Authored by: Yeong Che Fai

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’. A powerful saying from Confucius that burns in the very heart of Dr Shafishuhaza Sahlan, one of many CAIRO UTM’s researchers. Come and join us, in revealing the momentous journey of Dr Shafis as a fellow educator and researcher in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Skudai, Johor.

Dr Shafis tertiary education initiated in University of Sheffield UK, where she earned her Masters’ degree in Control Systems Engineering.The keen understanding of control systems and how a real world is related to a mathematical equation and can be represented as a real system fascinated her so much that she decided to further her PhD in similar areas, in University of Western Australia (UWA), Perth. Taking a different path of control systems, Dr Shafis diverted her studies to the simulation part of control which gave her new perspectives, connecting system processes to a simulated phase. Dr Shafis graduated from UWA in 2010.

Discussion with ZEC Engineering Sdn Bhd

Dr Shafis interest in control systems has led her to enhance her hands-on experience by undergoing a 12-months industrial attachment with a local company in Taman Daya Johor Bahru, ZEC Engineering Sdn Bhd. in 2015. It was during her attachment that Dr Shafis was exposed to programmable logic controllers or PLC, automation and Supervisory, Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. The PLC and SCADA application with ZEC Sdn Bhd was on water treatment plants (WTP) in Linggi and Titi, Negeri Sembilan. In addition, Dr Shafis was also involved in building management system (BMS) during her internship involving the implementation of BMS to the operations of Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus in Subang Jaya, which she earned her Professional Engineer (Malaysia) with. On top of it all, during this period, Dr Shafis was also responsible to monitor and analyze the energy consumption of these processes. Which led to her attaining her Registered Electrical Energy Manager (REEM) certification from Energy Commission Malaysia (Suruhanjaya Tenaga Malaysia). Finalizing her internship, Dr Shafis was adamant to slowly narrow the gap between the industry and the world of academics, an imminent attempt to embed that in her teaching, as well as her research in UTM.

Replacing the Level Sensor On Top of Reservoir Tank in Titi WTP in 2015

An avid educator, once the internship completed at the end of 2016, utilizing knowledges learnt from her 12 months industrial involvement, the first thing that she did was salvaging electronic components from deserted experiments in the Instrumentation Laboratory in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Skudai Johor and fabricating her own automated process system, a lab-scaled water distribution system (WDS). In the lab, since early 2017, with the help of several cohorts of UTM electrical engineering students, a lab-scaled WDS is gradually fabricated.

Water distribution system is a part of the water supply network, which carries treated water from  water treatment plants (WTP) to consumers. The main objective of the fabrication of WDS is to provide students with the coveted hands-on experience, by involving the students in fabricating a system from the ground up. Initiated in early 2017, to date, the system has been upgraded to a fully automated, and remotely capable system. Upon completion of the fabricated system, a supervisory, control and data acquisition system (SCADA) of the lab-scaled WDS is developed, which enables near real-time monitoring of the system through a human machine interface (HMI) in CX-Supervisor.

The WDS in 2017 versus 2022
Upgraded HMI of WDS in 2022

Through the developed HMI of the system, the trending of the incoming and outgoing flow rates, as well as the incoming and outgoing motor speed can be monitored in near real time. The level of the tanks can also be monitored, and maintained, representing an adequate water volume required by consumers. The lab-scaled system is further improved by enabling remote monitoring of the system and remote control of the motor speed of the system through Node-Red, from a ThingsBoard server. The latest achievement enabled the WDS to be monitored and controlled in real-time from any devices with an internet connection. From the data obtained from the SCADA system, the system is further analyzed through implementation of simulated optimized control, using PID controller and swarm intelligence. The beauty of it was, in every development phase of the system, Dr Shafis was adamant to involve her final year project (FYP) students, which required weekly hands-on activities in the Instrumentation Laboratory. As much as she can, Dr Shafis would bring the coveted help from the industry, particularly from ZEC Engineering Sdn Bhd.

Throughout the development of the system, Dr Shafis has diversified her knowledge on PLC and its application, having to deal with numerous challenges particularly in integrating the system, having the correct scaling to the PLC. More so, due to the gradual installation of new sensors, the system’s dynamic keeps on changing throughout the years. On top of that, to ensure that the automation process runs smoothly the PLC algorithm needs to be coded according to the dynamic change, in the ladder diagram, CX Programmer.

Remote Monitoring and Control of WDS in 2022
WDS Development Stages 2017-2022
Hands-on Experience with the Industry

As the icing on the cake, from this one system alone, since 2019, Dr Shafis was able to publish five scopus-indexed conference papers, one scopus-indexed journal paper, and most recent publication sees a hat-trick achievement where three articles were accepted for an IEEE conference in Malaysia. Kudos!

