Stone World asked representatives from several manufacturers of water treatment systems to discuss the latest technological advances of this type of equipment and how a fabrication shop benefits from recycling water.

In an age where sustainability and environ-mental-friendly practices are held in high regard, water-recycling systems can be beneficial to a fabrication shop. In addition to saving on water use, experts in this field all agree it can also provide more efficiency in the production process, as well as a cost savings. The following is a discussion with stone industry professionals from three leading manufacturers of water treatment systems. The participants are:

  • James Bond, stoneworking filtration product manager, Ebbco Inc.
  • Dan Fedrigon, vice president of sales and marketing, Beckart Environmental, Inc.
  • Paula Perry, owner, Water Treatment Solutions

For fabricators who do not have a water treatment system in their shop, what would you explain to them as the benefits of investing in one?

Bond: There are several benefits to having a water treatment system. Systems are sized to filter and deliver water on demand at very high gallon per minute flow rates. In most shops, the use of municipal water or an on-site well is inadequate for the flow and pressure requirements of today’s machinery. Ebbco’s Stoneworking Filtration systems offer easy disposal of waste instead of polluting the municipal water table by dumping or draining into sewers. Our cyclonic separator system allows shops to recycle 99% of their water and dispose of waste in a compliant manner.

Fedrigon: Besides providing the peace-of-mind of being environmentally compliant, a quality recycling system offers significant cost savings in water bills and disposal costs. With our systems specifically, water is cleaned to 1 micron or below, making it suitable for reuse not only in the fabricating process but throughout the plant. Residual solids are compressed to a dry cake, eliminating slurry haul-off charges. Additionally, feeding high-quality reuse water helps fabricators protect their equipment investments.

Perry: The average stone shop uses 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water a day. This can represent a significant savings. Depending on what equipment you buy — the payback if a loan is taken out could be as fast as 18 months to three years — for an average-size shop. But one can easily show the bank the savings to help with financing. One customer of ours went from $7,000 a month for water, with a bag system, to $250 a month with a closed loop system. Other benefits include:

  • Towns and cities are starting to crack down on water usage. It’s a good idea to be ahead of the curve. Don’t get caught short!
  • Look for a system that provides for an easy disposal of the granite/stone waste. If the waste is contained (not weeping water from a bag) this greatly minimizes silica dust. Gravity settling systems that collect solids in a bag, as the weeps water (to de-water) that waste water flows onto the floor and when it dries this leaves dust on the floor that gets stirred up and creates more airborne dust. This is just what you should look to avoid. If one can store the full bags outside, this is an option, but not ideal as neighbors can see the waste water and get concerned, causing them to call the local EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. And waste haulers do not want bags that are seeping water. They do not know what is in it!
  • The proper water-recycling system is the best method in which to control air-born silica dust. As the right system can keep the shop clean and the focus on keeping the solids into the trenches, cone bottom tank and the pit to be recycled from there. Naturally good housekeeping is critical to the control of dust too. FYI — dust machines usually have an impact close to where they are located. The proper water-recycling system benefits the entire shop.
  • A shop can promote that they are “green,” which can provide a great marketing tool.

What are some points for fabricators to consider when deciding which water treatment system is best for their shop?

Bond: How much water pressure and flow is needed for existing equipment and hand fabricators? It is important to consider future needs and the potential to add additional equipment due to business growth. What level of water clarity is required? How much maintenance will be required to operate the system?

Fedrigon: These are some of the questions we consider when planning a new system with a customer:

  • How much water do I generate?
  • What is my product mix of engineered stone and natural stone?
  • What are the micron requirements of the equipment I have in place? (Each piece of equipment is rated for a maximum micron)
  • Can I get the system and chemicals from a single supplier, and is local field support available?
  • What are my plans for expansion?
  • How long am I going to be at this facility?
  • What space is available?
  • How much is my water bill?
  • Do I have any existing components that can be incorporated in the design?
  • Am I going to utilize a large pit to feed the system or a lift station to an above ground tank?

