Bespoke vs Standardised Industrial Water Treatment Equipment – What’s Right for Me?

As the Managing Director of Allwater Treatment, Derek Spriggs has vast experience in a range of industries that require water treatment services. Over the years he realised that in many cases the standard issue equipment was inadequate and that plants could reduce their costs and improve the quality of their water treatment by using customised, modular equipment.   

As a result of this, Allwater Treatment is one of the few companies that can assess a client’s requirements and supply bespoke or standardised equipment to optimise their water treatment processes.

In this article Derek addresses the issue of bespoke versus off-the-shelf, considering the advantages and disadvantages as well as the circumstances in which he would recommend one over the other.

What are the advantages of standardised equipment?

Typically, the main advantage of standardised water treatment equipment is that it has been tried and tested. All the research and development work has been undertaken, and the equipment has most probably been prototyped and tried in the field. If there were any initial glitches with the equipment, then they will have already been resolved, so when you receive your equipment, you will simply just need to plug it in. 

Another advantage is that maintenance and commisioning engineers will have received training on how the equipment works and, as a result, will be familiar with the equipment making it quick for them to get up and running. Cost is usually lower because all the costs associated with the development have already been incurred and spread over multiple units. Furthermore, component replacement parts are more likely to be readily available and easy to get hold of at short notice.

You can generally buy standardised equipment for plant items that are widely used and for which there is high demand such as standard Reverse Osmosis Systems, Deionisers and water softeners.

Any disadvantages?

The main disadvantage is that a standardised product is not necessarily going to match your exact requirements. But this may not be a problem if most of your requirements are met, and there is a significant cost advantage compared with a bespoke system. 

The other disadvantage is that you can only buy standardised clean water equipment. You are unlikely to see a standardised plant for wastewater treatment systems because no two clients employ the same manufacturing processes and because discharge levels vary so much from one location to another.’

Why consider bespoke?

A bespoke water treatment system is worth considering if the outcome has significant advantages over a standardised system, particularly when thinking about ongoing operational costs. 

For example, a standard twin bed DI plant may typically use both strong acid cation resin and sturdy base anion resin to provide a reasonable quality of DI water. However, if the anions in the incoming water have a significant percentage of bicarbonate ions present, there would be a distinct advantage in using a weak base anion resin alongside a strong base ion polisher to guarantee high quality water. The advantage of this is that the weak base anion resin offers more capacity for lower levels of regenerant chemical and may even offer more Ph neutral effluent without the need to use more chemicals for Ph balancing. Although the capital cost of a bespoke plant in this scenario may be more expensive initially, over the lifetime of the equipment, significant savings are likely. 

In some situations, it may be that a completely different treatment method better suits a client’s circumstances. For example, if a client requires DI water but, for whatever reason, is unable to store regenerant chemicals on site, an alternative technology, such as a Reverse Osmosis System possibly used in conjunction with a final continuous electro Deioniser, may be a better solution.

Thus far we have just considered clean water equipment. With industrial wastewater treatment plants, it is rare that a standardised product will be adequate to achieve the desired water quality. However, with bespoke water treatment plants you can standardise the component parts to reduce the number of different spare parts that need to be kept on site. For example, if a bespoke system uses more than one pump set, you can sometimes use the same pump model at various points. Using the same pump repeatedly also has the added advantage of reducing engineering time.

Is it worth asking a water treatment specialist to assess equipment requirements? 

It is always worth inviting a specialist to come and assess your water quality and equipment requirements. They can determine your exact needs and put forward the best solution. One word of warning though, you should make sure that the specialist you choose has in-depth knowledge of all the potential technologies, otherwise you may find that you are sold a solution that fits the supplier’s needs rather than your own. 

For example, if the specialist is from a company that only manufactures Reverse Osmosis (RO) equipment, you may find that this is offered to you rather than an ion exchange system that would better match your requirements.

When looking for a water treatment specialist you do not necessarily have to go with a supplier. You could choose to use an independent consultant instead, but make sure they have a wealth of experience in the type of technology you are interested in and ideally in your specific industry. This is particularly important if the project you are considering is technically complex.

Our advice is to not consider entering an agreement for the supply of an industrial wastewater recovery stream unless you are convinced that the supplier or specialist has experience of operating in the same field.

What about second-hand water treatment equipment?

From a cost point of view, it can be tempting to buy second-hand equipment. Before you buy, it is worth engaging a specialist to give you advice. It is not unusual to meet clients who have bought a second-hand plant which seems exceptionally excellent value for money only to find that it is completely inappropriate for their requirements. 

An example of this is someone who needed a DI plant producing 2m² of water per hour. When searching online for a suitable second-hand plant he came across an advert for a plant which seemed too good an opportunity to miss. In the advert this plant produced of 15m² of water per hour, which he quite reasonably thought would allow plenty of scope for future growth. However, what he has not considered is the size of the ancillary equipment required to run this plant or that this plant was intended to run on a continuous basis which is not a feature he needs. When the plant is not in operation, the inactivity can lead to reverse exchange or organic leeching from the resin. 

In summary….

In certain circumstances standardised equipment can be your best option provided it has a good track record and closely matches your requirements. The more unusual your requirements, the more likely it is that you will need to look for a bespoke solution, but make sure you choose a supplier with knowledge of your industry and who understands what you are trying to achieve.