By Donna Kreutz
Twenty-two years ago, Bob Kappel moved to Wisconsin and took a job at Devil’s Head Resort as Director of Plant Operations. He was in charge of janitorial, maintenance, security and housekeeping services…and water. “Basically, I had responsibility for all the water treatment for the complex. I was dumped head-first into the water industry,” Kappel said. The more he learned, the better he liked it. “I found every aspect fascinating. I just found the water geek in me.”
Kappel was a quick study, dealing with well water, DNR compliance, water softening, the health department, swimming pools and excessive chloride discharge. He soon left the hospitality industry to go into water disinfection with Engineered Treatment Systems. “I had no university training in chemistry, biology or engineering. I did a lot of reading, took certified and accredited classes and had great mentors along the way.”
Kappel is experienced in the design, manufacturing, installation and maintenance of commercial filtration and disinfection systems. Today he is a widely traveled water expert, regular contributor to national trade publications and frequent presenter at water conferences. Kappel has been immersed in water issues around the globe, from the Americas to western Europe, Africa and China. And he’s active with WQA’s federal and state compliance boards, following legislation and lobbying for bills designed to improve water quality.
Kappel has also led facilities and sales management, product development and product launches. After Engineered Treatment Systems, he worked at USFilter/Stranco, which became Siemens Water and at ProMinent USA, a division of ProMinent in Germany. In late 2014, Kappel became Director of the H2O Products Division at Hankscraft, Inc. in Reedsburg, WI. “It was a mutual attraction. After 20 years of a heavy travel schedule, one of things I wanted to do was get off the road. I’d spent a lot of time away from family and I was looking for a management role where I could come home every night. And they were looking for someone with my skill set. One of the reasons they hired me was to take my experience in the industry, along with a new marketing person, and really put the pedal to the metal to grow the company.”
Bringing good ideas to market quicker
Hankscraft, Inc., a manufacturing company with 300 employees and five divisions, was founded in 1920 and named for Marshall Hanks, who crafted the first electric egg cooker. Hankscraft launched its newest and smallest division, H2O Products Division, in 2000 when the company began manufacturing the electric motors used in water softener valves sold by one of the largest water treatment companies in the world. In 2005, Hankscraft began providing replacement parts for industry-standard valves, which quickly evolved to providing entire valves and systems in 2009.
Hankscraft H2O Products designs, manufactures and distributes an array of products throughout North America including:
- Industry-standard, piston-based timer and digital valves
- Patented ceramic disk RevV Series valves
- A full line of water treatment systems including softening, iron removal, descaling, carbon filtration, ultraviolet disinfection and POU RO and UF systems
Hankscraft used aerospace technology to develop what they call “the world’s most innovative and durable valve.” Featuring diamond-hard ceramics and graphite meshing surfaces, the moving parts of this valve are ground to exacting tolerance, so precise it eliminates the need for sealing O-rings or gaskets. Kappel said one of the real differentiators of this valve series is that it eliminates the need for regular maintenance because chlorine cannot break down ceramic and graphite as it does gaskets. “We are so sure of this valve that we offer a lifetime warranty on the internal ceramic and graphite parts.”
The company is focused on delivering exemplary customer support and providing innovative products at a competitive price. “We hear what our distributors and dealers have to say and try to meet their demands for a tweak to a system or a new product that fits a niche. We’re like a boutique company. We want to be a smaller, more nimble and more responsive team. We can bring a good idea to market quicker than larger competitors can. Backed by a dedicated staff and a world-class distribution team, we are poised to grow exponentially,” Kappel said.
‘It’s up to us to change technology’
Recent news stories underscore the fact that clean water is a resource with increasing scarcity that must be managed carefully and treated properly. Kappel sees this as a tremendous opportunity for the water treatment industry. “I do want to say that on one hand, the whole lead situation in Flint, MI is a tragedy for us as a nation. It shows how quickly we can fail many, many people. Yet at the same time, this is a great opportunity to make sure that we do everything possible so it does not happen again.
“There is really important middle ground and that’s where our water treatment industry comes in. We have the technological capability to bridge the gap between emergency relief and long-term solutions. It’s in existence now, it’s not that expensive and it’s very effective. Our industry needs greater visibility. In most cases municipalities do a marvelous job of bringing water to the house in great condition. But the city government has no control over what happens to that water supply as it’s piped through the house and out the faucet. We can provide the solution without replacing all the piping in house. We can do simple filtering right at the point of use with a system that’s certified by a third party and the water becomes perfectly safe to the best of our current abilities.
“We can tackle the water challenges facing the world today and be prepared for other challenges that will face the world tomorrow. For example, water softeners are going to be around forever. However, when you treat water there is no free lunch; everything you do has a side effect that’s not so desirable. In this case, sodium is discharged into the environment. Our challenge is to find a way to minimize the amount of salt and still have adequate hardness control. The Holy Grail would be to come up with a true hardness removal system that doesn’t use salt.
“Here in the United States and Canada, water is something we take for granted; water just comes out of the faucet and we drink it, bathe in it and cook with it. Until recently, we assumed the water coming out was 100-percent safe. Now almost every year, new contaminants are found or old ones qualified. Once the scientific community identifies a substance in water and the effect on humans—what level is okay and what is not—then it’s up to us to change the technology that will take out the contaminants properly. We need to test if what we already have will work or if we need to develop something new so water becomes safe again. Emerging contaminants are going to be a never-ending chase for us. Hankscraft attacks these concerns head-on with innovation and nimbleness to implement new technologies.”