How to better manage a complex irrigation network
Murrumbidgee Irrigation Limited is one of the largest private irrigation companies in Australia, supporting the rich agricultural region of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area in southern New South Wales. This region spans thousands of hectares growing a number of key commodities including grain, rice, fruit and nuts. Murrumbidgee Irrigation serves over 2300 customers with essential water services through 3000 kilometres of channels, 50 pump stations of various sizes and over 1700 regulators.
With water such a critical resource in Australia, exacerbated by reduced water allocations over time, Murrumbidgee Irrigation is continually seeking new ways of delivering water in the best way possible.
Over several years Murrumbidgee Irrigation has been automating its extensive integrated irrigation network – a process that is nearing complete automation. When a customer orders water, the Murrumbidgee Irrigation system now co-ordinates a response wherein a water order is met, but channel levels are maintained for other users. In doing so, the integrated network generates a vast quantity of data on a near real-time basis. This data is extremely valuable for network management - from monitoring the performance of the system and diagnosing faults to underpinning data driven decision making.
Recognising the complexity of the automated irrigation system and huge variety of data being generated, Murrumbidgee Irrigation identified the system would be best managed by a digital twin.
A digital twin - a virtual representation of an object or system that spans its lifecycle - is updated from real-time data using simulation, machine learning and reasoning to help decision-making. It incorporates artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve decision making around network operations, predictive maintenance and to better quantify the impact of different future state scenarios.
The development of a digital twin is a complex undertaking, requiring skills in computer science, data acquisition and analysis, engineering and project management. Murrumbidgee Irrigation needed to bolster its already strong team with someone who could undertake the core tasks required to construct it.
Developing a new digital framework to better irrigation manage data
Through the Innovations Connections service, CSIRO Innovation Facilitator Bruce Thomson was able to help Murrumbidgee Irrigation recruit an engineering graduate from Monash University, Cody McRae to develop the digital twin.
The graduate set about understanding existing data sets, developing a framework for ingestion in virtual platforms and assessing data quality for decision making. Cody has been leveraging this data structure to facilitate the development of network performance tools on the digital twin platform. These tools target key performance areas that impact Murrumbidgee Irrigation's customers' levels of service such as seepage and in-channel vegetation.
Improved tactical and strategic decisions informed by real-time data
While the digital twin model is evolving, Murrumbidgee Irrigation's current iteration of the digital twin and the suite of tools that operate on it are actively enabling internal teams to make tactical and strategic decisions regarding the management of Murrumbidgee Irrigation's integrated delivery network. In the long term it will continue to improve Murrumbidgee Irrigation's asset management, improve water sustainability, and ultimately transform the operation of Murrumbidgee Irrigation's irrigation network.
The project has had a secondary benefit for the organisation, encouraging and facilitating the sharing of information and insights between management and operational staff across the whole organisation, who can now leverage data that was otherwise inaccessible or disconnected.
The resulting digital twin is a tool that can help us reason not just about how well the system is doing, but also about what information and analytics will be most useful.
— Sam Yenamandra, Manager – Asset Strategy and Performance, Murrumbidgee Irrigation
Through the Innovation Connections program, I was given a unique graduate role where I was able to hit the ground running. Working on real-world projects and challenges from day one was a great way to kick-start my career in data science.
—Cody McRae, Engineering Graduate, Monash University