Making a utilitarian purchase

In the light of the acquisition of sewage pump specialist Sarlin earlier this year WWT talks to Danish pump manufacturer about the importance of consolidation and whole life costs

In May Grundfos finalised the purchase of pump manufacturer Sarlin, effectively buying its way into the sewage pump market. At the time Grundfos made no secret of the fact that as well as extending its product range the acquisition represented an essential foot in the utilities’ doorway.

In addition to the direct link with Sarlin’s utility clients, Grundfos believed the move made it possible to offer water companies a ‘one-stop shop’ at a time when utilities are seeking long-term framework agreements with suppliers able to deliver a complete range of pumping products and services. Grundfos now feels able to offer a broad range of potable and wastewater pumps and equally importantly, because the deal included Europump Services, the UK installation and servicing function it lacked previously.

Time was the main factor in the decision to expand through acquisition rather than organically. “Sarlin,” according to Grundfos’ marketing manager Errol Taylor, “represented a quick route into wastewater and sewage markets and the chance to buy experience it would have taken years to build up.” The motivation for the deal and its significance was underscored by Taylor’s comment that it “completely changed our position with the water companies.”

Although the Sarlin brand was initially highly prized by Grundfos, the company believes customers now associate the sewage pump range closely with the Grundfos tag. “This is likely to mean,” said Taylor, “that the stop gap Grundfos Sarlin brand may be changed early in 2001.” The Europump brand will continue, and an initial investment programme of £300,000 has been undertaken, ostensibly to expand the sales force. Europump will continue to offer sewage pumping system design, installation, inspection and maintenance services targeted at management and prime contractors.

Sarlin will also receive investment. Until the Grundfos purchase the sewage pump manufacturer was part of a larger Finnish engineering concern from which the pump operation still leases its Helsinki plant. But a new site described by the group’s Finnish marketing manger Pierre Ros as a “centre of excellence” is already planned.

In an era when whole life cost is king, Grundfos Sarlin is keen to promote the long-term operational and energy efficiency of its pumps. Smaller Supervortex pumps, covering the 0-20l/s flowrange, account for 80% of the company’s business. With pumps of this size service and maintenance accounts for 43% of the whole life cost. To reduce this “the pump has to be able to work all the time, without problems,” commented Pierre Ros, and this is reflected in the company’s belief in preventative maintenance. All pumps leave the factory with motor leakage and overheating protection as standard features. Diagnostic parameters such as automatic motor insulation resistance check and bearing temperature monitoring are optional. An annual onsite service is promoted as the best way to prevent expensive unscheduled repair visits.

To avoid clogging, flow through Supervortex pumps is outside the impeller so there is nothing to which rags can stick. The pumps also dispense with wear rings which can also snag rags. With conventional vortex pumps eddies form which disrupt the flow pattern and reduce pumping efficiency and head. The edge of the Supervortex impeller has little wings designed to reduce the eddies and deliver a claimed 10% increase in pumping efficiency.

Another aid to pump efficiency is Smarttrim. Over time wear from grit will increase the clearance between the impeller and suction cover causing backflow leakage and reductions in efficiency. Smarttrim allows the restoration of impeller clearance to its factory setting as part of the pump’s service. Restoring pumping efficiency to its initial levels is seen as particularly important with larger pumps for which energy use represents 84% of whole life cost.

Poor connection between the pump discharge and baseplate can be a further cause of energy loss. If the contact surfaces are metal-to-metal the seal can be impaired by even very small bits of debris, resulting in energy wasting leakage. The problem is likely to be exacerbated with submersible pumps because the leak will not be visible. To combat this potential problem Grundfos Sarlin uses a flexible neoprene seal, called Smartseal, on the pump discharge flange providing what the company believes is a “leak proof” connection.

“With margins under severe pressure, long-term cost saving solutions are crucial for water industry specifiers, maintenance engineers and contractors. Newly developed systems like Smarttrim and Smartseal will reduce unnecessary capital spend and have a positive impact on tight asset maintenance budgets,” concludes Nick Ellins, Grundfos’ national sales and marketing manager.

The cost of living

Pump size governs Grundfos Sarlin’s whole life costs model. For pumps with a flow range of 0-20l/s, the compnay estimates that over a 20-year lifespan capital expenditure accounts for 16% of whole life cost. At 40%, energy represents a major expense, but the biggest single cost is repair and maintenance which amounts to 43% of the whole life cost. For larger pumps the distribution of costs changes dramatically, with energy representing 84% of whole life cost, the repair and maintenance bill dropping to just 10% and capital expenditure accounting for 5%.

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