By David H. Martin

Ongoing industry consolidation provided much of the buzz at the newly streamlined Water Quality Association (WQA) Convention and Exhibition, held near the banks of Baltimore’s spectacular Inner Harbor. On the exhibit floor, new brands took their places next to familiar ones while some other old brands were missing.

The most imposing new face at the Baltimore show, positioned just inside the main entrance, was one of the world’s best-known corporate brands. GE Water Technologies made quite a splash, showing its brilliant new “water music” TV commercial while submerging its Osmonics brand beneath a sea of GE monograms. At the same time, the Autotrol valves brand appeared to be making a comeback under GE ownership with “Autotrol by GE Water Technologies” appearing on the new water softener valves made in Milwaukee by the former Osmonics division.

Pentair sought to clarify customer confusion over a progression of acquired filter brands from Ametek to Plymouth Products to Everpure. Pentair’s new water treatment filtration banner is Pentek. Kurt Kaiser, the Sheboygan, Wis., company’s product development director, said the brand consolidation under Pentek will be completed by the end of the year. Pentair acquired Everpure from USFilter late last year, and the venerable brand lives on. Unresolved are the fates of the Sta-Rite and Omnifilter drinking water system brands, which Pentair will get along with SHURflo and Hypro when it completes the acquisition of WICOR Industries.

Musical chairs
Sta-Rite Industries, a unit of WICOR, made what was to be its final appearance at a WQA trade show. The Delavan, Wis., company had become quite a consolidator of brands itself over the last several years. Now, it’s apparently Sta-Rite’s turn. Soon, it will become a unit of Pentair, with the acquisition announced just weeks before the show. The future of such familiar Sta-Rite component brands as Hydro-Flow, Fiberdyne and Park International are now in the hands of Pentair. ITT Industries was represented by Goulds Pumps and its newest acquisition, WEDECO, which exhibited in separate booths under their respective brands. Oasis submerged its recently acquired Sunroc brand in Baltimore as well.

Once again, Culligan, long the industry’s leader in consumer name brand recognition, was nowhere to be seen at this year’s WQA show. The irony is: Many of its dealers continue to hold key WQA leadership positions in an association that was originally a Culligan dealer group before it diversified. There was plenty of buzz in Baltimore over who might be interested in acquiring Culligan, which was recently put on the block by Veolia Environnement, along with a number of the French company’s other water treatment assets under USFilter. Debra Coy, who represented Schwab’s Washington Research Group in a WQA strategic planning seminar, speculated that Culligan was likely to be acquired this year by a private equity group. Both she and fellow prognosticator, Neil Berlant, of The Seidler Companies, agreed the next few years would see further industry consolidation both in manufacturing and distribution. Time will tell which conglomerate will grab the brass ring on the branding merry-go-round.

Focus on innovation
This year’s WQA trade show included some important new product introductions that were just short of astonishing. It appears that important strides have been made in the areas of point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) drinking water systems including new ways to counteract microbial contaminants and heavy metals such as arsenic. Some of these will undoubtedly transform the product mix exhibited at next year’s show in Las Vegas.

Purification
KX Industries Inc. introduced its new microbiological filter technology at the WQA show. Evan Koslow, CEO of the Orange, Conn., company, has developed, and is ready to bring to market, a new “microbiological interception” technology that blocks and holds more than 99 percent of bacteria, viruses and oocysts (protozoa) as well as other organic contaminants including chemicals. Noted Koslow, “The EPA and our customers are especially excited about the product’s ‘lock-up’ mechanism that contains the contaminants, even when the filter is full. It’s fail-safe because it automatically shuts down the system while keeping the intercepted contaminants from releasing” (see “Carbon Breakthrough,” WC&P, January 2004).

With focus group studies showing that, next to aesthetics, today’s consumers are most concerned about biological contaminants, Koslow predicts a bright future for the low-price, broad-spectrum filters. “And, imagine the potential impact,” said Koslow, “on the lives of people in Third World countries when they finally have access to a low-cost, simple pour-through drinking water filter that virtually removes the hazards of microbial contaminants.”

Immediately available from KX is a new chemically treated activated carbon filter, claimed to be a full-spectrum, energy-free water purification device for foodservice, refrigerator and other retail POU applications. Soon, a new low-cost treated nanofiber paper from KX will be available to manufacturers of pitcher filters and other gravity-flow filter cartridges sold in mass-market retail channels.