Perry: There are quite a few things to consider when choosing a water treatment system.

  • What volume and pressure can the location supply them with? Some locations cannot get enough water volume or the pressure to run equipment. Sometimes, as shops expand, that can be when the volume of water is limited and water recycling is of greater importance.
  • Water is the backbone of the shop. They need to be sure that they work with a company that has great customer service.
  • Chemical free is best — as chemicals add a layer of complication in the managing of a water-recycling system. It is not easy to measure the amount of chemicals in the system so employees err on the side of more is better and soon skin rashes start to develop. Also, chemicals (flocculants) are harmful to more than just employees. They cause equipment to rust significantly faster. Why add this layer of complication when it is not necessary? FYI — most water-recycling systems add flocculants as the epoxies used in engineered stone do not settle out – and a lot of the systems on the market are a form of gravity settling — an antique technology. AND be sure to check the PPE for floc – as it is not easy. Again — another layer of complication.
  • One has to be prepared that anything that produces a quality product requires an investment of time. With a water-recycling system you are making your own water — and to produce a quality product (like a countertop) one has to be prepared to invest some time. Ask about the service points and cleaning times. This is helpful in planning your work schedule. While there are different levels of automation, be sure they really work — so investigate the automation before you buy!
  • Customer care – Is the company you purchase from able to support their product? Do they have replacement parts in inventory? Can they help you right away?
  • What footprint will be required for the systems?
  • Will it require compressed air and what are the electrical demands?
  • Will you need a collection pit or an above ground collection tank? Do you have trenches, and if so, are they the correct size?
  • What type of PPE might you and your employees need?
  • What micron level will the recycled water be filtered down to? And note — micron level cannot be measured below 2 — and even though all the particles may be less than 2 micron — is the water clear? A lot of 2 micron particles leave the water cloudy.
  • What size plumbing lines will you need for the recycled water going back to your equipment?
  • Are the pumps going to meet the pressure and flow demands of your equipment?
  • How often do you need to clean the system and change filters or filter cloths?
  • What are the consumable items and cost? How frequently will you need to replace these items?
  • How do you dispose of the waste collected and will your trash hauler take it away?
  • What are the service points and how long will they take? Evaluate this in proportion to the results that the system provides.
  • References — ask the man or woman who owns one!

Has the technology of water treatment systems changed at all in the last five years or so? If so, how?

Bond: Ebbco continuously refines our systems. Our unique system is proven to filter and deliver recycled water with low-maintenance operation.

Fedrigon: Today the systems are combining more technologies into a system. The leading trend is utilizing a settling clarifier with polymer addition ahead of a filter press. This takes the load off the filter press to allow it to produce 1-2 micron water for an extended period of time. Overall, labor and downtime are reduced while maintaining high-quality reuse water. Then, the focus is on automating as much as possible so systems can run with minimal operator intervention.

Perry: Not greatly, but automation has been introduced and with the larger stone shops this has been a great plus — allowing larger systems to be cleaned faster with faster turnaround time to get the system up and running. When one is recycling water — occasional monitoring of the system and human decision making — have not been eliminated. Even when a “new” product comes on the market often times it is still an old item. Some companies are selling “new flocculant” chemicals — often they are not that new. Check the PPE. If you do need a floc, best not to add one. If you see something that is “new,” make sure it is made for the stone industry. Household filters do not work in the abrasive environment of a stone shop.

Are the systems tailored to an individual’s shop? If so, what are some components that vary from shop to shop?

Bond: Every system is custom built in our New Baltimore, MI manufacturing plant. We factor in the shop’s overall floor plan with trenches and the pit locations. Machine flow and pressure requirements are calculated to size the system. Pit pump and delivery pump are sized per demand.

