Although shopping (for anything) is not one of my favourite pastimes, I try to do it in a relatively controlled, logical manner with an exact list of what I want, or at least a plan in mind. My shopping expeditions are usually quick, efficient and my spending is usually under control and budgeted for.

Yet setting foot in a supermarket when I’m hungry (or desperate for a particular item) is often a recipe for disaster. Every temptation, quick fix, or unhealthy craving is in danger of being satisfied with no real thought into the consequences and no consideration of the cost.

Inevitably, after such a trip I often arrive home without a quality meal (or the means to create one), or with far more (unhealthy) food than I need, with a much higher bill than I would’ve liked. Unfortunately, this experience is very similar to what we encounter on a daily basis in the industrial water space.

Your personal shoppers…

I was reminded of this familiar experience when asked recently about the value of consultancy in the water industry. Clients often leave planning for water efficiency until they are facing a crisis – whether that is a drought similar to the one suffered in Cape Town this year; the introduction of new regulations/water tariffs; the swell of public opinion forcing their hand, or the (ongoing) acid mine drainage crisis in Gauteng.

In these, and many other cases, the solutions implemented are often quick, cheap and dirty, with only the short-term in mind and often producing sub-optimal results. Very often the client or end-user is left with an off-the-shelf piece of equipment that doesn’t entirely meet their requirements, is over-the-top (over-compensating for poorly defined user requirements) or under-designed to be able to handle plant/production variations. Undoubtedly, it ultimately results in a more costly solution in the long term, with all the associated risk factors built-in from a Capex and Opex point of view.

Process Engineers, as I am myself, are often faced with complex and challenging problems. Nowhere have I found this more so than in the water space. It is a field unto its own… where every type of industrial effluent has its own unique characteristics, complex components, challenges, and opportunities. Very often this is poorly understood by those with the problem and those trying to solve it since specialised knowledge/expertise of industrial is rare.

Are you treating the symptoms or the cause?

As independent experts in the field of water we work with clients through their water problem from start to finish. Our first step is effectively to understand what the real problem is. As obvious as this may seem, clients often seek to treat the symptoms rather than the cause. Water is an ever-increasingly scarce and precious commodity. A holistic approach to the water cycle in industry is a must; incorporating all aspects of water usage, efficiency, treatment, discharge or reuse in the solution.

Working in this way, the client completely specifies their water (treatment) requirements, the exact nature of the problem, their specific needs, ambitions and also future resilience and sustainability requirements. By working with the client before the problem becomes a crisis – or before the ‘hunger pains’ really start – there is a far greater chance of finding the ideal solution to a problem, which is sustainable, long-term and with a realistic understanding of total expenditure.

Knowing what’s already in the cupboard… Using what you have!

For a truly efficient shopping trip I need to be sure I know what’s already in the kitchen cupboard. We initiate industrial water project with a WaterScan: this approach involves an in-depth analysis of client water data (water consumers, effluent figures, compositions), processes within the plant, treatment requirements, with consideration of all environmental and legislative factors.

WaterScan can reveal the opportunities for increased water efficiency by focussing upfront on the process itself rather than end-of-pipe treatment only. These may be large changes or, more frequently, small adjustments/optimisations to processes; or opportunities for water recycling (including energy and product recovery) within the process that minimise effluent generation, reduce water footprint and increase water efficiency.

Savings four times higher than investment for FMCG

A good example is a project for a multi-national FMCG company in Thailand where relatively minor adjustments to water treatment processes were identified, ultimately saving the client in the region 4-5 million Euros at a cost of just under 1 million Euros.

84% water and glucose recovery for Mars

This holistic approach to water savings can also identify potential new revenue streams or potential cost savings through the recycling of water or resources. Our work with Mars in the Netherlands is a prime example, where we found that much of its water could be recycled back into the manufacturing process through adjustments to existing systems.

The project resulted in an 84 per cent recovery of water. Along the way we identified that glucose in wastewater could also be recovered and recycled, and now 84 per cent is reused. The client is rolling out these changes to plants worldwide.

Shopping without a list

Inadequate or poorly implemented solutions often mean that overall expenditure and project life cycle costs rise significantly. As industrial water experts we examine the costs versus benefits of capital expenditure and operational expenditure; then assist clients to solve the real problem and find a balance which best meets both their needs and budget. We independently assess the available systems and select the most appropriate, tailoring a system perfectly for now and the future.

Smart Shopper…

To avoid filling your trolley with quick fixes, take time and seek advice in finalising your industrial water shopping list. If you’ve ever shopped at the local Pick n Pay Supermarket in South Africa, you will be asked: Are you a Smart Shopper? This question is even more pertinent in the industrial water space given the expectations of public on corporates and shareholders to be responsible citizens where water security is concerned.