The Water Council kicked off the Water Leaders Summit in Milwaukee, Wis. June 26 with morning tours of A.O. Smith Corp. and Badger Meter facilities. The Water Summit is a gathering of corporations, businesses, utilities and non-profits to discuss the value of water, water savings and reuse strategies, and how to implement those ideas throughout the water industry.
The first tour was A.O. Smith, which specializes in whole house water filters, water quality systems and water heater systems for residential and commercial use. The second tour featured Badger Meter, which manufactures water meters and developed metering software for industries ranging from aerospace to municipalities, where their water meters are installed in homes.
WWD Managing Editor Bob Crossen attended the tours and the sessions on the first day of the Water Leaders Summit in Milwaukee, and has recapped his experience below. WQP Managing Editor Lauren Estes attended the second day, and her recap of the panels she saw can be found here.
A.O. Smith Corp. opened its new testing facility in Milwaukee in 2018 with a 46,000 sq ft footprint. The Fortune 500 company conducts several testing protocols across its range of products including chloroform testing, particle testing and size distribution.
Reverse osmosis membrane systems are a large part of the company’s business, particularly in China where reverse osmosis membrane systems and water heaters are designed to look like appliances. In the U.S., however, water conditioning and water softening systems are the primary products installed in homes, and they take the form of plumbing units, unlike China’s appliance market. Tour guides at A.O. Smith noted tankless reverse osmosis has become quite popular in China in addition to the traditional products. Additionally, A.O. Smith has developed air filtration units for the Chinese market similar to its reverse osmosis systems.
Badger Meter will celebrate 115 years of business in 2020, and in that time, it has had only six chief operating officers. At its facility in Milwaukee, Badger Meter molds, machines, assembles and tests its meters. While its water meters are known for their brass bodies, the company also produces meters with plastic bodies that are formed by heating plastic pellets to 500ºF. Almost all the molds are made in house and the company is constantly seeking ways to improve its molding.
In fact, one of the most interesting parts of the tour was led by Matt Stuyvenberg, Badger Meter director of engineering, who talked about the importance that 3D printing will have on the manufacturing industry. While Badger Meter has been using 3D printing since the 90s, Stuyvenberg said the newer generation printers and processes—specifically the jump from FDM to Polyjet processes—produce better quality products. Perhaps more exciting, he said was how metal 3D printing is much closer to being realized. When that technology meets with 3D printing—which can make products traditional manufacturing cannot, in a financially viable way, he said there will be some really exciting changes across a multitude of industries.
Day one of the Water Leaders Summit had a handful of panel discussions from thought leaders in the industry. Starting things off was Charles Fishman, who provided some staggering statistics useful to the discussion on the value of water.
Fishman also noted how slow the U.S. government is to gather and release water usage data to the public. This year, he said, the U.S. released data on water from data sets that are five years old, whereas energy usage statistics are only a couple months old when they are released. Fishman said part of the problem is that water systems are not seen.
“Water is invisible and water’s invisibility is its biggest problem,” Fishman said, adding that it is critical that attitudes toward water use and water systems change to push the industry forward. “Water is clearly the engine of the world’s economy and that’s as true today … as it was 30 years ago. Whether you’re talking about growing food or Google searching.”
Three days after she completed a 3,000-mile bike relay to raise money for her charity Cycling for Water, Allen sat on the stage with Fishman to talk about how her career experiences have led her to her position as CEO of Water For People, the non-profit benefited by Cycling for Water. Water for People has one of the most ambitious mission statements of any non-profit in the water industry.
In the final session of the day, Rochelle Samuel from Saint Gobain and Bill Malarkey from Amane Advisors took to the stage to talk in more detail about corporate responsibility of water. Malarkey began the discussion by highlighting how cities vie for new large production facilities in their communities to add more jobs. What gets lost in that process, he said, is just how much water some of those facilities need and the impact it has on the community in which they plan to base themselves. Some companies do better than others in valuing water.
Samuel said some of the Saint Gobain product manufacturing facilities that she works with take their water sources for granted.
In these cases, Samuel said she asks them what they would do if their source ceased to exist or was not suitable for its current use. When asking how a facility would deal with days without water and tying that to losses in revenue, it helps to provide the value system to encourage better water stewardship.