Friday, August 27, 2010

Maintenance, O&M, and Service Requirements can tell you a lot about an onsite system.

Most of the onsite industry has it all wrong and is out of touch with the rest of society.   Think about it;  if you buy manufactured products, you know that manufacturers are trying to create products today that are more durable and reliable than yesterday's products.  Automobile manufacturers have improved the reliability of their vehicles to the point where many brands advertise 100,000 miles between tune ups.  Paint manufacturers have developed blends that claim 20 years between reapplications.  The mean time between failures for my new computer hard drive represents a 100 fold improvement over previous models.  Reliability has always been synonymous with quality; if something lasts a long time and does not require constant observation,  maintenance and service to remain functional, that is a clear indication of a high quality product. 

Certainly we have the option of buying cheaper, less reliable products that we know will not last, or will require intensive service to keep functional.  I am thinking Yugo here...remember them?  If you were a Yugo mechanic you could probably keep one running...for a little while, anyway. 

*As a quick aside, here are a couple of well-known Yugo jokes:  Do you know how you double the value of your Yugo?  Fill the gas tank.

What's the difference between a Yugo and a door-to-door salesman?  You can close the door on the salesman.

Obviously, when a product becomes the butt of jokes like this, it's time to throw away the mold and retool, or get out of the business.  Yugo chose the latter option.  Today, however, too few Yugo-esque onsite system manufacturers are throwing away their obsolete molds...instead of being innovative in their retooling efforts, they have become exceptionally innovative and ambitious in their lobbying, marketing and liability-reduction efforts.  It's cheaper to convince regulators that more rigorous maintenance programs are necessary than it is to develop a system that requires less maintenance. 

Many manufacturers of advanced onsite treatment systems prefer to move in a direction opposite of greater reliability, durability and reduced service toward a requirement for more maintenance visits, more media cleaning, more tank pumping.  One manufacturer has taken this idea to such extremes that the treatment system is required to be connected to a dedicated telephone line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Some might interpret this intense degree of remote monitoring as a sign that the product teeters on the edge of catastrophe every second of every day.  I say this because the only reason I can think of why a manufacturer would impose such a procrustean requirement is because it is a necessary  component if the system is to function at all.   I can't think of too many household products with a requirement for 24/7 remote monitoring...not even the really dangerous ones that commonly catch fire are shepherded with such sophisticated software.

I have a furnace in my home.  It could explode and burn the house down and with that in mind it represents an imminent danger.  But my furnace is not connected to a phone line.  Why?  Because it is reliable and the fact that it has been functioning for years with no trouble is the clearest indication of its quality.

In fact, the only thing I can think of that is connected to mission control 24/7 is the space shuttle and International Space Station (Who said septic systems are not rocket science?).

Now let me be clear; community, clustered and some rural systems do benefit from this type of monitoring and I appreciate the benefits they provide. I utilize these devices as a convenience.  The system will function adequately without 24/7 monitoring.  But, for single family residential systems, a SCADA control system is excessive, and the only reason you would include one as a minimum requirement is if the system really needs it to let someone know it's broken ...again. 

I suppose another handy feature of constant monitoring is that the manufacturer will have volumes of data to point to in the event of a system malfunction...any homeowner who dares to suggest that the manufacturer should assume the expenses associated with a premature malfunction or failure will likely be greeted with pages of data demonstrating how the malfunction or failure was the fault of the homeowner, not the system.  Perhaps the homeowner used more water than the system was designed to handle on several occasions during the months preceding the failure, or perhaps there was a power outage at the home while the owners were away, so the system wasn't on all day every day...all of this data and more will be available to the manufacturer with the click of a mouse. 

The notion that the primary purpose of remote monitoring is to "tweak" the system remotely, thereby eliminating the need for an in-person service call, just doesn't seem to play out in the field.  In fact, I have spoken with a number of maintenance providers who say that they have had to respond--in person--to every single alarm on every system they maintain.  Remote "fixes" are few and far between.  With the majority of alarm states occurring during highly inconvenient times such as holiday weekends when families host guests in their homes and flows increase, I can only imagine that a fair number of maintenance providers have grown tired of the overzealous remote monitoring programs because they seem to serve but one essential purpose:  to more effectively communicate a wider array of alarm states to maintenance providers so that an inherently unreliable technology can be coddled back into compliance whenever the pesky homeowner has done something to "wake the baby", so to speak.  By "something" I mean the homeowner has, for example, flushed a few too many times in a given 24-hour period.

I was on a job the other day with an Eliminite system that was installed about 4 years ago.  The property had been sold and the new owner asked me to visit with him and explain the system.  Apparently, the previous maintenance provider did not visit the system so it had been operation the whole time with no inspections.  When I arrived, we opened the lids, checked the pumps and panel and inspected the MetaRocks treatment media.  Everything was functioning correctly and the media was in perfect condition. No clogging biomat, no ponding, no stink and no need to hose off the need to "fluff" it, change it jostle it.  I explained the system operation to the owner and when I arrived back at the office I found this email he sent:  

I'm impressed that a new concept can operate for 4 years from start-up with no malfunctions or routine check-ups. I've been through a lot of start-ups but not many that had no problems.

In my opinion, the requirement for perpetual maintenance contracts covering onsite system has allowed manufacturers to peddle systems that are fundamentally unreliable because they have to be covered under a service contract any way.  So who really cares if it work well or not, a Yugo mechanic is buying it.  This has resulted in the dumbing down of the entire industry because there is no driving force for innovation or improvement.

