Auld lang syne

Thanks to Randy Woodland, a Franklin Field Service Engineer based in Colorado, for providing this post.

OldDrillingI participated in the installation of a new solar pumping system last month as part of Franklin Electric’s commitment to field test new products before they are commercially offered to customers. As with any trial installation, we had a few issues. The most annoying one involved the flow switch “talking” to the controller, but we were able to solve it without incident.

After everything was running well, the contractor commented, “I miss the old days, things were a lot simpler to install and troubleshoot when we didn’t have all of these new products to offer.” I immediately agreed with him; pump installations seemed a lot simpler twenty years ago. I’m not too proud to admit that at times I’ve even wished I didn’t need to constantly learn new things in order to do my job.

The more I thought it, however, I realized something. It doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. In order to stay in business, we have adapt to new products and new ways of doing things. It’s that simple.

Then I remembered a training seminar I attended at least ten years ago. The presenter said something that has stuck with me ever since. “The last buggy whip manufacturer in the United States probably made the best ones ever, at the lowest cost, with fast delivery and excellent customer service. So what? His market changed when automobiles replaced the horse and buggy. Being the best at something doesn’t matter if that something is no longer what the customer wants.”

We are no different in the water systems industry. VFDs take the place of large tanks and valves, electronic protection devices take the place of fuses and heaters, a web page takes the place of an ad in the Yellow Pages, and so it goes.

That guy was absolutely right. It really doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. If the customer asks for it, we have to provide it. In today’s age of readily available information about any product or process, the consumer will find out what is available. If your company or mine continues to sell and service buggy whips, our business will suffer for it.

What any industry wants to sell doesn’t matter if the customer wants to buy something else. If you don’t offer it, your competition will. Don’t forget that today will be someone else’s good old days.

Suddenly learning new things doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

All I want for Christmas

Lots of publications have their annual issues of holiday gift ideas or recommended products each year. Here is ours, albeit perhaps not quite as exciting as some of those – It’s our list of recommended professional meters for water systems troubleshooting.

There are five on the list. There are lots of other good meters out there, but here’s what Franklin Electric’s team of Field Service Engineers use on a day-to-day basis:

  1. First on the list is the Fluke 177 Digital Multimeter from John Fluke Mfg (www.fluke.com). As the name implies, this meter can be used to measure voltage, capacitance, resistance, and frequency. Measuring frequency is especially handy when you’re using a generator or variable frequency drive. List price is around $250.
  2. Also from John Fluke Mfg is the Fluke 375 Digital Clamp-On Ammeter. This meter measures current and is crucial for determining how hard the motor is working. List price on this meter is $325.
  3. In a previous post, I stated that a megger could turn time into money (Turning Time into Money). The one Franklin uses is manufactured by Universal Enterprises (www.ueitest.com). Their digital version is called the UEI DMEG3 Digital Megohmeter. It lists for $250 and is worth every dollar. It also can do double duty and measure resistance.
  4. The Simpson 372 Analog Ohmmeter has been a mainstay of our industry and others for literally decades. The 372-3 is the latest version and available at www.simpsonelectric.com. List price is $175.
  5. Is that capacitor still good? If you have a MFD-10 Digital Capacitor Checker from SUPCO (www.supco.com), you can find out in a snap. This little meter is ideal for control box troubleshooting and is only around $75.

MetersThere you have it. A list of the five meters for your toolbox that will allow you to handle just about any water systems troubleshooting scenario you run into. So, while this list may not seem as exciting as others you see this time of year, quickly and effectively diagnosing what’s going on with your customer’s water systems can be satisfying in its own way, not to mention profitable.

If you have any questions about these meters or how to use them, Franklin Electric’s Key Dealer Hotline can help. Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 800/348-2420.

Thanks to Rick Campbell, Franklin Electric, for his contributions to this post.

A banner day

This week’s post comes from Franklin Electric’s Randy Woodland

I’ve done a lot of training over my career and especially at Franklin Electric, but I’ve never felt better about any of it than the day I spent a few weeks ago with eight members of the 819TH Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron (RED HORSE) at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana.

From their website, “RED HORSE’s wartime responsibility is to provide a highly mobile, rapidly deployable force that is self-sufficient to support critical Air Force facilities for aircraft launch and recovery. It supports the beddown of weapon systems required to initiate and sustain operations in an austere bare base environment, including remote hostile locations.” Of course today, that means Afghanistan, and these eight members of the 819TH drill water wells and install submersible pumps and controls. They’re some of the first guys in, since it’s pretty hard to build a runway without a reliable supply of water.

I originally met Tech Sargent Joe Adair of the 819TH at the Montana Water Well Convention. Sargent Adair, along with several members of his team, were going booth to booth asking questions and gathering information. The longer we talked, the more apparent it became that his team was well-trained and very competent on well drilling. Where they freely admitted that their expertise came up short was what happened after a well was drilled. They needed more information on everything that goes into a well and controls the pump.

We made arrangements for me to spend a day with the squadron at their facility on Malmstrom AFB. I have never had a better, more attentive and appreciative class. We kicked off early in the morning and finished up after 4 o’clock. I “dumped the whole truck load on them”, reviewing everything from large pump sizing all the way through high horsepower VFDs and soft starts. You name it, we covered it. To a person, their attention never wavered, they took tons of notes, and when they didn’t understand something, they asked all the right questions until they did.

