Happy Customers, Healthy Business

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Courtesy of Philadelphia Mixing Solutions, Ltd

As the wastewater treatment industry becomes more competitive, customer service gives businesses the chance to rise above their competitors.

Customer service is key in all industries. The water treatment industry is no exception.

As the treatment of both drinking water and wastewater becomes a continually more competitive industry, with an ever-growing number of new companies offering aeration equipment, biological products, pumps, and software, customer service has become an even greater key for firms hoping to rise above their competitors.

Even if a company provides top-of-the-line water treatment services and equipment, it will struggle to gain new business if its engineers, marketers, and administrators don’t first provide top customer service to its existing clients.

After all, customers won’t be happy if every time they have a question it takes two weeks to get an answer and then two more weeks to solve the problem. These unhappy clients will then spread the word to their peers about poor customer service, publicity no manufacturer wants.

A recent expansion of an aeration ditch operated by a wastewater treatment plant in the heart of the Midwest clearly demonstrates the importance of strong customer service. The operators of the wastewater treatment plant owned by the City of Lansing, KS, needed to install a new oxidation ditch to expand a treatment facility that was rapidly nearing its mandated capacity. They chose Philadelphia Mixing Solutions’ HALO oxidation ditch system to meet this challenge. And they did it not only because the company’s equipment enjoyed a good reputation in the industry, but also because officials from the firm guaranteed Lansing that they would be available to answer any future questions. Philadelphia Mixing engineers would be willing to address any concerns regarding the aeration equipment’s operating procedures and promised to spell out exactly how city officials could best operate the new oxidation ditch technology to achieve the best aeration results.

A number of other manufacturers provided equipment that worked just as well, but it was the high level of customer service that Philadelphia Mixing promised that won it the business.

It’s a lesson that all companies in the water-treatment industry should follow.

A Unique Plant
The wastewater treatment plant that Tony Zell, wastewater utility director with the City of Lansing, oversees is different from most in one key aspect: It not only serves a growing municipality, it also handles the wastewater needs of a nearby prison that has a growing population of its own.

The wastewater treatment plant that serves both the city of Lansing and the Lansing Correctional Facility, then, is designed to handle not only the standard wastewater from businesses and residences but also the more unusual waste that comes from a prison population.

And that waste can be stranger than you might imagine.

Rags, bed sheets, tennis shoes, plastics—they all end up in the prison’s wastewater stream. The Lansing plant is specially designed to screen this debris and prevent it from ever escaping the facility.

“Whatever those inmates can shove down the toilets, we end up getting,” says Zell. “The prison is definitely a different animal.”

This is why when Lansing municipal officials expanded their wastewater plant in the summer of 2005 to include new aeration equipment, they made sure that the additions wouldn’t disrupt the unique services that the facility was providing. Fortunately, after Palmyra, PA–based Philadelphia Mixing Solutions installed its HALO Biological Nutrient Removal System—a system that provides extended aeration of wastewater—the Lansing facility not only dramatically increased its plant capacity, it did so without compromising in any way its performance.

A look at the relationship between Philadelphia Mixing Solutions and the Lansing Wastewater Treatment Plant provides a classic example of how public utilities and private companies can work together to meet often-complicated treatment goals and how important customer service and follow-up should be in the water-treatment industry.

The Challenge
Officials with the Lansing Wastewater Treatment Plant knew as far back as 2001 that they would have to one day boost their facility’s treatment abilities. Zell, in fact, started researching possible expansion plans that year, taking several research trips to Chicago, Washington, DC, Atlanta, and other cities to study the wastewater facilities that they operated.

The challenge that Zell faced? The Lansing plant was nearing its peak capacity of treating 1.4 million gallons of wastewater a day. At the same time, the city of Lansing was growing, adding new business and residential customers to the wastewater treatment plant’s coverage area on a regular basis.

“Without expanding the plant, we wouldn’t have been able to meet the needs of our community,” Zell says.

Complicating the situation was the treatment plant’s service agreement with the Lansing Correctional Facility. The wastewater plant sits on Department of Corrections property and receives about 40% of its water flow from the prison. The flow generated by the prison is high in organic material, so the Lansing treatment plant was designed to handle a biochemical oxygen demand of 320 milligrams per liter, compared to most wastewater plants that are designed to treat water with a biochemical oxygen demand of 240 or 250 milligrams per liter.

The plant also boasts a different way of handling high grease content, another necessity of treating prison-generated wastewater.

The treatment plant segregates the water coming from the prison from the rest of the city’s water flow. This works because the treatment plant features four distinct collection chambers, each with a wet well. The prison flow and the city flow never mix, unless there is an emergency.

The prison water flow, then, guided by two separate pumps, first goes through its own chamber and wet well, where the plant screens out grease, rags, clothing, bed sheets and other debris, before it arrives, cleaned and treated, at the plant’s headwaters. This also allows the facility’s officials to meter the prison water treatment separately for billing purposes.

“I haven’t heard of too many places that have this kind of setup,” Zell says.

When expanding the facility, then, city officials needed to work with engineers and designers who understood the unique nature of Lansing’s wastewater treatment plant.

Fortunately, city officials found just this with the engineers at Philadelphia Mixing Solutions. After adding the company’s HALO extended aerating system to their existing facility, Lansing officials managed to increase their treatment plant’s capacity, all without disturbing its unique setup.

All-Around Service
Philadelphia Mixing Solutions, which provides aeration equipment to municipalities and private entities around the country, specializes in wastewater biological treatment, industrial wastewater treatment, and water treatment in general.

