4% even at low flow rates, improving the control of wastewater discharge and promoting sustainable operations.  

“This giant flowmeter is a milestone for ABB. The increase in calibration capabilities significantly improves our capacity to produce large-diameter electromagnetic flowmeters,” noted Hymer-ShiPing Wen. ABB has previously developed a 2.4-meter diameter flowmeter.  


Smart and accurate water measurement solutions

Apart from developing the DN3000 flowmeter, ABB teams in China and the UK worked together to deliver further electromagnetic flowmeters as well as AquaMaster devices. ABB’s digital solutions enable accurate and real-time monitoring of the flows of salty water into the plant as well as potable water being pumped out, gathering data at every stage in the desalination process.  

“Based on the information from these smart devices, operators gain value-added insight into the water treatment plant’s day-to-day performance, which helps boost productivity, improve energy efficiency and prevent unexpected events,” added Ricky-WeiQi Jiang.  

Coupled with the digital innovations in ABB’s flowmeters, is the cutting-edge design of the devices, which takes into consideration the harsh conditions in desalination plants, including corrosive seawater as well as high temperatures and humidity levels. 

ABB’s digital water flow measurement systems are easy to set up with fast commissioning times. The innovative devices are highly intuitive and convenient to navigate, offering step-by-step guidance to plant operators. Diagnostic functions enable the systems to monitor their own operability as well as the water flow processes, and in the event of any error, the devices prompt troubleshooting options, ensuring the highest levels of performance and efficiency.  

“Digitalization not only ensures that flowmeters are working optimally and efficiently. It also facilitates effective maintenance in the unfortunate event of an error,” said Ricky-WeiQi Jiang.  

Furthermore, ABB also provides VeriMaster, a tool that allows operators to verify the performance of flowmeters and detect issues that might affect functionality. This verification utility also facilitates printing of calibration verification records for regulatory compliance. 

“ABB’s work supports some of the most complex infrastructures and operations, and our innovative measurement solutions can help to mitigate the world’s water scarcity issues,” added Hymer-ShiPing Wen. ABB’s electromagnetic flowmeters have been used in a range of water and wastewater treatment facilities in some of the most difficult environments, using customized sensor and transmitter materials. 


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