Research, Testing, and Real-World Experience
While sounding similar, "knowing about" something as compared to "truly understanding" are very different ideas. The difference between them is the difference between a perceived good idea and something that will effectively apply in real-world conditions. We currently live in a time where never before in recorded history has anyone individual had so much information immediately available to them.
In this current age, the word “Google” has become a verb. There are great advantages to accomplishing unfamiliar tasks quickly by researching like-minded forums or by accessing how-to YouTube videos. However, as processes become more complex or move in areas where little is known about the topic, instantly accessible information tends to dry up, and alternative forms of information gathering become prevalent.
Long have philosophers ruminated over the difference between Knowledge and Wisdom. Some describe the differences as:
- Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and data that have been learned about or experienced. Knowledge comprises facts and ideas that one acquires through study, research, investigation, observation, or experience.
- Wisdom is the ability to discern and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting, and applicable. It’s the ability to apply that knowledge to the greater scheme. It’s also deeper; knowing the meaning or reason; about knowing why something is, and what it means.
Within the water industry, these principles apply in the design and development of products and processes. By spending time observing and implementing technologies over a broad range of conditions, we understand more about the variables affecting outcomes and treatment objectives. Additionally, collaboration with peers who have the knowledge, experience, and wisdom can provide insights and provide the questions that need to be explored and answered. These are essential components and principles that need to exist in this industry to be sustainably productive and successful.
Effect of Economic Stress
Due to previous economic stressors in the Water Sector, many organizations ranging from manufacturers, engineering firms, and municipalities feel pressure to do more with less. Time becomes a rarified commodity in this environment. The irony here is that it takes an investment of time to develop accurate knowledge of processes in a given situation. Time is an essential ingredient that validates experience. In the article “How To Lower Expense With A Wrench” it highlights where a resource stressed Plant Operator could rely on a competent manufacturer to provide the experience they need in maintaining a particular technology. In so doing, the WWTP saves money when viewed across its entire operational life.
Those same aforementioned economic stressors have disrupted trusted brands. Proven technologies that have been a go-to-design over time have an intrinsic value. That “boost in value” entices enterprises to spin-off those technology brands and sell them to other companies. While the documentation and information move to the new owners, this is not necessarily so for the wisdom and experience of how it is appropriately applied. The risk of selling a design from one company to another is that the knowledge and wisdom do not always transfer with it as well. Wisdom and experience are much more elusive and harder to pin down contractually.
Examine the Source
In an earlier article “The Advantage of Sourcing Combined Technologies” we considered the manufacture's knowledge and experience as a key metric in a strategic partnership. The essential beginnings of the manufacturer’s credibility are rooted in consistent research and testing efforts. This work provides the tools to properly understand and guide the selection, design, and implementation of technology.
The experience and the knowledge accumulated due to research and development activities create a basis for innovation. Looking at an organization’s investment in research and development provides tangible verification of competency with new technology and future capabilities. Research and development experience also provides a foundation for the manufacturer’s credibility for introducing new products, processes, and services into the market.
From a manufacturer’s perspective, research and development often consist of investigative activities with the desired result of a discovery that creates an entirely new product, product line, or service. Interestingly enough, this focus isn’t just about creating new products. It can be used to strengthen an existing product or service with additional features. Companies that regularly introduce variations and enhancements to their established technologies display a healthy sign of relevant development activities within the firm.
While much of the research responsible for developing fundamentally new science or mindsets are largely relegated to academic institutions, progressive manufacturers will target research and development efforts in applied research approaches. By focusing on applied research, purely scientific discoveries are developed into useful applications in real-world settings. Through applied research, it is possible to achieve a new or improved technology.
Specifically, in the Water Sector, market forces help to keep these developments relevant. A solid indicator of a company with active research and development aims are the patents that are applied for and granted. Even a cursory web search of a company or individual’s name in the R&D department can be enough to ascertain the scope and depth of their work.
Research and development are vital first activities for developing new technology, but product development extends beyond those initial efforts. While quite often newer technologies require basic proof of concept, in some cases, differing site characteristics require on-site testing to demonstrate that treatment goals can be attained.
Testing can take several different forms. One example might be samples of the solid to be treated would be collected and sent to a lab for bench testing. This technique is common for the validation of solids that may need to be tested for dewaterability and selection of polymers that would be used in the process. Lab testing also helps to determine if it is worthwhile to conduct on-site testing.
Another approach is on-site testing in the form of pilot testing. Pilot testing focuses primarily on developing data sets over a period of time or a cross-section of changing conditions. Piloting is ideal for comparing multiple vendors who want to demonstrate the viability of each piece of equipment under consideration for a specific site. This form of testing is comparatively expensive, as well as time-intensive, but the data gathered by this approach provides a solid basis of design for a fully implemented system. As these systems are pilot tested over a wide variety of installations, and existing installation’s performance data is collected, piloting on-site becomes a less important step to apply the process design effectively.
Demonstration, Validation and Certification
Demonstrations are a simplified version of pilot testing. The primary purpose of a demonstration is to provide the engineers and operators with hands-on experience to help understand how the system is operated and maintained.
As the developed technology moves from the initial introduction and more into the mainstream, standards for comparison between emerging competing manufacturers create the need for valid third-party testing techniques. Third-party testing can occur either as an on-site activity or in a neutral, controlled facility.
On-site testing is used when a particular technology needs to comply with a site-specific performance requirement. Certification of the actual technology for competitive comparison purposes most often occurs within a neutral third-party site that can create reproducible conditions. This allows for proper comparison and understanding of technologies under identical conditions.