[1]  A.N.H.H. Al-Hadi, S. Sahlan, R.T.P.Eek, M.F.A. Rahim, M.A.H. Hariri, K.I. Rosli. (2022), Automated Control and Monitoring of an Upgraded Laboratory-Scaled Water Distribution System, The 8th IEEE International Conference on Smart Instrumentation, Measurement and Application, Melaka, Malaysia, 27-28 September 2022, Accepted 2022.

[2]  J.Y. Low, M.S.A. Manaf, S. Sahlan, S.W. Nawawi, K.I. Rosli. (2022). Web-Based Monitoring and Control of A Lab-Scaled Water Distribution System, The 8th IEEE International Conference on Smart Instrumentation, Measurement and Application, Melaka, Malaysia, 27-28 September 2022, Accepted 2022.

[3]     M.A.Robert, M.H.I.Ishak, S.Sahlan, M.F.A.Rahim, R.T.P.Eek, K.I.Rosli, M.S.A.Manaf. (2022),, Optimized PID Controller for Upgraded Water Distribution System Utilizing Swarm Intelligence, The 8th IEEE International Conference on Smart Instrumentation, Measurement and Application, Melaka, Malaysia, 27-28 September 2022, Accepted 2022.

[4]     S. Sahlan, M.M. Mazlan, N.M.Nasir, K.I.Rosli, M.S.A.Manaf, A.H.M.Yamin. (2019),, Fully Automated Control and Monitoring for Liquid Level System, 2019 2nd International Conference on Applied Engineering (ICAE), pp. 1-4.

[5]     S. Sahlan, M. M. Mazlan, N. M. Nasir, K. I. Rosli, M. S. A. Manaf and A. H. M. Yamin. (2019), “Fully Automated Control and Monitoring For Liquid Level System,” 2019 2nd International Conference on Applied Engineering (ICAE), 2019, pp. 1-4, doi: 10.1109/ICAE47758.2019.9221690.

[6]     K. I. Rosli, N. M. Nordin, S. Sahlan and M. S. A. Manaf (2019), “Industrial Lab-Bench Liquid Level Process Control System Paper – Phase I,” 2019 IEEE 10th Control and System Graduate Research Colloquium (ICSGRC), 2019, pp. 9-13, doi: 10.1109/ICSGRC.2019.8837072.

[7]     S. Sahlan, C.J. Clifton, R.T.P. Eek, A.N. Anuar, K.I. Rosli, M.F.A. Rahim, M.S.A. Manaf, (2021), “Optimized Modeling of a Laboratory-scaled Water Distribution System, Journal of Tomography System and Sensor Application (TSSA), vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 115–121, Nov. 2021.

[8]     Anuar, A.N., Sahlan, S., Rosli, K.I., Ab Rahim, M.F., Yunus, M.A.M., Ishak, M.H.I. (2021). Implementation of Industrial Automation Water Distribution System Utilizing PLC: A Laboratory Setup. In: Kumar, A., Zurada, J.M., Gunjan, V.K., Balasubramanian, R. (eds) Computational Intelligence in Machine Learning. Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering, vol 834. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-8484-5_12

[9]     Kosmani, N.F.A.b. et al. (2022). Optimized PID Controller of a Laboratory-Scaled Water Distribution System via Swarm Intelligence Techniques. In: Wahab, N.A., Mohamed, Z. (eds) Control, Instrumentation and Mechatronics: Theory and Practice. Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering, vol 921. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-3923-5_42

Most definitely that the system will be upgraded further to produce even more impactful outcomes. The next stage of the research will be enabling wireless monitoring and control from several WDS through modbus protocol, as well as applying the simulated optimized control to the real system, and of course, the application of energy management is inevitable. The system upgrade will most definitely mean that more industrial grants are imminent, which will produce even more skillful students on PLC, automation and SCADA. To date, since 2017, the majority of students involved in the WDS and its development, have secured jobs in the industry related to PLC, automation and SCADA. It will be of great honor for Dr Shafis, to be able to produce more skillful engineers from UTM in the future, with Allah’s will.

In this article, although focused primarily on the lab-scaled system, Dr Shafis’s research interests also include automation systems on any application, wireless and IoT-based system as well as optimization and control of simulated systems. What brings the most joy to Dr Shafis though, is to watch her students grow throughout the process, becoming more skillful as they spend more time working on the system, developing them into the coveted industry-ready graduates. Good luck, Dr Shafis in your future research, and remember, ‘Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today’.

More about CAIRO UTM:

CAIRO UTM (Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics) is one of the leading Centres of Excellence in Malaysia focusing on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Control and Automation. Established in 1997, CAIRO UTM has produced numerous talents and significant research outcomes on AI & Robotics. In 2018, CAIRO UTM was awarded as one of the Competence Centre by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry MITI. UTM has strong linkages and networking with academic institutions, government sectors and industrial sectors, on national and international level.

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