Fedrigon: In most cases, each system will be and should be tailored to the exact requirements of the fabricating shop. The volume and composition of process water in the fabricator’s shop are the biggest factors in the selection process. Oftentimes, our installations occur during new construction of a shop, or during plant expansions and reconstructions, and as equipment designers and manufacturers we are able to participate in the earliest stages. This allows us to assist in floor plan design, if needed, and provide visuals of how the water recycling system might be best integrated with other plant equipment and layouts.

But even in an existing shop, there are usually many ways to integrate with and accommodate plant equipment and layout. Regardless of the installation, we think it’s a good idea to design components like filter presses that are easily and economically expandable at a later date to meet future shop growth.

Perry: Ideally, the water-recycling system one chooses should be tailored to their shop fabrication volume and equipment water demands. The water quality, the water pressure and volume required by each fabrication equipment manufacturer should be known to the company you purchase your water-recycling equipment from. They are the experts — they should be able to quote what you need. There are basic components, and then there are the upgrades, such as automation for cleaning and notification to clean, trench cleaning pumps, automation for pump control — the components can vary in size to meet the shop’s demands.

Be careful of point of use filters. They can require a lot of attention and fill quickly, thus stopping production as the flow of water to your equipment has been stopped.

Do you find that more fabricators are investing in water treatment systems now than several years ago? If so, what do you think are some reasons for this?

Bond: Yes, there has been an increase in shop awareness. As shops automate, they require more water flow and pressure than can be obtained economically through a municipal source. Increased awareness of waste by local authorities and building owners is also a contributing factor.

Fedrigon: Yes, many shops have had to make multiple investments in water recycling systems because either the initial system was outgrown, the plant requirements changed or the design was not suitable in the first place. Water rates continue to escalate and labor is increasingly more expensive and finding reliable employees more challenging. There is also an increase in the amount of engineered stone versus natural stone, which can make it all the more important to have the proper design for your product mix.

Perry: Yes. They see the value in recycling water and they see the cost savings. They also know that as they expand their current supply they cannot meet the pressure and volume demands of the equipment that they are purchasing. They are also benefitting from tax benefits!

And on a final note, I’d like to say that stone fabricators are true entrepreneurs and often want to do everything — repair all their equipment, re-design their equipment and then in-between all this grow their fabrication business. Water is different from a piece of fabrication equipment. It is a balance between solids collection, solids filtration, water production and water quality production. It’s not something you can learn from watching a YouTube video. Leave the water recycling and filtration to the experts, which will allow you more time to focus on your expertise — stone fabrication and growing that part of your business.

What to look for in a water-recycling system

Courtesy of Water Treatment Solutions

Does it provide both gray and crystal clear water?

  • What micron level is the crystal clear water and is it crystal clear?  Fun Fact: You can have less than 2 micron filtration – but if there is a TON of less than 2 micron particles it will not be crystal clear!
  • What micron level is the gray water?

Is the system chemical free?

  • If not, what is the required PPE?  Be sure to get the SDS Sheet. Not all recycled water requires PPE!
  • The fewer the chemicals the better, as they complicate the water as you use it over and over again. 

Those who work with water recycling should know the water demands and water quality that the different manufacturers’
equipment require.

Does the system you are looking at require an air pump and if so what are the CFMs required? 

What size collection pit will you need and if you cannot dig a pit in your facility, can you dig a small collection pit (3 x 3 x 3) for a cone bottom tank to replace a pit?

Trenches – Designed to ensure that all the water gets to the collection pit. FYI – trenches still need to be cleaned out, but flushing methods can be designed. As a rule, trenches do NOT need to be sloped. The increased cost does not deliver on the investment.

Foot Print – Be sure to ask about the space and location required.

What are the power requirements? 

Are the pumps sized to meet the pressure and flow required by your shop layout and equipment requirements? 

Plumbing lines – What size lines will you need in the shop?  The size will vary depending on the pressure and flow being supplied by the pump.

If there are point of use filters, how often will they need to be cleaned and how long do they take to clean?

Which system provides you the easiest and safest way to dispose of the solids collected? 

Cleaning time – Always the nemesis of water recycling! In particular, closed-loop systems.