Ultrafiltration & RO
A.J. Antunes & Co., of Carol Stream, Ill., showed its new single-cartridge ultrafiltration for residential POU/POE applications. Said Dan Wyckoff, the company’s managing director, “We have successfully downsized our larger industrial and municipal systems to bring ultrafiltration membrane technology to the home. The unit will remove bacteria, cysts and significantly reduces the amount of viruses that can be present.” Impurities collect on the inside walls of the hollow fiber membrane, where they are then backwashed at regular intervals by an automated controller system. A.J. Antunes has named Aquest Inc., of Elburn, Ill., as exclusive U.S. distributor of all residential systems.

GE Water Technologies announced a revolutionary tankless reverse osmosis (RO) drinking water system for the home—a continuous-flow, on-demand under-counter appliance marketed under the Merlin brand name capable of producing up to 120 gallons per day (gpd). Sam Karge, project manager of GE’s household water group in Milwaukee, stated that the unit uses no electricity or pump and runs on a minimum of 40 pounds per square inch (psi) line pressure. It combines a pre-filter with twin membranes in separate housings. Said Karge, “The new system will be available to water treatment dealers in July and, at a suggested selling price of around $1,000, will offer dealers true product differentiation to compete with low-cost RO units with limited gpd capacities.”

The Newbury, Ohio, water treatment equipment manufacturer, Kinetico Inc. showed its revolutionary Purefecta microbiological water purifier, the first product to be certified under new NSF Protocol P23. The rating confirms the Perfecta’s ability to reduce several forms of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses and protozoan cysts. The unit was developed in cooperation with Pall Corp.

Fighting arsenic
Dow Chemical Co., of Midland, Mich., manufacturer of Film-tec RO elements and Dowex ion exchange resins, announced it has licensed a patent-pending arsenic removal technology owned by HydroGlobe. The titanium-based adsorbent removes arsenic III and V from drinking water. Dow’s general manager, Ian Barbour, stated the HydroGlobe technology will work with residential POU/POE systems to remove arsenic and heavy metals and will help municipalities meet the new USEPA arsenic standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb) that takes effect in 2006. “We believe,” says Barbour, “that titanium-based adsorbent is the most effective means today to remove both arsenics and heavy metals.” Greg Millsap, Dow business development manager, noted preliminary data show significant advantages over iron-based media at lower pH levels.

Dow also released for general sale its solvent-free resin, Dowex XUS-43597, which it’s been test marketing for the past year or so. Dowex marketing manager Alan Greenberg said it has the highest salt rejection efficiency on the market, meeting strict requirements in California and Texas. Both products are marketed through Dow’s Liquid Separations Division.

Other picks
PHSI Pure Water Technologies, of Sandpoint, Idaho, showed its POU cabinet drinking water system for office and plant. It uses corona discharge-generated ozone to sanitize the tank and features microprocessor control, said marketing manager Scott Bailey. Meanwhile, Amphion’s new POU water coolers with media-grade Dow plastic disposable liners for superior sanitation were to ship in early May, according to president John Cooke.

Shower filters were represented in Baltimore by H20 International Inc., of Deerfield Beach, Fla., and Sprite Industries, of Corona, Calif. H20 manufactures a line of filtered showerheads under the Sunbeam brand. Sprite introduced an expanded line of all-metal filtered showers including two fashionable extended shower falls.

Topway Global continues its record growth with expanded lines of water softeners and RO systems. President and founder George Yen says the 11-year-old company will open a new 5,000-square-foot warehouse in Orange County, Calif., and another in Houston later this year.

And Charles Lee, marketing director for HM Digital Inc., of Los Angeles, said it will be adding pH sensors to its line of water testing instruments that now include total dissolved solids (TDS) and conductivity capabilities by the fourth quarter. Resistivity will be added for ultrapure deionization applications next year and dissolved oxygen capabilities are two years out, he added.

Conclusion
This column is meant to provide only a snapshot of the many companies that were exhibiting at this year’s Water Quality Association trade show. It’s virtually impossible to include all participants in even a more exhaustive review so I chose to spotlight a few more notable ones that caught my eye.

Still, significant advances introduced in Baltimore in whole-house and point-of-use applications for new technologies should signal a new era for dealers looking to differentiate themselves from mass-retail products and services. The brand merry-go-round continues as large consolidators continue to acquire companies and newer companies emerge with fresh entrepreneurs.

If you have a new marketing strategy you plan to unveil in the POU/POE water treatment market, feel free to contact me for possible inclusion in this column. If you have a new product unveiled at the WQA not mentioned above, drop a note to WC&P managing editor Ron Pérez for inclusion in the magazine’s “What’s New” product section—ryperez@wcponline.com or (520) 323-6144.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, email: dmartin@lenzimartin.com or website: www.lenzimartin.com

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