For almost two decades now, I have been fortunate to work in various aspects of the water industry. Most of this time has been spent supplying equipment and solutions to a wide variety of users, from a paper mill in Maine, to a distillery in Scotland, and a drinking water plant in Chicago.
Over the years, I’ve also observed that the role of an equipment supplier within a water project has evolved to a number of different forms. In its most basic role, the equipment supplier provided a tightly specified piece of equipment whose success ultimately was based on, “How much does it cost?”
However, with today’s more complex water and wastewater projects, the role of equipment suppliers and the plant’s operations group represents an even more important component in the early design phase of a project. These professionals and subject matter experts give more value to a customer by providing input into the proposed design where equipment is involved and, at times, resolving conflicts as to how a specific piece of equipment can be the solution to the problem.
The utility’s operators and maintenance team are the essential individuals who know how the plant performs in all types of scenarios – from major storm events, to the major flushes from a Super Bowl game, to a drought situation. They provide critical insights on their plant’s operation – squeezing out inefficiencies – not because they know it better, but because they have seen similar systems at another facility 100 or 1,000 miles away.
They are able to reference a similar situation that they have seen at a machine chest of a paper machine or in the tanks of a membrane plant years before and draw upon that experience to save time, money, and frustration.
Looking at the trend of teams in the water and wastewater industry, it is encouraging to see a willingness to engage a wider range of individuals in the collaborative process, including operators and equipment suppliers. Tapping into this collective expertise helps the whole project team navigate an increasingly complex set of solutions and technologies.
More importantly, it facilitates the planning and design process and provides opportunities to reduce construction costs.
Most of the engineers and contractors who have done collaborative delivery projects understand and appreciate the value that an equipment supplier can bring to a project. Even more encouraging is the trend in legislation that is authorizing project delivery methods that foster this type of collaboration.
However, there is still a lot more collaboration that can be instituted. Inasmuch as many refer to this approach as “alternative” delivery, I look forward to reaching the point where collaborative replaces alternative as the industry standard term for design-build projects.
The value of equipment suppliers and operators functioning as a team goes well beyond that of gatekeepers of best practices. Considering the resources these collective representatives provide and the breadth of offerings that many major equipment suppliers have in their portfolio, it all contributes to a more successful project. This is the goal of all equipment suppliers.