Achieving Success: Leveraging the Manufacturer's Experience

Because WWTPs are a significant investment for ratepayers, it’s crucial to provide a sufficient ROI. Leveraging a trusted manufacturer can help you get mileage out of your investment.

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Achieving Success: Leveraging the Manufacturer's Experience

What is the typical design life of a wastewater treatment plant in North America? This is an important question to consider. Perhaps the better question to consider is: “What is important to the operators and beneficiaries of a WWTP facility?”

The historical mandate for publicly funded WWTPs has been and continues to be to provide for the safe collection and effective processing of wastes from the community. Because it is a significant investment for ratepayers, it is crucial to provide a sufficient return on investment for as long as possible. The general rule of thumb has been an expectation of average design life of twenty years for most pieces of treatment equipment used in the plant. This lifespan has become the norm that is acceptable to the ratepayers footing the bill.

Many steps

There are many stakeholders in the financing, planning, design, construction and operation of a modern WWTP. Each of these entities has different responsibilities and motivations regarding their part within the lifespan of the facility.

Writing from a manufacturers’ point of view, the decision-making process for considering, selecting and operating a specific technology in the WWTP can radically differ from one decision-maker to another. For instance, a consulting engineer focuses on the process and works to understand how to put the complex processes together. First and foremost, for the engineer, the designed process must work and produce the treatment results. While it is important for the consultant that the technology provides consistent and reliable operation, the likelihood of the engineer being affected much beyond the successful startup and operation through the warranty period of the designed technology is minimal.

Traditionally the procurement process is primarily dominated by a project delivery model that is described as  design/bid/build. This arrangement employs the expertise of the various disciplines and calls on them to focus their capabilities and skills on a narrowly defined responsibility pathway. The construction contractor in this model is charged with building the WWTP designed by the consulting engineer.

The governing documents that direct the construction contractor are the plans and specifications. The successful constructor must complete the construction of the WWTP described in the tender documents. Because the contract is a competitively bid procurement, for the construction contractor to be successful they must be the low-dollar bidder.

From the contractor’s point of view, they are technology agnostic. Their primary mission is to build the system described in the plans and specifications. Assuming the WWTP design was correct to begin with, the contractor focuses on constructing the facility and getting off the project as soon as possible while remaining profitable for the effort.

Down the road

It is interesting to note that, within this procurement model, although the contractor is the primary purchaser of the technologies, they are the entities with the narrowest time range of involvement and the least impacted by the long-range implications of the system’s functionality. 

Importance increases for each of the disciplines involved in this process to be able to focus and to apply their craft correctly. By aiming at a successful implementation for the WWTP’s construction, the consulting engineer and construction firm can do what they are best at. 

Ironically, the plant operator is the entity that has to navigate the majority of the useful 20-year lifespan of the equipment. Reputation and professional ethics provide a certain amount of energy and awareness for both the consulting engineer and construction contractor to empathize with the long-range view of the plant operations. However, pressing conditions of conducting their own business prevent both the engineer and contractor from going much further than empathy with those considerations.

A common saying repeated in the industry was coined by Benjamin Franklin: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” At first blush, this may be stating the obvious. However, in the context of this conversation, it really translates to the question, “What is the value?”

Each of the professions involved in the design, construction and operation of the WWTP will have different needs to accomplish their tasks. As a result, competent assistance with helping each of those individuals achieve their responsibilities and objectives becomes something of tangible value. A skilled manufacturer participates in all stages of the technology life cycle used in the WWTP design. They are in a unique position to provide practical value at each step of the process.

The developer of the technology is a tremendous resource to the design engineer in exploring the feasibility of a given design. Value is gained by tapping that experience and guidance provided by the manufacturer to properly consider all the nuances and details in the design of the new WWTP. A competent measure of the value is the level of engineering expertise on the manufacturer’s staff that provides support to the consultant at the speed of the need. 

Similarly, once the construction contractor is selected, the level of participation of the manufacturer with assisting the consulting engineer in the actual design phase provides value that translates to efficient processing and approval for production. Companies that have the most direct line to the fabrication and delivery of the equipment provide the best opportunity for on-time delivery. All of this results in timesavings that deliver tangible value to retain profits for the constructor. The temptation to simply select on low dollar lends credence to Benjamin Franklin’s aforementioned “bitter and sweet” observations.

Going the distance

For the technology employed, the life cycle journey is just beginning. Once all the activity of design and construction is completed, and the warranty threshold has been crossed, the real test of the technology and the manufacturing company behind it begins. Some of the classic elements of value begin to emerge. How does the quality of construction and materials withstand the rigors of a corrosive environment? Was the design of the technology able to handle processes and deliver consistent results? 

Competent manufacturers provide essential value by maintaining an experienced, well-trained service staff that is knowledgeable and responsive. Mission-critical parts are readily available as the need arrives. To a further extent, best-of-class service is demonstrated by the manufacturer reaching out proactively in advance of repair through service advisers. These advisers can conduct preventive maintenance inspections that can spot issues before they become catastrophic failures. All of these service functions are valuable to extracting the maximum and most efficient life cycle of the technology put into service. 

A valuable partner

As new project delivery models emerge such as CMARdesign-build, etc., all of these aspects of value become increasingly relevant. By applying the same rigors of competency evaluation that are used on engineering-constructor teams, a well-established manufacturer who has the demonstrable application knowledge, manufacturing capacity and comprehensive service group is an essential success partner. The experienced manufacturer provides value at all phases of the WWTP design, construction and operation.

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