Understanding what level of service your plant needs and knowing the criteria you want in a service provider will help you pick the right one for your operation.

The biggest factor in controlling your costs is not chemical consumption, as many assume, but utilities usage.

Selecting a water treatment company can be accomplished in many different ways: request for proposals (RFP), request for quotes (RFQ), bid submittals, personal interviews or even personal relationships. No matter which one of these methods you use, it is necessary to develop some criteria to decide what kind of service is needed to protect your process cooling equipment from failure or unexpected shutdowns.

The first step is to select the level of service you need. There are three levels of service. The most basic level includes only services designed to ensure proper application of the water treatment program. The water treatment company provides a product and instructs you on how to operate it and within what specified limits. In this case, the water treatment provider is strictly a chemical supplier and not a true service provider. This level of service is the least expensive, but it is not a good option if your plant does not have at least one of the following:

  • Full-time, experienced operators who cover all shifts, understand water treatment and need no training.
  • Full-time engineering staff that can work on water-related problems.
  • A water consultant (also called a “water doctor”) on retainer that can provide help when it is needed.

At the intermediate level of services, the water treatment company provides services designed to provide treatment products and ensure adequate protection against corrosion, deposition and microbiological growth. This level of service -- the standard for a full- services supplier -- requires the service representative to monitor the system performance by periodic checks, including water testing, corrosion coupons, microbiological testing and deposition analysis. In addition, systems in which treatment is not used also are monitored if they have an impact on the performance of the downstream process equipment (softeners, demineralizers, reverse osmosis [RO], etc.). Such a program also can include help in solving problems.

At the highest level of services, the water treatment provider supplies the products and services listed above as well as initiates projects to optimize system performance and reduce energy, water or chemical usage. Such a program is the highest level of service and attention and is supplied by an experienced water treatment professional with full commitment and support from his or her corporate technical staff and laboratories. This type of service normally requires a technical representative that has at least five years of experience and training in solving water-related problems, and a corporate commitment that ensures the water treatment provider acts in a partnership with the client to provide them with the maximum cost savings.

Cost Factors. Once you have identified the appropriate type of service required, you must set qualification criteria for the water treatment company. Can it provide the service needed in a timely manner? Can it provide electronic and written service reports on an agreed-upon frequency, maintain proper inventory of products (not just-in-time delivery), provide 24-hour response, proactively work with you as a partner and be concerned about the performance of your systems? The company must support the water treatment professional who has been assigned to you with the latest information, including feed and treatment equipment, testing techniques and regulatory information. The company must be able to deliver products and services necessary to implement the most cost-effective program and provide additional backup personnel if necessary.

Selecting a qualified water treatment service provider is critical to preventing process cooling equipment failure or unexpected shutdowns.

Considering the Water Treatment Professional

Selecting a water treatment company also is about selecting the water treatment professional assigned by the company to be responsible for your treatment program. When reviewing an individual, you should consider factors such as education, experience, integrity and the personality of the water treatment professional who will be interacting with your personnel.

Education. The education level can be measured in several ways. What is the highest level of formal education? Is the professional's education in the area of intended use? Knowledge about your types of cooling systems is imperative. Has the individual received continuing education through their company or other training that has provided them with an understanding of the operation, maintenance and treatment of water-based systems? Do they understand the concepts of external treatment, corrosion and deposition control, biological control, system performance management, data trending, feed and control systems, safety and regulatory issues, and budgetary issues? All of these subjects need to be understood to be an acceptable water treatment professional.

Experience. The experience level of an individual is not just the number of years a person has been in the business. Do they have experience with various systems, especially ones like yours for which they will be responsible? Do they understand the key performance indicators? Can they identify areas that need immediate attention to prevent equipment damage, eliminate a possible environmental incident or avoid a potentially unsafe condition?

Integrity and Personality. Why should you evaluate the integrity and personality of the individual? You and your people will work closely with this individual to ensure your plant operates as efficiently as possible. If your water treatment professional listens to you and your concerns, participates in team decision-making efforts, is easy to listen to, provides good feedback and is comfortable to be around, then your program will be monitored more closely and your own operation personnel will work more effectively with the individual to keep the system functional. Ethics and integrity also are important. Is the individual concerned about your systems mainly because doing so provides them a means to sell their services and receive a paycheck, or are they truly concerned with improving the performance of your systems, reducing costs, maximizing the conservation of environmental resources and partnering with your personnel to achieve these goals?

Developing Performance Checks

Once you have considered the qualifications of a water treatment company and its professionals, the final step in the process is to develop precise performance checks that will allow an understanding of how your system is working. This type of criterion often is developed with the help of those members of your engineering staff who have specific knowledge about your systems. They should know which pieces of equipment (heat exchangers, for example) are critical to your operation, temperature differentials or flows that need to be maintained, fouling factors at which your equipment can still operate effectively, system materials and maximum tolerable corrosion rates for each. Sometimes, an experienced independent water consultant can help by auditing your systems and setting performance criteria. But, in any case, you need to set up these performance specifications to provide goals to the water treatment service provider.

The task of selecting the right water treatment service provider should not be taken lightly. Selecting the right one can improve your operation's performance and control your operating budget for items such as electricity, gas, water and sewage. Moreover, developing a relationship with the service provider will allow you to protect your process cooling equipment from failure or unexpected shutdowns and ensure that day-to-day operations continue.

Sidebar: Simplifying the Selection Process

After the effort required to consider your required water treatment service level, set qualification criteria for a water treatment company and review your service provider options. There is a program that simplifies the search for the right water treatment professional for your plant.

The Certified Water Technologist (CWT) credential from the Association of Water Technologies (AWT), McLean, Va., was established to provide customers with a guarantee that their service provider possesses a high level of knowledge, ethics and professionalism combined with extensive professional experience and education in all aspects of water treatment and technology. The CWT credential is one way to ensure that your water treatment professional is qualified to provide you with the highest quality of service possible.