Lev Nelik
Columnist Lev Nelik shares his prognosis for the future of the industry.
Pumping Machinery LLC

Time flies. The article1 I published in Pumps & Systems in the October 2001 issue brought back some memories. How close was my 20-year forecast?

Many of my predictions did come true, but I also missed other trends. In this article, I wanted to analyze my forecast of the pump industry evolution from various aspects—such as the “micro-perspective” of the pump’s internals and the “macro-perspective” of the systems. I also wanted to focus on reliability, energy conservation and even the geopolitical winds affecting machinery and the people who service it—as well as new trends that might be evolving. In reviewing a couple of other articles I published on this subject, here is what I discovered.

My previous article emphasized three main directions I predicted (or hoped) plants would follow. The first was “environmental awareness and concerns are becoming hot issues, not only in the United States but also in other parts of the world.” Indeed, the last two decades did see the entire world—and the U.S. in particular—shifting attention from the traditional coal and oil resources to wind, solar and similar environmentally friendly sources. Several of these trends materialized in specific projects, and I was privileged to be involved in some of them, as documented in my articles, such as solar and wind projects in Israel, published in March 2009.3

Cleaner water and air were also a focus of the industry, both from technical and political perspectives. Wastewater processing, likewise, remained under scrutiny from the environmentally-conscious public, and thus my article also came true as far as predicting the 20-years trend.7

My second prediction was: “With fewer new plants being built, plant managers want to keep what they have running longer, better and more economically”—that, I predicted partially. The reliability part was predicted correctly—plants did concentrate on predictive maintenance and vibration analysis to predict and avoid failure—but the energy part (efficiency) did not receive as much attention as I hoped.

The reason for that is that efficiency monitoring is not a simple task, requires proper planning, patience and planned effort—much of which, unfortunately, has not been demonstrated. A “what to do now to my pump” approach has always been more traditional versus a more long-term foresight of how and when to implement a true energy/efficiency monitoring program.8

The third prediction was that “changes in distribution channels and disappearance of product lines, as well as pump users’ confusion and concern about service and support, have become and will continue to be a reality.” Few people would disagree that this prediction indeed came true. Service, support and technical competence of the pump distributors, reps and even OEMs unfortunately did not improve but rather declined, with pump users being left to make their own decisions on selection and application of pump types, sizes and materials of construction. I speak to and consult with such confused pump end users often and attest that they are having difficulty finding qualified pump help.

So What About the Next 20 Years?

The major difference between my past 20-year forecast and my next one will be perhaps the step-function change in the manner and time we receive, process, understand and apply news and events. Geopolitical trends—such as Feb. 24, 2022, the date Russian troops entered Ukraine—will change the world in all aspects, political and technical. This will affect pumps, pumping systems and plants’ priorities.

While the internet was in-use and evolving over the last 20 years, in the next 20 it will no longer be a novelty but a fact. The supply side of the raw materials will change drastically. A Russia-China alliance will present a formidable challenge to the Europe-U.S. bloc, and unfortunately, the West will be taken away from the traditional comfort of the energy abundance, or nearly so, which the West and U.S. have taken for granted for so many years. With the reduced supply of oil and gas from Russia, the West will feel the pinch quickly (perhaps within one to three years), with not having enough time to develop the alternative supply (and/or technology) options. The reliance on green energy, which so far has been mostly a flag-waving slogan of politicians, would have to be taken seriously and quickly. Also, the technology of such alternatives is far less easily implemented than talked about.

With the absence of cleaner energy, such as Russian gas, the power stations would rethink their attitude toward coal (to the horror of the environmentalists—who, by the way, also do not wish to freeze in the winter) and perhaps begrudgingly start burning it again. With that, the size of the pumps at the power stations, in terms of flow rates and pressures, would increase. This would not necessarily be a completely new thing (as large power station pumps have operated and are known well to the old-timers) but rather a new challenge to a new generation of young engineers who either do not know or forgot these technologies. With that in action, the attention to better design hydraulics for better cavitation resistance as well as papers on new materials to resist cavitation would need to be dusted off with renewed attention to the applied research.

This, ironically, will call for qualified engineers to renew efforts in traditional areas of hydraulics and metallurgy—areas that, unfortunately, became depleted from the new influx of graduates entering the ranks of research and development departments of pump OEMs. As we witnessed in the last 20 years, neglect of the basic applied research in pumps in favor of commercial pragmatism of simply choosing the pumps from what was already available (picking from a catalog) would need to be replaced with modern designs, newer technologies and newer ideas.

Thus, world changes do happen for a reason. What might have started as an unfortunate political conflict may, in the end, restart a new wave of technology developments, renew enthusiasm for innovation and rethink the fundamentals as the new wave of young engineers take up the slack created by the retirement of the old-timers.

And thus, the more the world changes the more it stays the same. Let’s see how close my predictions are in the next 20 years. Are you willing to bet on it?

References

(Contact Nelik for details at drpump@pumpingmachinery.com)

  1. “Current State of the U.S. Pump Industry and Future Prognosis, October 2001, P&S
  2. New Book: “Pumps and Pumping Systems made Easy and Fun” – Volumes 1 (“A
  3. Bedside Companion” – March 2022), Volume 2 (“For the Perplexed” – April 2022), and Volume 3 (“For Those Who Still Would Not Quit” - May 2022), L. Nelik, World of Ideas Publication, USA
  4. “Solar and Wind-Driven Pumps: A New Dimension?”, March 2009, P&S
  5. “Pumps and Systems in Transcontinental Energy Transfer”, January 2010
  6. “Middle East: What’s New with Water Pumping Challenges in Israel?”, March
  7. 2018, P&S
  8. “River in the Desert: Fresh or Salt Water?”, May 2018 (Part 1), and July 2018
  9. (Part 2), P&S
  10. “The Waste Treatment Industry 2006: Current Challenges and Future Horizons”, January 2006
  11. PREMS-2A Energy/Efficiency Monitoring Technology, pumpingmachinery.com

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