The company also boasts an onsite research-and-development laboratory, a place for the company’s engineers to develop and test their water-treatment products, including those that fall into the aeration category, the category that interested Lansing officials.

The onsite lab is no small affair. Four engineers staff the site permanently, and the lab covers 30,000 square feet. It also features a 750,000-gallon indoor water basin, to allow engineers to test exactly how their aeration equipment works.

Zell says that Lansing officials were impressed enough after touring Philadelphia Mixing’s site to choose the company to handle the treatment plant’s expansion project.

“To me, all of the manufacturers offered similar equipment, but it came down to who was going to provide the best support and service,” Zell says. “We went to Philadelphia Mixing’s manufacturing facility, took a tour, talked to the shop people, and, basically, really liked what we saw. We looked at some facilities on the East Coast that were using their products and talked to their operators and engineers. They all thought very highly of the equipment. We figured, then, that we’d give them a go.”

Stephen Brinton, technical consultant with the environmental division of Philadelphia Mixing, says that his company relies on its customer service to compete in a tough industry. The company offers continuing support—answering questions from its clients, guaranteeing how the equipment it sells will operate—to limit the risk to treatment plant operators.

In Lansing’s case, this means that Zell can quickly reach support staffers at Philadelphia Mixing should he have any questions or concerns with the way the company’s HALO aerating system is operating.

“In marketing-ese, what we are offering here is not breakthrough technology,” Brinton says. “It’s not e-mail versus the teletype machine. It’s a better mousetrap in the same configuration as others offer. But we are more capable and expert on the transfer facilities. We have a state-of-the-art aeration lab right onsite, so we understand the transfer site better than anybody. Oxidation ditch technology is nothing new. But our comprehensive approach—mechanical support, process support—sets us apart.”

Philadelphia Mixing Solutions tailors its customer support to each of its customers’ unique needs. In Lansing’s case, the company will provide consulting services to help Zell and his staffers gain the maximum benefit from the treatment plant’s new HALO system.

In other cases, Philadelphia Mixing simply provides the aeration equipment and is not called on to supply additional customer support. This usually occurs when the company is working with larger municipal clients.

“In Lansing, we are providing full consulting support,” Brinton says. “We want to help them sleep at night. We want to reduce their risk. We wanted to guarantee them that their plant would perform as intended.

“We provide the mixing, aeration, and biological and mechanical expertise,” Brinton adds. “There is no risk for our clients then. When you know what you are getting, and what you are doing, there is no risk. We take the guesswork out of the process. The operator doesn’t want to end up getting fined for his effluent going over permitted limits. With our support, he doesn’t have to worry about that.”

It was customer service, then, and the promise of more of it, that sold Lansing on Philadelphia Mixing’s HALO aeration system.

The Hardware
When Zell came to Philadelphia Mixing Solutions, his city’s wastewater treatment plant relied on a standard oval-shaped oxidation ditch. The city’s consulting engineer converted the oval design to accommodate the Talon vertical turbine surface aerator technology. Two new halo ditches were then added to the aeration system.

The new HALO system offered a significant advantage: It allows for a very robust form of extended aeration. Plant operators, without sucking up a significant amount of land thanks to their oxidation ditch’s halo shape, can aerate their water for significant chunks of time.

Lansing’s HALO system was installed in May 2005, increasing the capacity of the city’s wastewater treatment plant from 1.4 million to 3.2 million gallons per day. Philadelphia Mixing Solutions not only provided the new hardware and equipment, the company also made sure that the aeration system was retrofitted properly to the city’s existing, and near-capacity, oxidation system.

The expanded system consists of two new oxidation ditches in the classic halo shape. The two ditches each include anoxic and anaerobic zones with four 75-horsepower Talon mixers—a model of low-speed surface aerator. Philadelphia Mixing Solutions also provided a ditch conversion from Lansing’s existing system to the HALO system that included two 50-horsepower Talon mixers.

The six Talon aeration impellers working together will provide more than 33,600 pounds of oxygen per day to promote enhanced biological treatment of the city’s wastewater.

The system will also provide the city of Lansing with significant energy savings. According to Philadelphia Mixing Solutions, the HALO system installed at the treatment plant will consume 25% less power while treating the same amount of wastewater.

For Zell, the 27 months of construction it took to convert his plant’s existing oxidation ditch system into a HALO system was well worth it.

“We really do rely on this system now,” Zell says. “We rely on it for phosphorous removal and nitrogen removal. It works great for us.”

Zell and his fellow city employees are so happy with their new system, they’ve been showing it off, leading recent tours of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts through the treatment facility.

“We try to do a lot of public education here in Lansing,” Zell says. “We want to show everyone that there is a lot more to wastewater treatment than flushing a toilet. Once the average citizen sees what we have for the price tag, they are really impressed. Our mission statement is to protect public health and the environment. That’s the bottom line. That’s what we do every day. The citizens of Lansing, I believe, fully understand what we do in accomplishing this task.”

The engineers at Philadelphia Mixing certainly appreciate such sentiments. The aeration industry is a competitive one, and one that’s getting even tougher. It’s not always easy to convince all the municipal officials who need persuading that an extended aeration system like the HALO is worth the upfront cost.

Manufacturers have to sell different municipal officials—depending on whether they work in engineering or city planning or finance—on different benefits.

“It can be a challenge. Remember, you are dealing with several layers of folks when you are selling an aeration system like ours,” Brinton says. “To communicate value to all these people, you have to address all the parties’ needs. An engineer might not care if you are saving them $25,000. The engineer just wants a system that works well and is easy to operate. Other municipal officials, though, would certainly care about that $25,000 savings.”

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