John Nicholson: The Power Behind Your Water Treatment System

John Nicholson talks about his work as our Service Director at AllWater Technologies Ltd.

John has served a long career of more than 25 years in the industrial water treatment sector. He spent most of these years in the field as an engineer so he draws from an extensive knowledge of practical solutions for the optimisation, maintenance and renewal of systems.

How does your experience in field-based engineering impact the work you do for your water systems clients?

‘There is no substitute for experience. It has to be earned the hard way, time spent on  either solving problems or commissioning plants. Over the years, we have built a great knowledge base in the team. This helps us know and understand what will work  in many cases, saving on time and being able to offer the right solution for the right problem.’

How much does system optimisation and maintenance vary from client to client? Or is it a case of one-size fits all?

‘Depending on the plant, we have standard pre-planned programme items that we would always consider first. It’s a bit like taking your car for its MOT test. However, as a company with the knowledge base that we have gained, we understand that each site and plant can be, and is, individual. There are certain plants that suffer with organics so we clean these plants in a certain way, whilst others need another style of cleaning. We try to use the same engineer for each site so he or she builds the knowledge base to service the plant when needed. This knowledge is then shared with the whole service team so that others are ready to intervene in the case of an emergency (such as a breakdown) in the event that the designated engineer isn’t available immediately.’

How often should equipment be inspected? 

‘This really depends on the plant and what it has been designed for. Most water treatment plants are pretty robust, but let’s say a pharmaceutical manufacturer may need calibration checks on a monthly basis to ensure that the end product meets a very high standard (tablets, injections), whilst a boiler feed plant is a little less sensitive. It also depends how process critical the plant is for the client. However, we would always recommend that a plant  (whatever the style) has a minimum service every 6 months. We can tailor make programmes to suit all needs.’

What can happen if a water treatment system is not adequately maintained?

‘In the worst case it can be CATASTROPHIC ! The whole process/factory could close. To date none of our clients has experienced this, and we pride ourselves that they haven’t. We carry a huge range of spares at our workshop, however if the treatment process is critical we always make sure that the client maintains a good supply of spare parts on site to assist in possible breakdowns. Most systems that we have built and supplied have water tanks with sufficient capacity to sustain the client’s system while the problem is being fixed.’

If the water treatment system is bespoke does that make maintenance more expensive?

‘It’s the old saying “penny wise, pound foolish”.  A bespoke system that fits the client’s needs will require less maintenance than an off-the-shelf package that doesn’t really meet the requirements of the client. Over the long term this makes the maintenance of a bespoke system less expensive, not more.’

What sort of challenges do you face when a client’s water treatment system needs to be renewed?

‘There can be many challenges, one of the most common is budget. It’s really a case of ensuring that they get the right piece of equipment for the process instead of some generic plant that will just work for a short time. Reputations are hard won and easily lost! It’s as much in our interest as in the client’s to deliver a long term solution and not a short-term quick fix. Other challenges include footprint (size), building in future growth and keeping the process going during the whole period of installation and maintenance. We have quite recently invested heavily in CAD systems that allow us to create 3D drawings so we can ensure that the unit will fit the size, be easy to maintain and work for the client.’

Can you take on the maintenance and optimisation of a plant that someone else has installed?

‘This again comes down to the knowledge base that we have built up over the years.   There are not many cases where we can’t look after (both maintain and optimise) a competitor’s system.

Whilst we can and do build bespoke systems, a lot of our competitors try to use a one-size-fits-all model. This never works as almost no two factories have a water supply that is identical in quality.’

What are the most important elements in a successful maintenance programme?

‘Understanding both the needs of the client and the process. It’s not all about just changing parts to make a quick buck. Blending knowledge of the site and the process and building a relationship with the client are crucial elements. Anyone can change parts, but it’s really a case of knowing which are the correct ones to change at that time. And that knowledge only comes from a successful combination of the above elements. Ultimately it’s our job to ensure that a plant runs trouble free so that production is not interrupted.

At the end of each visit we brief the client on the work that was carried out and on any work that might need to be done in the future. No one likes a nasty shock or big bill to suddenly appear. We pride ourselves on keeping clients, without them we wouldn’t have a business.’

AllWater Technologies Ltd is a wholly independent company bringing together a host of experience and specialist knowledge to support every need of our industrial clients.

Clients come to us when they require specialised water treatment solutions or effluent management to keep their production standards to an optimum level.

Our team at AllWater Technologies is committed to listening to, and engaging with, our clients, to ensure that we build long term relationships that deliver maximum value and benefit through teamwork and strong, effective communication.