In advance of this year’s WEFTEC Conference – one of the world’s leading water quality and wastewater conferences – we had the opportunity to sit down with one of the show’s organizers, Barry Liner, the Chief Technical Officer and director of WEF’s Water Science & Engineering Center. When asked about some of the largest challenges facing today’s water utilities, Barry mentioned the “silver tsunami,” an impending wave of retirements that will soon leave many municipal utilities bereft of talented, experienced workers and managers.
The wastewater and water quality industry requires difficult, sometimes dirty work and that can make it hard for wastewater utilities to find employees. This makes it incredibly important to retain the workers that they have. How can they accomplish that? Some think that technology could play a role.
During the WEFTEC Conference, we spoke with Rob Montenegro and Anthony Stanley of Grundfos, a provider of pumping solutions and technologies. During our discussion, Rob and Anthony talked about the role that perpetual “fire drills” can play in hurting workforce morale, and how the schedule uncertainty of emergencies and equipment failures can make the job undesirable for workers over time.
According to Rob and Anthony, new water treatment and pump technologies can help to eliminate these fire drills, reduce the need to manage devices on-site and generally increase job satisfaction among water quality professionals – keeping them in their jobs longer and helping to mitigate the damage of the impending “silver tsunami.”
During our conversation, Rob and Anthony also talked more in-depth about the challenges facing water quality utilities, the environmental initiatives taking hold in the industry and their company, and the exciting new technologies that were on display at WEFTEC. Here is what they had to say:
Modern Equipment Manufacturer (MEM): Can you tell us a little bit about Grundfos? What products and solutions does the company provide to the wastewater and water quality industry?
Robert Montenegro: Grundfos pioneers solutions to the world’s water and climate challenges and is the global leader in pumping and pumping solutions technologies. We are engaged in applications covering everything from water utilities in municipalities to industrial facilities to commercial buildings, domestic buildings and agriculture applications, and we are deeply engaged in the water treatment space.
We are embracing technologies today that make our pumping solutions more efficient, more effective, and easier to use for our customers. And this digital trend is one that we’ve been on for quite some time and will continue to be on because it’s not just the way of the present but also the way of the future.
MEM: Are there environmental challenges facing water utilities today? Are they taking steps to become greener?
Robert Montenegro: Having been in the industry for more than 30 years, I’ve found that many of the municipalities, including many that I’ve spoken to, are quite conservative. They want to do their job – to provide clean drinking water and treat wastewater. But they want to do it how it’s been done a long time, because there is tremendous pressure on them to not make mistakes or jeopardize the water supply and treatment services all of us count on.
In the same respect, this week I have had the pleasure of meeting with other municipalities that are very progressive. They want to change the game. They want to use less power, save energy and utilize technology in a smarter way to make their jobs better and provide better value to their constituents. At Grundfos, we have the pleasure of working with both, and we can offer both highly reliable pumps and cutting-edge technologies based on the municipalities’ needs.
MEM: We’ve heard people talking about wastewater utilities evolving to create products – such as biofuel and fertilizer. Is this something that you’re seeing in the industry?
Robert Montenegro: I personally don’t see a lot of that. There is a trend towards recycling, meaning we’re taking dirty water into plants, cleaning that dirty wastewater, releasing that water back into water sources and then dealing smartly with the residuals that are left over.
These residuals are being converted into fuel in some cases. A great example is drying the biosolids, drying these residuals and then utilizing them as a fuel source primarily in concrete production, because the resulting ash can be used in the creation of concrete. In addition, the residuals are also being used as a “fertilizer.”
Anthony Stanley: Grundfos’ digital solutions tie very closely into that process and allow our partners to increase efficiency and enable continuous operation. Our digital solutions allow anyone creating any type of product that uses rotating equipment and pumps to have a more in-depth understanding of the live status of their machines from a health standpoint. Our focus is on preventing downtime and impacting overall efficiencies.
MEM: I’ve heard that energy conservation and sustainability are a concern for water utilities. How are equipment manufacturers that sell into the waste water industry working to be more energy efficient and green?
Robert Montenegro: That’s a great question. Grundfos has adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Six and Thirteen directly into our strategy. And it’s deeply woven into the DNA of our organization. As you may know, Sustainable Development Goal #6 deals with making clean water and sanitation accessible to the world and Sustainable Development Goal #13 deals with combating climate change and its impacts.
Our goal is to provide safe, accessible drinking water to three-hundred million people and to become climate positive by 2030. So, when we talk about sustainability, we’re not just using the word “sustainability,” we are actually taking active steps to achieve a more sustainable future.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Los Angeles County at WEFTEC. They have also adopted sustainability goals in terms of their power and water usage. They’ve set very ambitious goals to reduce their power usage, get themselves off the grid, use less freshwater and conserve more water throughout the system. As I mentioned earlier, we have those conservative municipalities and we have progressive ones that are adopting technology and adopting change to reach sustainability goals.
Anthony Stanley: When it comes to any type of equipment, sustainability is a top goal from a corporate mission standpoint. But one of the biggest contributors of inefficiency are machines that are not operating intelligently. If machines are limping along, they’re being run until failure. They’re oversized for their application and they’re very wasteful.
