Service with a smile
Water-monitoring has developed considerably over the last 20 years, and with it the quality of service engineering. However, Hach Lange believes the best is yet to come.
One of Hach Lange's strongest-held beliefs, when it comes to water instrumentation, is that those responsible for its management should be completely responsible for its performance in the long term. The company's recently-appointed service manager, Terry Bailey, agrees. Terry, who has been in the instrumentation sector of the water industry for 20 years, says, "Responsibility is where the buck stops - no excuses. If people know they have responsibility and accountability, they make sure that things work".
One could argue, therefore, that accountability in a water company would be maximised by employing in-house service and calibration teams. However, it could be argued that the resources available to a service engineer working for the an equipment manufacturer mean this is far from being a given.
Two decades of progress
Over the last 20 years, developments in instrumentation have led to a variety of benefits, including cost reduction, increased accuracy, reduced service and calibration requirements, easier use, and an increasing abundance of high-quality data delivered at ever greater speeds.
In Terry's view, this is partly due to the healthily incestuous nature of the industry. "As an industry we like to use processes and techniques that are tried and tested, and we like to work with people who have established a high level of trust and reliability. At the same time, that's not to say our eyes and ears are closed to new techniques - in fact, the nature of our industry is such that news travels fast, so when an innovation in the water sector performs well, we all get to hear about it very quickly."
Looking forward, The company believes that the cost of ownership for instrumentation will continue to drop, particularly as service intervals grow. There will be an increasing trend toward sensors that do not require reagents, which again will reduce the costs of maintenance. Sensors will continue to become more 'intelligent' - 'plug and play' will be more common, fault diagnosis will be built in, user interfaces will improve, on-line upgrades and downloads via the internet will become more common, and communications look set to become even simpler and faster.
As a result, the role of the service engineer will evolve. No longer will his or her knowledge be confined to the sensor; he will need to understand the process being monitored and the complete data collection system. For example, it will be necessary to provide technical assistance to ensure that sampling is undertaken at the correct interval, at the right location and under appropriate conditions, so as to ensure that the data is truly representative. In addition to field service engineers, the company employs office-based staff able to provide technical service by telephone and email.
An interesting recent development in the water industry is the purchase of data rather than instruments. Hach Lange sees this as a positive move because it exploits the benefits of data ownership and accountability. In recent years there has been a great deal of consolidation of instrumentation companies, nowhere more so than within the Hach Lange family, which now includes brands as Evita (formerly Danfoss Analytical), GLI, Buhler Montec, American Sigma, GLI, Lachat and Radiometer Analytical. Research and development budgets have been merged so there is a possibility more resources can be applied to the development of new instruments.
For example, the manufacturer has recently launched a new spectrophotometer (DR2800) which combines all the best features of its predecessors from both Hach and Dr Lange.
Terry says that he has always had two major objectives - firstly to provide a first class service to his customers, and secondly to empower his engineers so that they are able to maximise their usefulness during site visits. Each member of his team has a laptop with 3G/GPRS so that, for example, if an engineer finds that a new circuit board is needed at a plant in a remote location, it can be ordered immediately and delivered within 24 to 48 hours. It is clear that the mix of service work will change, but there is a belief the demand for managing quality service will grow.