For me, it was a terrific opportunity to “Support our Troops” in a small, but real way. It was also a very personal reminder of just how truly outstanding the men and women in our Armed Forces are today. They are truly the best of us.

They don’t know exactly when, but the 819TH is headed back to Afghanistan soon. They promised to call me if they hit any snags. I hope they don’t have any problems, but a part of me is hoping to hear from them. In any case, I’ll be thinking about them.

Solving problems

For the past three weeks, I’ve been writing about variable speed drives (VFDs) and the benefits they offer beyond constant pressure. While delivering constant water pressure is still the most recognized benefit of these systems, their potential far exceeds that one application. This week’s examples are more regional in nature, but hopefully they will help you start thinking about other ways VFDs can solve problems.

In many parts of the western US, wells are frequently pumped faster than they can recharge, making some type of dry run protection necessary. As a result, these installations have Pumptec or a similar type of dry run (underload) protection. However, VFDs already have this protection built into them. In addition, not only do they have protection by design against underload, most also have overload (bound pump) protection built in, as well as undervoltage and overvoltage protection. In cases where you know that an installation may face challenging conditions, for a small incremental cost—remember, besides a Pumptec, you also need control box in a conventional system—you can use a VFD such as SubDrive for even better protection of the pump and motor.

Another niche application for variable speed systems is operating installations where fire codes are in effect. Particularly in dry areas of the country, local fire codes dictate the minimum size pump required for fire protection. In the majority of cases, the GPM the pump is required to deliver in case of fire far exceeds the output required for regular daily residential usage. Continue reading

Saving on copper

Last week I provided just one example of how variable speed, constant pressure systems aren’t always about constant pressure. Specifically, I showed how a variable speed controller can extend system life. My example was an older system that was getting heavy usage (and cycling) with an irrigation system.

Here’s a slightly different example. I’ve never given a seminar or presentation on constant pressure systems without someone asking, “How much do they cost?” Although I can usually provide a ballpark list price and refer them back to the distributor for their pricing, my answer is “it depends.” The reason is that although there is additional cost associated with a variable speed drive, there can also be some significant savings that offset this cost.

The example cited most often is being able to use a small tank. However, an overlooked, sometimes far more significant savings can be obtained because of the smaller cable required. Here’s why … Regardless if the input is single- or three- phase, most VFDs generate a three-phase output voltage (Franklin Electric’s MonoDrive and SubDrive2W are notable exceptions). So, we use a three-phase motor, and for the same horsepower, the current (amp) carrying requirements are smaller for a three-phase motor than for a single-phase. Therefore, in many installations, we can go with a smaller gauge of drop cable if it’s three-phase.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’ve got a 3 horsepower system with a total cable run of 500 feet. From the single-phase cable charts on page 11 of the AIM Manual, #8 is only good for 470 feet. So, to ensure adequate voltage to a single-phase 3 horsepower motor, you’re going to need #6, which is good for 750 feet.

However, it we use a SubDrive 150 and a 3-phase motor, we use the three-phase charts on page 16 of the AIM Manual. In this case, #10 is good for 620’. So, by adding a VFD into the system, we’ve gone from 500 feet of #6 cable to 500 feet of #10 cable.

Now, with the price of copper, and therefore drop cable, these days, your savings on 500 feet of #10 versus #6 cable will be very significant, probably in the hundreds of dollars. In some cases, you may even save money with a VFD.

This is just one example. But, the point is that whenever you bidding a job, it’s a good idea to run the scenario above. You may be surprised at how little the difference is between the system cost of a conventional system and a variable speed system. And, once again, you’ll have all the benefits of constant pressure.

PID: 3 letters made simpler

Hang around any one of our industry trade shows for long, and you’re going to hear the term VFD. Of course, a lot of you are installing VFDs to deliver constant pressure and already know that a VFD is a Variable Frequency Drive.

Hang around or read about VFDs a little longer, especially on the commercial side, and you’re going to see or hear, “our VFD uses a PID controller.” But, as a rule, no tells you what a PID controller actually is, or even what it stands for. That’s probably because PID stands for Proportional, Integral, and Derivative. That right there probably explains why no one goes any further.

But, like many things, it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. A PID controller isn’t a physical device, but a piece of software inside the VFD. PID controllers are used in tons of applications beyond VFDs, and your brain has a pretty good one built right in. You use it for just about everything that requires physical action.

For example, you’re coming up on a stoplight that just went from green to yellow. Without you consciously thinking about it, your brain determines 3 things: How far am I from the light? How long has it been yellow? And, how fast am I approaching it? These get integrated into a decision that results in the correct (hopefully) physical action.

Thinking in terms of a pump now, the job of the PID controller is simple: “How fast should I tell the VFD hardware to run the pump at any given moment?” And, like your brain, it takes the answers to 3 questions (P, I, and D) to come up with the right answer under all the different circumstances and installations.

The proportional part of PID answers the question of, “How far are we off?” That is, “what’s the difference between the target pressure and the actual pressure coming from the sensor?” On one hand, it seems like that’s all we need to know. However, as it turns out, if we only tell the pump how fast to turn based on this question, there’s a tendency to chase and constantly overshoot our target. We no longer have constant pressure. Continue reading