The first visit to a wastewater treatment plant with lobe pumps was a shocker. $550,000 in replacement parts costs spent over the course of just 3-4 years. My response to the plant operator was, “you haven’t spent $550,000 in plunger pump parts over 30 years” so why is the consulting engineer specifying those types of pumps!” the operator just shrugged and said “who knows.”
This kicked off my multi-plant tour in New York, New Jersey and New England. To borrow a term from politics – this was Wastecorp’s “listening tour”, to find out what is on wastewater treatment operators’ minds these days in terms of their pumping equipment for sewage. For the plant above, they have combined plunger pumps, lobe pumps and self primers for sewage treatment to see which ones work better for their needs.
Now just to be clear, this blog post is about observations made at sewage treatment plants. Wastecorp directly competes with Lobe pump manufacturers including Boerger, Swaby Lobeline and others for specifications and installations. Wastecorp is in the business of selling double disc pumps, single disc pumps and plunger pumps and diaphragm pumps to replace lobe pumps at wastewater treatment plants. All of which are designed to be lower cost alternatives in the long term.
Since it’s only July, my tour has a few more solid months, but the opinions about the costs of some lobe pumps after the initial sale has been astounding. Sales pitch or no sales pitch: when wastewater treatment operators openly tell you: “lobe pumps are costing our facility a fortune” and it happens at over six plants, you start to see patterns. Speaking of patterns, one facility went through so many lobe pump rotars and stators that they have created an art display on the side of one of their facility buildings. They have considered painting them to add color to the surrounding area.
The question I asked myself after these visits is why the wastewater treatment community would continue to specify and use such equipment when taxpayers have to flip the bill for lobe pump parts? Surely, the money can be better spent in other ways. Plus, lobe pumps are no revolution to the pump industry. We’re not talking about the impact of Google, Twitter and Facebook to technology: There is nothing new about lobe pumps: they have been around just as long as plunger pumps or piston pumps. And, Lobe pumps handle limited solids which then usually requires the facility to go out and buy a screen or grinding system which then requires more money be spent. Questions and more questions. We’ll see how the rest of the tour goes and what other facilities have to say about rotary lobe pumps.