Your water plant is the lifeblood of your hotel, town, or industrial application. If your patrons or residents don’t have clean, reliable water, it could cost your organization hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The good news? There are ten simple steps you can take to ensure that your plant runs at optimal capacity and lasts for years to come.
1. Mitigate Leaks!
Water belongs in the pipe, not outside of it. If you see water on the floor, you can bet it’s coming from your equipment somewhere. Leaks almost always start small, but if you catch them early, you can save a lot of money and headaches later on.
Even the slowest of leaks in a seawater reverse osmosis (RO) plant can develop large deposits of salt, leading to irreversible corrosion on surrounding equipment. Wetted parts should be made out of high grade alloys or non-metallic materials to prevent corrosion, but keep in mind that not everything outside of the pipe is corrosion resistant. Motors are usually made of steel and cast iron, frames are often built with mild steel, and many instruments and valve actuators may be aluminum, all of which will suffer serious corrosion if exposed to salt water.
2. Keep An Eye Out For Corrosion
Corrosion usually starts small but it can spread like wildfire. If you see a chip in the paint on your steel frame, or a nick in the coating on your valve actuator, take care of it as soon as you can. Start by washing the area thoroughly with soap and clean fresh water to rinse away any salt. Inspect the chip and scrape off any further loose paint or coating. Sand the area thoroughly with 100 to 180 grit sandpaper and then wipe the area clean with a tack rag using grease and wax remover to make sure the surface is clean. There should be no rust or chalky corrosion left on the surface after sanding and cleaning to ensure proper adhesion of the paint. Finally, repaint the area, preferably with an industrial coating such as an epoxy paint. Taking these steps will keep corrosion at bay and your plant running smoothly.
3. Keep Records Of Performance
Every plant should have a logbook or daily report file. The log should include all important operating data such as pressures, flows, conductivity, pH, and beyond. By keeping track of all of the plant operating parameters, you can monitor changes in the performance of the system over time. This can be very helpful for operations because it can help you to predict when you will need to do maintenance before it becomes an emergency situation.
For example, you may see that every time you run a certain well pump, you very quickly end up having to change your prefilters. This information will clue you in to the fact that you may have an issue with that well. Or, if you keep a log of the length of time that certain parts tend to last, you can plan to order replacements before you expect to see the part wear out again. That way you’ll have the new part in stock and ready to put in when the existing one fails to avoid costly downtime.
4. Make A Routine Maintenance Schedule
Every plant needs maintenance of some kind. At the very least, bearings need lubrication, membranes need cleaning, filters need changing, and chemicals need to be refilled. These tasks should be scheduled to ensure they are not forgotten about and are done with consistency.
5. Keep The Lights Working
Too often, the lights in a water plant are kept off to save energy, or lights go out and are not replaced. Maintaining nice bright lighting in the plant helps staff to catch leaks, paint chips, corrosion, and faulty equipment faster. It is easy to walk right by a dripping pipe joint or a rusting control valve when the lights are out and the only light coming in is from the propped open door. To most people, it doesn’t seem concerning that a pipe is dripping when the facility itself doesn’t seem to be in great shape. In contrast, if the whole plant is kept squeaky clean, free of standing water, well lit, and all equipment kept clean and painted, a small leak stands out like a sore thumb!
6. Pay Attention To Alarms
Alarms go off for a reason. A common issue at water plants is that operations staff will acknowledge alarms and then move the alarm setting to prevent it from tripping again. From their standpoint they have solved the problem. Now the alarm doesn’t trip anymore and the plant runs continuously–seemingly without issues.
The truth, however, may be that the plant is slowly damaging itself. If an alarm goes off, (warning or shutdown) start by investigating the source or instrument. Make sure that the instrument is in fact reading correctly. If it is, look around and see if you can determine what is causing the alarm condition. Your plant should have a manual with a troubleshooting section to identify likely causes for each alarm. If the manual does not identify the solution, you can call the friendly staff at ISI Water to help you through it!
