Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Homemade Invention Saves Pinal County Water and a lot of Money

     By Joe Pyritz

     FLORENCE- Florence is a hard place to be.

     If you are a plumber, that is.

     The hard water in the area plays havoc on the pipes and plumbing fixtures inside the many of the County buildings.  One building, in particular, uses a lot of water – the Adult
Detention Center.

     One way the center tries to minimize costs is by regulating the amount of water that is used by the inmates.  This is accomplished by an electronically controlled manifold that allows a certain amount of water to be used in a sink or toilet.  This avoids any misuse of water, such as leaving the faucet on or unnecessary flushes of the toilet.

     Deep inside the detention center is a maze of pipes that supply water to the facility.  At the junction where the pipes disappear into the wall is a two piped manifold with eight valves that feed toilets and sinks inside the detention center. 

     A problem arose earlier this year when some of the fittings inside the electronic manifold started failing due to the hard water.

     "We started noticing that many of the valves were shutting down because the water was leaking though the rings and brass thereby shorting out the electronic controller," said Facilities and Maintenance worker Mike Gregus.  "This wasn't a warranty issue.  It was a premature erosion of the parts inside the manifold due to the hard water."

     Gregus and co-worker Craig Williams decided that a replacement for the failing part, a hot and cold water mixing valve, was needed before other units began to fail.

     "We checked through the manifold manufacturer to see if we could get just the mixing valve," Williams said.  "We were told that we would have to purchase the entire unit.  The solenoid and valves would cost $183.33."

     To replace the entire manifold came to a cost of $1,825.  With another 100 manifolds inside the detention center with risk of failure, the cost to the County would be over $145,000.

     "I thought there should be a better way to handle this problem," Gregus said.  "All of us at the Facilities and Maintenance department inside the detention center put our heads together to come up with a solution."

     Following a study of the manifold's design, along with its schematics and an internet search, they decided on a novel solution.

     "We needed to make a unit that would do the same thing as the original manifold," Williams said.  "Mike is a good engineer and once we had an idea of the parts we needed, there was no stopping us."

     "Through the internet we found an inexpensive mixing valve for $17.00 per unit," Gregus explained.  "The next thing we had to find was a solenoid to replace those that were failing on the original manifolds.  We found one for $6.00 to adapt to the manifolds.  So a $183.33 part is now down to $23.00."

     But they were not done, yet.  It was discovered that if Facilities and Maintenance crews had to routinely clean out the manifolds.  The original units were hard, if not impossible to clean.  So Gregus and company came up with another solution-use PVC pipe rather than the brass pipe.

     "This in-house manifold does exactly the same thing as the Willoughby unit," Gregus said.  "There are a lot of benefits to this new device.  We are no longer dependent upon a single manufacturer for replacement parts and the cost of replacing the entire manifold is around $100.  The cost through the manufacturer is $1,825.  We're saving over $1,700"

     With 101 units inside the detention center, the cost to replace all parts is only $31,000.

     "I'm a taxpayer," Williams added, "and I'm all for saving money."