|Municipalities that have knowledgeable operators capable of basic maintenance, such as removing the pump cover plate, clearing blockages, and adjusting internal clearances, have a wider range of options when it comes to equipment selection.|
As a specifying engineer challenged with the task of drawing up the specifications for wastewater management within a growing municipality, your name is on the line. Each piece of equipment you spec carries with it a piece of your reputation. Therefore, your recommendations must be solid — based on experience and facts. What information should be considered when crafting a master plan? When it comes to wastewater pump specifications, the answers aren’t always black and white. Today’s end-users have changed. With more diversity in our customer base in terms of knowledge level, price sensitivity, and time-pressured schedules, we must also change the way we approach municipalities and our recommendations for pumping technology and service to support that technology.
The following six simple tips can guide engineers through a refined thought process to help you feel more comfortable with your recommendations — knowing that you’re putting your name on the line with confidence.
1. Know the talents and limitations of the municipality.
When it comes down to it, there’s no substitute for knowing your customers. A high-tech/low-turnover city’s needs vary tremendously from a low-tech/high-turnover city. Doing your homework before digging into technology recommendations can make a big difference. For instance, a municipality that has a high degree of staff turnover will have different equipment needs than a city with a stable, experienced staff.
Why? Because the community is going to feel the impact of turnover, as the training we have invested at the startup is going to waste away every time someone leaves their job for a new opportunity — and a lack of training spells trouble for a city. If you know a municipality like this, you also know that its employees are going to have to go through frequent retraining. If the pumping technology isn’t user-friendly, chances are the pump just isn’t going to work.
Alternatively, if a municipality is a little more stable and employs a well-educated engineering base, you can really make technology work for that customer. For example, there are a lot of inherent advantages to a self-priming pump, such as self-maintenance attributes and lifecycle cost. With an understanding of how pump technology works, a knowledgeable customer can easily keep a self-primer running at peak efficiency by simply knowing how to remove the cover plate, clear blockages, adjust internal clearances and, in general, keep an eye on gauges that can give you early warning signs of system or pump problems. In short, a municipality that employs operators who can do all of these things has a wider range of options when it comes to equipment selection.
Knowing how the municipality’s team is comprised, as well as its unique idiosyncrasies, should lead your thought process and recommendations.
2. Look for quick and accurate troubleshooting capabilities.
When it’s not possible to troubleshoot a problem by seeing it first hand, you must use your intelligence and experience. Intelligence provides long-distance training opportunities, while experience allows you to pick up the phone and picture the product in your mind.
With a solid commitment from your distributor, you can often narrow down your customers’ problems via remote. Still, it frequently takes the expertise of the engineers who built the pump to diagnose larger problems that may lurk beyond the obvious. If you can’t rely on the manufacturer to be readily available 24-by-7, your customer could be in a world of hurt.
A distributors’ job is to help diagnose problems through a first-hand knowledge of local conditions and the history of the station. The distributor should be responsible for keeping records and personally knowing most of the operators and their capabilities to run the stations. The manufacturer should also maintain accurate customer records, as well as provide expertise on how the technology will or won’t perform under certain conditions, how the technology was designed and, in general, how to get the technology up and running as quickly as possible.
With a strong distributor-manufacturer team, you’re assuring your customer that there’s a layered approach to service, with an established manufacturer backing the technology for the life of the equipment.
3. Don’t underestimate the value of single-source responsibility.
Single-source responsibility is your customer’s guarantee that no matter the problem the manufacturer is going to give superior service. Stay clear of a manufacturer who claims responsibility only for the pumps in a lift station, because a pump is just a single piece of the solution — albeit an important piece. Some of the better manufacturers build and install lift stations with the understanding that if their name is on it, it’s their responsibility. And that means customer security. There’s a tremendous peace of mind that comes with knowing that if a switch goes bad, or dies, it’s covered, and the problem, and any related problems, are going to be resolved quickly and efficiently.
4. Check for a solid track record.
At any given time, you want the distributor-manufacturer team to be responsible for maintaining the pump station, taking ownership in the customer’s business. The peace of mind that comes from knowing your customers can trust the parts, advice, and knowledge they’ll receive — and trust that the distributor and the manufacturer will treat them fairly when it comes to the cost of parts, repairs, and replacements — is invaluable. After all, who wants to be associated with an equipment recommendation that left the municipality high and anything but dry after the sale was complete?
5. Look for a patient manufacturer.
It’s important to gain the support from the distributor and manufacturer during the design phase of a project. Without a commitment to the process, there’s no commitment from the distributor and/or manufacturer. Unfortunately, all too often customers run across a less-than-credible company that becomes impatient and unwilling to sit down with the pre-specifying, pre-bid, and pre-manufacture work that’s right for a municipality’s master plan. Try to uncover a distributor-manufacturer team that understands and is willing to create O&M manuals that fit the needs of the municipality. Also, look for a team that is willing to take into consideration the many additional tasks that aren’t part of the everyday plans.
In short, anyone who’s worked a year in the wastewater segment knows that you’ve got to invest a lot of time before there’s any payoff. Find a manufacturer that values and supports the specifying engineer — even if they’re not the end-user. Find a manufacturer that invests in the specifying engineer — even if they’ll never get a dime from them. Find a manufacturer that understands its pump is just one of 25 brands and that there are 25,000 engineers, each with a unique set of wants and needs.
6. Know when to switch manufacturers.
No doubt, creating multiple manufacturer platforms within a municipality can lead to confusion and excessive training. However, in certain instances, it may be more beneficial to switch platforms for a customer. If quantifiable problems have been documented over time, a new manufacturer’s lift station may be called for.
It’s a tough call, because chances are the customer’s engineering team is familiar with not only the pump, but the controls, level controllers, parts that weren’t available, and more. Still, putting up with problems that have plagued lift stations in the past just isn’t worth a continued investment. By making the switch to a reputable manufacturer’s lift station — one that will maintain a readily available inventory of spare parts so you don’t have to — may be one of the best investments you could make in the future of the municipality.
When drawing up the specifications for your next bid, consider single-source responsibility, manufacturers longevity, the value of a strong distributor, knowledge and expertise, and each aspect’s relevance to the job at hand. By following these guidelines, you’ll avoid unnecessary pitfalls, while ensuring the job goes smoothly and professionally, and your reputation will ultimately be held in high regard.
Buck Patterson is the vice president of engineered systems for Waterworks Industries, founded in 1971. With home offices in Casper, Wyo. and a branch office in Billings, Mo., Waterworks serves all of Wyoming, the Nebraska panhandle, and western South Dakota, specializing in all aspects of water equipment. Prior to joining Waterworks, Mr. Patterson served as the safety, health, and environmental administrator for The Atlas Powder Company, specializing in pumpable emulsions for bulk blasting. Mr. Patterson is an associate member of the Wyoming Engineering Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 307 237-8075. Waterworks Industries is an authorized distributor of Gorman-Rupp pumps.