This week, the individuals and organizations responsible for treating waste water and ensuring water quality in our communities will meet with leading industry executives and manufacturers at the annual WEFTEC Conference. At the center of their discussions will be a waste water and water quality industry that is rapidly changing and evolving.
Today, waste water utilities aren’t just treating and disposing of waste. They’re rapidly shifting towards becoming product manufacturers – utilizing advanced technologies to manufacture products and reuse our limited and precious water resources. And they’re trying to do this while facing shortages in resources, workers and funding.
To help make this possible, today’s waste water and water quality organizations are turning to technology – and looking to established equipment manufacturers to make devices and systems that embrace innovation to operate more effectively, more reliably and in a more automated fashion.
One of these equipment manufacturers is Flottweg, a German company with more than a century of experience in engineering innovative separation technologies. We recently sat down with Daniel Lakovic, the company’s business development manager, to talk about the challenges that waste water organizations are facing, and how technology is helping them to overcome them.
Here is what he had to say:
Modern Equipment Manufacturer (MEM): Tell us a little bit about the company and the products and solutions that you make for the wastewater and water quality industry.
Daniel Lakovic: Flottweg is a German corporation that’s been around for over a hundred years and has a heritage of engineering and innovation. The word, “Flottweg,” actually means “quickly away,” which was the brand name for a motorcycle in the early 1920s. That’s how the company got its start—building motorcycles and airplane engines.
Today, Flottweg is a manufacturer of separation technology – particularly centrifuges. For the water quality industry – drinking water and waste water – we provide centrifuges which are separating liquids from solids for the biosolid treatment section of the plant.
Centrifuges can be used for a couple different steps: thickening of primary sludge, or to separate liquids and solids towards the end of the treatment process aka dewatering. The solids left over can be removed and hauled to a landfill, or sometimes they’re treated further to a Class A solid to be used as fertilizer, for animal feed, or can be burned to create further energy.
MEM: In your opinion, what are some of the largest challenges facing waste water and water quality utilities today? How does the current generation of separation equipment and technology help address these?
Daniel Lakovic: The main challenge for today’s wastewater and water quality professionals is that they’re being asked to do more with less. For this reason, it’s essential for us to deliver a return on the investment. We work to do so by empowering them, giving them tools to generate new revenue streams and cut costs so that they can show their constituents that they’re spending tax money in a prudent way.
Today’s centrifuge technologies have advanced in recent years enabling the user to create a much drier cake using the same dimensions of a centrifuge. A drier cake means less cost because there’s less material for them to dispose of after the separation – lower transport costs. So, if [the waste water utility] are hauling the material to a landfill, they’re able to haul more material in less trips and that is a considerable cost saving. Transportation costs can actually be one of the highest costs for municipalities.
We’re also innovating and pioneering some exciting new features and technologies to increase energy efficiency in our centrifuges. So there are holes where the liquid comes out of the centrifuge, and what we’re doing is essentially redirecting the flow of that liquid to help turn the machine. This is effectively eliminating energy waste by harnessing that flow of liquid to help spin the machine. This can help to reduce the energy consumption of the treatment facility.
Finally we’re helping to create products that can reduce costs by generating revenue for the facilities. [Waste water utilities] are now taking a waste stream and turning it into a profit center. They’re taking that biosolid – something that was costing them money to transport to the landfill – and they’re turning it into a product that can be turned into a fertilizer or granular pellets that can be burned to generate electricity. They can use that electricity to offset their own costs and essentially operate the plant with what was a waste product, or – if they’re creating enough energy – they can supply it to the city and the city can turn around and sell that back to its constituents to generate revenue.
MEM: In a recent interview with WEF’s Barry Liner, we talked about the evolution of Smart Water technologies and solutions. Is this a trend that you’ve noticed in the industry? Is this something that Flottweg is embracing?
