2023 State of the Industry
HI, FSA, SWPA and the Texas A&M Turbo Lab reflect on the last 30 years and what they expect for the next 30.
Pumps & Systems

Hydraulic Institute

I’ve been hearing a lot of industry leaders claim the sun is shining brightly while others are still weathering the storm. Of course, many are saying both at the same time, which seems to reflect the outlook of the industry and is consistent with weather forecasting in general.

First, the sunny part. Much of the industry is excited by the historically high level of investment in water and wastewater projects promised by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act, some $60 billion. Then, there is the high level of oil and gas production which, while it seems to be slowing, is still set to achieve record levels in 2023. These are all good indicators for the industry and are leaving many with a sunny outlook and bright forecast.

There are a few clouds on the horizon, however. If a general recession becomes a reality in the short term (the dominant viewpoint during an informal poll during the CEO Roundtable at the HI Fall Meeting), it would negatively impact the industry. My guess is this is not in the immediate future. The back orders most manufacturers have on their books means that we are lagging the general economy by some 8-12 months, so the weather shouldn’t turn too bad, too quickly.

But dark regulatory clouds are forming. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking to rapidly expand the scope of regulated pumps and input on pump types, sizes and speeds to become more energy efficient and some isolated storms seem to be passing through certain parts of the country. Individual states like Maine and California are upping their regulatory game through PFAS legislation and increasing regulatory reporting requirements. HI will continue to watch and report on these isolated but important events.

Much of this past year was spent focusing on the new Buy America rules which now apply to all federally funded water or wastewater projects. The temporary waivers put in place by the EPA will maintain the status quo and cover projects already approved and/or in the design phase until they expire in March 2023. If a more comprehensive equipment waiver were approved before then, it would certainly make the outlook even brighter. If this doesn’t happen, it could be a major storm that could take many off-guard.

Strong cross winds will continue to have long-lasting impact across the industry. Inflation is the strongest which will continue to cause pressure on pricing and have a ripple effect across projects big and small, well into 2023. The never-ending, zero-covid policy in China is another cross wind that is blowing deliveries of critical components like castings and impellers off course and making them hard to predict. Pumps today are smarter than they used to be, and our industry has now joined many others, all waiting in line for increasingly scarce computer chips, adding yet another layer of complexity to an already complex and global supply chain.

Long-term however, a smart pump is a good thing. So are strong domestic supply chains for everything from American iron and steel to computer chips and more energy efficient pumping systems—a goal we can all strive for by encouraging efficient upgrades, designing new systems and assessing and optimizing the pumping systems we have in place.

If the forecast calls for a little rain and a lot of sunshine, then I am predicting that the pump industry will grow to be a lot greener in 2023.

Michael Michaud, executive director, Hydraulic Institute

The Fluid Sealing Association

The Fluid Sealing Association (FSA) will be celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Our member companies include manufacturers of mechanical seals, compression packing, gaskets and expansion joints.

Over the last 30 years, we have continued to publish technical and training material throughout the industry via industry specifications, sealing sense articles and technical handbooks, but things have changed during that time. The internet has taken over everything we do in our daily lives and work activities. We launched our first website in 2001 and updated it to current standards in 2022, so it is more streamlined with today’s workforce. We also launched our KnowledgeBase in 2017, which is the main way for everyone in the industry to access current technical handbooks, as well as find all our published content in one place. It is amazing how fast technology has grown over the last 30 years and how much it affects everyone.

FSA also worked with legislators to provide technical guidance developing current methane and carbon emission regulations. Legislators had no idea how much it could be reduced when we met with them the first time and were surprised to know the technology exists to reduce it more than we ever imagined. Laws were put into place based on our guidance and has helped shape our environment to what it is today, and we continue to work with them to ensure all regulations put in place take advantage of the latest technologies and best practices. When industry and legislation work together, great things can happen for our planet.

