5 Questions To Ask When Buying An Industrial Water Softener
Investing in an industrial water softener can be a great choice for many facilities. By reducing scale-forming potential in the water, softeners can extend equipment life and boost water and heat transfer efficiency in equipment such as cooling towers and steam boilers.
But like many capital investments, they can easily go off-track when the right questions are not asked upfront. Here are the top five questions you should be asking when you get a vendor softener quote for domestic water, industrial process equipment, or heating and cooling water:
1. Does this introduce any new risks to my equipment?
When used properly, industrial water softeners mitigate risk in your water treatment program, but unfortunately, the opposite also holds true. The very first consideration is whether soft water is compatible with the metallurgy of your system. For instance, if your cooling tower system or piping contains galvanized steel, soft water can accelerate the formation of white rust.
Second, commercial water softeners do occasionally fail and end up feeding hard water into the system. Depending on your testing and monitoring procedures, failures are not always immediately noticed. For heating and cooling equipment, inadvertently feeding hard water can lead to dramatic and rapid scaling events. This is often because controller set points for makeup and bleed are adjusted to soft water parameters but are the wrong settings for hard water. Ask your vendor how this risk can be mitigated by daily hardness testing or by investments in real-time, online hardness sensors.
Likewise, because cooling systems using soft water typically have lower makeup and bleed water volumes, there can be less water turnover (higher retention time). This can have secondary effects on other aspects of the water program, such as biological control. Be sure to ask your vendor how you will need to adjust biocide dosages, testing procedures, and operations to safeguard against possible unintended effects like bio fouling.
2. Are there any implications for sewer discharge permits?
Since traditional industrial water softeners use salt to regenerate the ion exchange resin, your facility will be regularly sending highly concentrated brine to drain. In some areas, utilities and governments have banned or restricted salt-based softeners due to the difficulty salinity poses for wastewater treatment plants.
Even if commercial water softeners are not banned outright, you may need to apply for a special wastewater discharge permit. Besides the brine itself, introducing soft water may change your facility’s total water discharge quality and quantity in ways that can trip regulatory compliance. When used to boost cooling tower water efficiency, soft water can help reduce sewer discharge volumes, but may change other parameters such as pH or specific contaminant concentrations.
Despite this, there are environmental benefits to water softener systems via reduced water consumption, enhanced equipment life, and reduced chemical consumption.
While industrial water softeners are usually a great proven and economical choice for most facilities, there are alternatives you can check out such as other specialty ion exchange resins, and non-chemical treatment devices. Note that these come with their own sets of costs, benefits, and risks.
3. How will an industrial water softener affect the rest of my treatment program?
Adding a softener can have far-reaching impacts on the financial, operational, and environmental impacts of your water program. Here are details you should try to estimate before committing:
- Water saved in heating and cooling processes by running higher cycles of concentration
- Water consumed in regeneration and rinsing cycles
- Changes in the amount of corrosion and scale inhibitors and biocides needed
- Possible energy savings from less scaling on heat exchange surfaces
- Forecasted quantity and price of salt
- Added vendor service cost
- Impacts on maximum flow rate if softener is not sized appropriately
- Installation and space requirements
- Added time for onsite team to perform routine maintenance and operations
4. What are the maintenance expectations for my team and vendor?
Commercial water softener systems have the highest risk of failing when there is a lack of mutual understanding about maintenance and service responsibilities between the onsite team and water treatment vendors. Here are a few items to discuss prior to signing on the dotted line:
- Will the vendor provide me with a routine maintenance checklist (and basic training) for the onsite team? Example activities:
- Checking the resin regeneration cycle and rinse cycle times and flow rates
- How to tell if salt or water consumption is too high or low
- Valve and motor inspections and cleanings
- Controller troubleshooting
- Routine hardness testing
- What water treament services will the vendor perform during regular monthly or quarterly site visits?
- Does the vendor provide any advanced services? Examples:
- Adjusting control settings to changes in incoming water quality
- Microscopic assessment of resin bead condition
- Annual salt elution study to test if regeneration cycles are optimized
- Periodic brine tank cleaning
5. What added features are right for our industrial water softener?
- Automation: Hardness online analyzers
- Salt grid to prevent bridging in the brine tank
- Configuration and Mounting:
- Does my geography or building codes necessitate seismic retrofitting?
- Would skid-mounting my unit be preferable (if softener placement might need to change later)?
- System Redundancy: If I have a high uptime requirement, should we add dual tanks?
- Brine Recovery: Can we benefit from recycling brine?
This should be a great start to ensuring you are getting softener hardware and service that is setting your team up for success. Reach out to EAI Water anytime for further consultations on commercial and industrial water softeners.