Daniel Lakovic: We call it a couple different things – Internet of Things, Industry 4.0 – but it’s essentially a plan to interconnect machinery so that they can talk to each other. That’s been a trend for a number of years now. We are also involved in that. We have added more sensors in the process line, on the feed, solids and the liquids sides. Those sensors are giving us the information needed to do a number of different things—like adjust the speed of our machines in an automated fashion.
But it’s about more than just putting sensors into your own equipment, you also need to integrate our equipment with the rest of the devices that make up the system. That means the feed process that’s going through our machine needs to integrate with the conveyor system that takes the solid waste away after our machine.
So, we’re working with the companies that are providing those machines and working to make our devices integrate with them. When these devices integrate, waste water utilities will be able to put all of their equipment into one system and automate as much as possible so that they’re now reducing their labor cost because they don’t need as many people to manually make those adjustments.
Automation means more than reducing the size of the labor force, it also helps reduce wear on devices because the sensors make sure that they’re operating optimally. This means there’s less of a chance of something breaking down because the sensors are protecting the machines.
MEM: Barry also talked about cloud enablement for water treatment devices and equipment. Is this a trend that you’re also seeing in the space?
Daniel Lakovic: We have that capability. We are able to remotely access our machines through the cloud and troubleshoot and optimize our machines for that customer’s unique application process.
Now, I will say that, although we provide it to every customer, not everybody is completely onboard with this. I think the main concern is security. That’s something that we have to overcome together. I don’t know what the best solution is for it as of yet, but there is concern that if you create too much access, someone can take advantage of that. Most of what I’ve seen is that the capability is there, but it’s not enabled all the time; it’s enabled when they need it.
With Flottweg’s products, customers have the ability to remotely access their systems. So on the weekend, if a plant supervisor is barbequing with their family, they have complete access to the plant on their cell phone. We’ve found customers feel a lot more comfortable if an alert comes in telling them exactly what’s happening from any location instead of receiving an alert and having to go to see what’s happening with the plant. So for plant customers, it’s that security. Knowledge is power in that sense.
MEM: What benefits does Flottweg get from making cloud-enabled devices?
Daniel Lakovic: We get data. We’re able to see what our machines are doing for a variety of applications. And the more we understand how our machines are operating on certain sludge types, the more we’re able to adjust to future requests. And that’s what helps our customers because we’re able to more precisely dial in our equipment to their needs.
Also, the more we understand how our machines operate in certain applications and with certain sludge types the more we can predict service requirements. That means that we’re not just a reactive industry, but proactive. We enable preventative maintenance. We’re actually able to tell them based on past data on sludges similar to theirs, the longevity of this wear component is X amount of time, so they’re able to plan ahead and schedule that service ahead of time instead of having that panic moment of “Oh no, my machine’s down, call the guys up, rush parts and technicians,” which increases their cost.
The more we can help them plan ahead for the servicing, that makes them more efficient. And again, it comes back to that peace of mind. So they don’t have to worry about an emergency situation.
MEM: Flottweg is exhibiting at WEFTEC. Does the company have any exciting announcements planned for this year? What should attendees expect from the company at this year’s event?
Daniel Lakovic: The thing I’m most excited about is the new Xelletor technology. It’s an improvement to the scroll which turns inside of the bowl of a centrifuge. In short, it improves efficiency, enabling users to run more material with a smaller machine. And also reducing polymer consumption which further reduces costs.
From a technology teaching point-of-view we have incorporated technology in our booth in a new and exciting way. There is something called projection mapping, and historically, it’s just been used on buildings and structures to change a façade, and I’m looking to use that technology to teach about our product.
So this year, we’re doing what we call Flottweg Theater, with a lot of LED displays that are showing different segments of the machine to teach about our products. The plan next year is to have video projecting on an actual product so that I can show what’s happening on the inside of the machine on the exterior with video.
For me, I’m most excited about teaching using technology, and that’s really what our job is as a manufacturer – solve problems by educating. Yes, we provide a product, but our main focus is solving other people’s problems.