Grundfos Condition Monitoring, also called GCM, allows our valued partners to ensure that their critical assets are performing at the highest possible level. It all ties very closely together.
MEM: We’ve also been hearing a lot about equipment manufacturers working to make their devices smarter and more connected. Is this something that Grundfos is embracing? How so?
Anthony Stanley: Smarter equipment, smarter utilities, smarter wastewater – people are moving in that direction. The more technology that we can use to pull back the curtain and give our partners more visibility into the inner workings of their systems and their operations, the more everyone benefits – especially those in wastewater utilities. There is a wide range of solutions that we’re developing, launching and currently offering to our partners. But they’re all aiming at the same goal – to help our customers and partners join us on the energy efficiency and environmental sustainability journey that we are on as a company.
MEM: What about cloud enablement? Are you seeing more wastewater equipment manufacturers cloud-enabling their devices? What is Grundfos doing in this area?
Anthony Stanley: When it comes to cloud-enabled IIoT, Grundfos is actively engaged in that effort. We are cloud-enabling both new equipment and existing equipment that’s already in the field. Eighty-percent of the lifetime equipment cost can be attributed to operations, maintenance and service. Our ambition is to impact this as meaningfully as possible for our customers. The better data and subsequent insights we can deliver, the more value our customers receive.
By making our equipment cloud-enabled, and by plugging pumps into the network, we can visualize the inner workings of the pumps from a distance. We don’t necessarily need to be on site or face-to-face with the end user to have a meaningful impact on their operations.
Our digital, cloud-enabled solutions are diverse. But our flagship product in the United States, Grundfos Condition Monitoring, sets the tone for the future of the digital transformation and IoT enablement.
MEM: What do the utilities get from embracing smarter, more connected devices? What does this mean for them?
Anthony Stanley: The more machines and pumps we have on the network – the more things that are connected – the easier it is to visualize the operational efficiency. Grundfos and our customers can all learn together and start trending toward a more efficient operating environment. Our goal is to have millions of connected machines within the next several years. This is the future.
There are a lot of buzzwords out there: IIoT, Industry 4.0, predictive maintenance, and so forth. At Grundfos, we’re trying to create a new category. We’re the industry leader when it comes to connectivity, using in-depth analytics to understand the meaning behind measurements such as vibration, temperature and magnetic flux. GCM uses Bluetooth-enabled sensory technology to transmit raw machine data into the cloud. That raw data is put through a very complex algorithm and machine learning technology, which allows us to provide our customers with actionable intelligence and next-steps for how to optimize their equipment.
Data is only as good as the insights we can pull from it. Our insights are clearer and more actionable than anyone else’s in the market. Our solutions are more impactful because they’re directly tied to actions. They’re not just alerts, they’re not alarms, we don’t simply let customers know there’s a problem. We partner with them to resolve any issues they are experiencing and make sure they are positioned for success in the future.
MEM: If I’m a water utility – or a worker at a water utility – how does this impact operations and my day-to-day?
Anthony Stanley: It means better longevity for equipment, increased efficiency in their operations, less downtime, and improved retention and overall job satisfaction for their employees. We can help control schedules, we can help look into the future and predict what’s coming so that our customers no longer have fire drills. Our vision for the future involves much less reactive service and much more proactive improvements.
The population of talented, capable service technicians is shrinking. It’s more important than ever to keep them happy, keep them engaged, and keep them in the industry so they continue to service the machinery and the pumps. This solution contributes to that directly.
MEM: Tell me a little about this year’s WEFTEC Conference. What exciting things came out of this year’s show?
Robert Montenegro: WEFTEC this year has been phenomenal. We’re glad to be back in Chicago. We had great turnout and visited with our customers, partners and potential customers. We even had an engaging, hands-on contest for end-users to show off their mechanical skills on a submersible wastewater pump and compete to win a cash prize. We had multiple partner events to visit with and share our strategy with our partners. And we were proud to introduce to the market the Grundfos Condition Monitoring that Anthony’s been talking about.
We also launched our LC231 and LC241 pump controllers that are digitally enabled, accessible and adaptable, utilizing our Bluetooth-enabled Grundfos GO app on your smartphone or tablet.
MEM: You just mentioned the app, which isn’t something I’ve heard you mention before. Care to tell our readers a little bit about it? What does it do?
Robert Montenegro: The Grundfos GO app is available on Apple iOS or Google Play. By using the Grundfos GO app, municipalities can adapt, change and influence the operation of their pumping systems with the LC231 or LC241 pump controllers and other controllers that we offer. This can be done remotely through a smartphone or tablet.
You can be sitting on your couch at home, sitting in your office, or standing next to the pump station, and you’re be able to monitor and adapt system conditions and operating conditions within the controls, so that the pumps run at their optimal efficiency and within their optimal parameters.
For additional information about cloud-enabling devices and the benefits that smarter, more connected equipment can deliver, click HERE to download the eBook, “The HVAC as a Service Revolution.”