By Karen R. Smith

Can we come to terms? (Part 2)

Last month in this column I began discussing the need for agreed-upon definitions and terms for various segments and sub-segments of this industry. Happily, many have sent comments and suggestions as requested.

First off, a number of people responded to note that despite the enormity of some of today’s high-end homes, they are still residences; C.F. (Chubb) Michaud pointed out that the mere fact that such houses require systems that are larger does not change their inherent operation or reliability. As Michaud opined on much that followed, I’ve asked him to discuss his views here.

Going back to last month’s column, I wrote: …do we segment the industry by the characteristics of the application  or by the equipment? If everyone agrees that a 3,000 gpd RO system is light industry (to use a common moniker we’ve not yet defined specifically), does that mean we should use the same term when discussing a total-home RO installation with the same capacity?

Michaud says no; the fact that it is a 3,000 gpd system does not define the segment. Market segmentation is usually done for marketing purposes; i.e., the beverage industry is a segment that more or less defines the characteristics of the product performance. It is different, perhaps, from the coffee service industry, which could be a sub-segment (if the needs are more exacting) or a separate segment (if the needs are very different).

He agrees with Slovak’s suggestion: that we apply the term industrial to an RO that typically operates at greater than 50 percent recovery AND requires special pretreatment to control scaling/fouling of the membrane; commercial operates on straight tap water, but at lower recovery (maybe 20-33 percent, depending on the hardness level and other factors). It is worth noting that he described commercial as differing from residential only by the cosmetic treatment given the finished unit (and that residential units are generally prettier).

Michaud is willing to be memorialized by his now-famous quote, which does support Slovak’s definition: “Industrial is defined by the consequence(s) of failure.” If the system absolutely has to work, it is necessary to monitor and provide redundancy for fail-safe operation. In doing so, regardless of size, the system becomes an industrial system. It was Peter Cartwright who suggested that residential should be defined as equipment placed in a home, or cluster of homes, which Michaud disagrees with strongly.

He believes a cluster of homes must have much more carefully and generously sized equipment than a single-family household, which can be served by a family POE device.

Michaud objected to Cartwright’s proposed list and suggests that the only differences between residential and commercial RO is where they are installed. Neither of them is industrial but if either requires monitoring and back up, they become small pieces of industrial equipment. As to the proposed list of commercial applications, he sees no purpose in market segmentation. He continues: “Surely, there is no real interest in simply listing industries with similar characteristics (as opposed to listing industries with similar product (RO) needs). Residential, commercial and industrial equipment is not determined by size. As a ridiculous example, if a customer needed 100,000 gallons of water a day of the same quality as that put out by a 50 gpd under-the-sink unit, could he not simply plumb 2,000 of the small units together and achieve his goal? Does this size need change the definition of the expected performance? Not at all. Therefore, the larger need is not an industrial need. Is it commercial? On the other hand, a small 50 gpd unit supplies clean water to a humidifier to control a reaction rate in some exotic bioreactor. This little unit has a pump (in case of line pressure failure), a monitor (in case of membrane failure) and a low pressure cut-off (in case of pump failure). It spits out an analysis of the incoming and product water on an hourly basis and phones you at home if the numbers don’t jive. Because of the consequences of failure, this little system has built in monitors and redundancy to assure its continued performance. It IS, therefore, an industrial system.

I guess one could say that if it is larger than 150 gpd, it might be classed as commercial. If it doesn’t fit under the sink or if it requires an electrical hook-up, it might fall into a different licensing category and be something other than residential. It may not need the reliability of an industrial system but needs special care and feeding beyond the residential. Residential implies drinking water; commercial does not. I use a residential unit to wash my car. Does that change my unit to a commercial unit?

When we sought a definition for the WQA’s C&I Section, we did not specify whether it was a filter or an RO. We simply stated that, “if the consequences of failure dictated a very high degree of reliability of operation and performance,” then it was industrial. Everything else could be lumped together under the Dealer Section. That was my opinion then and I’m sticking to it now.”

So saith C.F. Michaud. Once again readers, your comments please!

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