Water is crucial in any food-related operation, but water systems don’t usually come to mind when plant managers look at improving operational efficiency.
The mission of Sustainable Water Solutions (SWS) is to change that way of thinking. The California company puts technology in place that lets food firms take advantage of water-and chemical-conserving systems normally used in much larger operations.
“All of the large industrial facilities (such as refineries and nuclear facilities) have very technical water processes that they monitor to get the utmost benefit from the utility and the water itself,” Thomas Desimone, head of business/project development for SWS, told FoodProductionDaily. “We’ve scaled our systems down for food use.”
One food company in nearby California turned to SWS to optimize its water and wastewater systems. CEO Grant Newhouse told FPD the firm quickly started seeing a difference.
“This particular plant will enjoy about $250,000 in net operational savings, and about 25m gallons of water a year,” Newhouse said. “How did we do it? We make our machines collect data and manage it, so clients can function much more efficiently.”
Desimone and the rest of the SWS team has decades of experience for companies like Siemens Water, and servicing clients in the state’s Central Valley food-growing region. Having connected with growers, plants, processors, cold storage and other organizations along the supply chain, Desimone said, helps the company understand the concerns of food businesses.
Water has become a precious commodity, especially in SWS’s home state of California, making water conservation more important than in past decades. Desimone said whether a plant was constructed before drought and water shortages were a top-of-mind concern or it is a ground-up project, it is important to bring food facility water efficient up to speed.
SWS’s team of engineers tailors site-specific designs for each of its clients. While it serves a variety of industries (including mining, automotive, and other manufacturing-centric businesses), managing the resource is especially important in food operations (especially meat, poultry, and egg plants).
“We can help companies capture and reuse the water they use in their operations, but also save a great deal of energy all over,” Desimone said.
SWS provides scaled services, based on the needs and size of a food facility. These range from assisting with water monitoring (including installing mobile technology for remote system monitoring); to designing, building, installing, and running the system for the facility.
Newhouse told FPD the team specializes in custom-engineered “technical blocks”—sets of equipment that meet a particular food facility’s requirements and size.
“We can offer reverse-osmosis systems for boilers, for example,” he said. “We are primary manufacturers of that machine—the membranes and the RO vessels are made by other companies—but we take-off-the-shelf components and put them together in a way that makes sense for the client.”
SWS RO machines improve upon conventional RO machines by making optimal use of limited plant space.
“If you look at your traditional RO system, each of the elements is fairly long,” Newhouse said. “Stretch those elements out and it goes over quite a long distance, and boiler rooms don’t have that type or real estate.”
According to Desimone, SWS services include coming up with ways to share information across the board with all relevant staff, empowering them to impact water efficiency.
“We are able to put 24/7/365 controls at the fingertips of all the relevant staff (including engineering personnel, financial staff, and others), so they can see in real time what’s happening, before a failure or excessive water use happens,” he said.
Reducing chemical usage also is a concern among US food operations. In California, many counties have outlawed use of industrial water softeners, due to concerns on how the substances impact regional water quality.
“We can get clients to remove up to 90% of chemicals on the front end, 70% from coolers, and 50% reduction in chemicals for wastewater,” he said.
In addition to compliance issues, reducing chemical usage can bring about reduced hazard containment concerns, lessen exposure to workers compensation claims and (because there are far fewer 55-gallon drums around) free up storage space.
Newhouse told FPD the company has been operating for about three years—a relatively short time, but its youth, combined with expertise, makes it suitable for the different way of thinking that achieving water efficiency requires.
“Market leaders rarely innovate—their function is to protect the current marketplace,” he said. “Most of the time, innovation comes from the non-dominant players in the game.”
The company started out servicing clients in California, then stretched all the way to western Michigan, and down into Mexico and the Dominican Republic.