7. Calibrate Instruments
Some instruments slowly lose their calibration over time. More often than not, an instrument will put out a reading, even if it isn’t correct. Usually you won’t have an instrument die altogether which would show an obvious error. It is common to have an instrument slowly wander off its calibration over time which can send your system off course, trying to correct for this false reading. This is most common with analytical instruments like pH, chlorine, and hardness.
Take a pH sensor, for example. On day one, your nice new pH sensor reads accurately, and your chemical dosing system is doing a fine job of balancing the pH in your water. Unfortunately, pH sensors are a consumable instrument and will fail eventually. The harsher the conditions, the shorter the lifespan, but there is no pH sensor that lasts a lifetime. A year later, you find that you are filling your chemical drums more often for some reason. You check on your pH reading from the installed pH sensor, and it appears to be ok. However, you check the pH with a hand test kit, and it is way off! The pH sensor has gone so far off its calibration, that is has caused your chemical pump to increase its speed to try and keep up for no reason. A simple recalibration clears up your issue, outputting the correct pH as it used to.
You can learn a lot from the sounds your equipment makes. Certain performance issues can be detected by listening. You may hear a pump making a crackling sound, almost like rocks going through it. This is likely the sound of cavitation, which is detrimental to pumps. In fact you can have cavitation on valves as well, so be careful how much pressure you try to drop across a single valve.
You may hear a squeal from a bearing, indicating that it is starting to wear out. Feel the surrounding area (carefully) to see if it is getting warm. This would confirm your suspicion of bearing wear.
If you hear loud bangs in the plant, identify the source. Do you hear hissing noises from an air line somewhere? You may have a leaking air line, or you may have a valve that doesn’t actuate all the way. Either way, your compressor is having to work overtime to keep up! Listening to your plant will help you to detect problems early, before they get out of control.
9. Keep Spares
Water treatment equipment has a rough life. The combination of high pressure (especially salt water), electricity, and mechanical components can require frequent maintenance. Most plants are supplying water for pretty important uses; whether it’s drinking water for a town, cooling water for a power plant, or irrigation for a golf course, few plants can accept weeks of down time while they wait for new parts to arrive. The best bet is to keep spare parts on hand that are ready to go in case of failure.
Imagine for a moment that the membrane pressure sensor on your plant fails and now the system will not start. You call to get a new sensor but are told it will take three weeks for them to arrive. You scramble to get an alternative sensor that is in stock from another manufacturer, but you still have to arrange overnight shipping, get the commercial invoice, and clear it with management. All the while, the customer is complaining about the lack of water. Keeping a well stocked spare parts room will help you minimize these stressful and expensive events.
Although this might seem like a dramatic example, ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t have water. It’s a no-brainer when you put it that way isn’t it?
10. Report Recurring Problems
Sometimes, following all of these steps isn’t the whole solution. Sometimes a problem keeps coming back time and time again, even though you are doing everything right as far as maintenance and operation. It might just be that you have the wrong piece of equipment for the job!
Let’s say you bought a water plant from company X, and later the plant was expanded by company Y. Company Y assumed that the existing two wells would provide plenty of water for the plant. Now, every few months the plant shuts down on low feed pressure from the wells. You test each well, and as luck would have it, you have another bad well pump motor. You hire a crane and change out the motor and $10,000 later, you’re off and running again. You do this for the rest of the year and before long you realize, this shouldn’t be happening this often.
That’s when you call ISI Water to take a deeper look at what’s going on. The problem isn’t just that your motors are dying. As it turns out, the electrical cables that were originally installed are too small for how long they are and the voltage drop over the length of the cable is so high that the amperage is increasing to a dangerous level, frying your motors! This didn’t happen before the expansion because the load was so much lower. Changing out the cables does the trick and you start changing motors every five years instead of every three months! This simple change cost you $20,000 but saved you $200,000 and several weeks of downtime.
Remember, if you’re treating the symptom over and over, you haven’t found the real source of your problem yet.
Keeping your plant in proper working order will save you time, money, and headaches down the line. A quick listen to your equipment, checking to make sure there are no leaks or paint chips, and keeping spare parts on hand are just a few of the ways to ensure that your plant runs smoothly for the foreseeable future.
If you’re looking to refresh, upgrade, or completely overhaul your water plant, contact ISI Water today.