Eliminite rejects that position and successfully designs, builds and installs more durable, reliable, efficient and less costly advanced wastewater treatment systems than any other manufacturer. 

Do you remember the "lonely" Maytag repairman TV commercials? He was lonely because Maytag products were so reliable that all he did was sit in his shop waiting for a repair call that never came.  I would bet the pod people wish for a little Maytag solitude.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

It has been a long time since my last post because I just have not had the time to sit down and write something.  Actually, I have been writing a reports, site plans, new system designs, computer code etc.  My work load has necessitated that I put this aside for a while. 

We have been installing Eliminite systems in various configurations at an amazing pace and I appreciate the trust that has been placed in our products.  The pace has been so brisk that we have added two new distributors who have become very busy keeping up with the orders and installations.  I'll try to remember to get some photos up for you to look at.  

I know that some of my clients will see this new post and wonder why I am wasting time with this blog when I have system quotes to get out for them.  Don't worry, I'm getting caught up and you are next on my to-do list. 

If you are designing a system please please please, give us a call before you begin and discuss options.  I feel so bad for the guys that design with a competing system because they "design as I see fit" (actual quote from one of the particularly enlightened engineers) only to have their client find out about Eliminite and how much better we can serve them.  This situation leads to all kinds of ill feelings where we wind up redesigning the system (sometimes the whole development) and the developer vows never to use XXX and Associates ever again.  It is really pretty embarrassing for the engineer/designer so don't get hypnotized by their glossy marketing and slight of hand.  Eliminite makes sense and it is just plain better that peat pods, aerated septic tanks or textile filters.

Owners Prefer Eliminite
I spoke to an engineer a couple of days ago that told me his clients have NO CHOICE but to install a textile filter plastic pod system.  The engineer stated that the client MUST install a field of buried plastic boxes filled with fish tank fabric because they are required to do this by some obscure, unnamed entity.  In my opinion this sounds as if the engineer has some agreement with the supplier or manufacturer of the textile system because the client is surely not under any order to install the plastic pod system.  I spoke with the client on this job and he had no idea what the engineer was doing and had in fact been given an entirely different story than the engineer gave to me.

 At $700,000.00 for a 14,000 gpd textile pod septic system somebody has a pretty significant financial stake in this one.  The truth is I hear this line pretty often.  I think it is because most people want the best value for their money and when they compare Eliminite to every other system, we usually represent the highest value and they select one of our systems for their project.  Losing the sale causes the competing distributor to suffer from a sever case of heartburn and this is where the shennagins start.  They will tell the owner that they cannot even obtain a quote from Eliminite because, for instance, the State required the textile filters(absolutely untrue) or that we are working out of my garage(again garage is so cluttered that I can barely walk through it let alone work out of it).  If you are an owner and start to hear statements like these, give me a call.  I will honestly discuss your job and your options with you. 

What really bothers me about the 14,000 gpd system above is that is it for a school and the students are trying to raise money for the septic system on Youtube.  So these kids are working hard trying to come up with creative ideas to build a septic system and the engineer will not even entertain the thought of a more reliable, less costly alternative.   The money they save could be used for silly things  like BOOKS, and TEACHERS.  This kind of crap is so common in this industry that it usually gets overlooked but it just makes me sick.  The engineers should b ashamed and demand that K-Mart refund their money for the licenses they purchased during a Blue Light Special.

Textile Company Decides Eliminite has the Best Design
In a previous posting I wrote about the well known septic textile company that is viewed by many as leader in the onsite industry copying one of our designs, effectively establishing Eliminite as the state of the art.  Our systems are designed deliberately to function reliably in a harsh environment.  Contrast this approach with the apparent acts of desperation of the textile company.  Maybe this explains why they have so many malfunctions, alarms, failures and discontent among their users.  Our goal is to provide reliable systems for a reasonable price.  I think, considering our growth, sales and now, imitation by big companies, we are accomplishing this goal.

Drowning with the Turkeys
Back in January 2007, Onsite Installer magazine published an article titled, "Soaring with the Eagles".  (I loved this one so much that I scanned it and saved it.  I was looking through an old USB thumb drive the other day and rediscovered it)  The article describes a treatment system in Minnesota that makes me laugh until I nearly cry every time I read it.  It reminds me of those Far Side cartoons that no matter how many times you read it it's still funny as hell.  This one is a classic.

It tells a tale of a 99 lot subdivision served by a peat pod system.  Now I don't know exactly who or what cast the spell over the designer that caused everyone of his/her synapses to fuse into a useless mass of mental slag,  but if I didn't know better I would think this is one of the best Onsite April Fools jokes of all time.

The system is comprised of heard that correctly 320...plastic peat pods.  This one even beats the textile pod nightmare in Montana that used something like 45 individual plastic fish tank fabric filters. They rig these things together as if they were stringing popcorn to decorate a Christmas tree.  It is one of the dumbest things I have ever seen and is an embarrassment to this industry. I am working on a 109 lot development and the footprint for the system is about 30' x 30' and it is fully accessible all year. 

The peat system is clearly visible from outer space (you can see it on Google Earth) and if there are extraterrestrials watching our development it will surely postpone their planned visit to introduce themselves because from the looks of that system earthlings still have some evolving to do.  The development is listed for sale for about 4 million and not a single home has been built so I guess,on the bright side, 3 years later,  the pods haven't clogged.   I pity the person that buys this monstrosity.  Soaring with the eagles...come on.