Looking ahead, we are focused on webinars, podcasts, social media updates, life cycle cost calculators, emission reduction calculators and our new Seal Team 4.5 in-person training. The industry has had a large influx of new talent and we are developing our Seal Team 4.5 to go out and train them on standards, how FSA members work to keep our environment safe and best practices for design and installation of our products.

We have done more in the last 30 years to help shape our power, water and industrial manufacturing needs into the safest it has ever been, but we are not done yet. FSA members continue to push the limits of technology in ways we can further reduce emissions and power consumption. To us, the most important thing is to ensure our air and water are clean for generations to come.

The Submersible Wastewater Pump Association

As we approach 50 years of dedicated service to the industry, we have seen many changes.

First, while the concept of wastewater has not changed, the contents of the wastewater certainly have. One of the biggest challenges facing our industry is the use of flushables. These fibrous cloths wreak havoc on collection systems. The good news for our pump manufacturer members is that with these challenges comes the need for new, improved impeller design that may be able to handle these flushable wipes in a more effective manner. Along similar lines, we continue to see exceptional growth in the grinder pump segment. These have become the workhorse of the industry.

The changes are also dramatic on the controls side of the equation. In 1976, no one would have imagined the tremendous impact cell phone technology and the internet would play on remote monitoring, programming and troubleshooting; changes to controls could be made over a cell phone and alarms reset over the internet. COVID-19 certainly escalated the need for remote access and troubleshooting.

Lastly, the biggest change our membership reports is not technology or innovation, but the loss of historical knowledge as the engineering population ages and we struggle to find new professionals to enter our industry.

Each year, since 1991, we survey our membership and ask their professional opinions on the industry for the upcoming year. For almost everyone, the post COVID water and wastewater industry has been doing well, with many seeing record-setting numbers. With success, however, comes challenges. Supply chain issues and delays continue to frustrate manufacturers and end users. Inflation has also become a common theme, with quotes that used to be good for 7, 14 or 30 days now only being good for 72 hours.

As we approach 2023, we ask ourselves which is the lesser of two evils: inflation and supply chain issues or rapidly rising interest rates? Our industry is closely tied to housing and new construction. With a slowdown in U.S. home sales, we are expecting a bit of a cooling off over 2021 and 2022; however, our industry typically lags the market by about 12-18 months, so we are still optimistic going into 2023.

On a final note, while well intentioned, The Build America, Buy America (BABA) Act creates some challenges for our member companies. BABA requires that all the iron, steel, manufactured products and construction materials used in infrastructure projects are produced in the U.S. SWPA will be hosting a round table discussion with over 30 members in Chicago to address these concerns.

While no one knows where interest rates will be in 5, 10 or 20 years or how inflation and supply chain issues will work out in the long run or what new innovations will come to the industry, one thing is for certain, the world will continue to have a need for effective methods of dealing with wastewater, and SWPA and our members will continue to forge the future of the wastewater industry.

Texas A&M Turbomachinery Laboratory Expansion Programs

The Turbomachinery Laboratory at Texas A&M University continues its active support of the pump and related industries through research and professional continuing education programs. Symposia, consortia and short courses are just a few of the activities happening annually at the lab which make a vital impact on education, industry and workforce development. Turbo Lab educates graduate and postdoctoral students working in the research lab, new-to-industry engineers, as well as seasoned professionals.

The annual Turbomachinery and Pump Symposia is the most well-known of the continuing education programs. This long-standing event is in its 52nd year and brings together top talent from a broad range of industries who seek practical knowledge in reliability and performance of rotating equipment and systems. The Turbo Lab facilitates this important industry event through technical advisory committees who are dedicated to curating a top-of-class program alongside a world-class exhibition where networking and knowledge exchange support working engineers on a practical level.

In addition to the large symposia, Turbo Lab also facilitates extended three, four and five-day short courses on various topics for working engineers. These courses are taught by a mixture of Turbo Lab faculty and industry experts and aide working engineers in fundamental and practical knowledge in rotating equipment.

Through sponsored research and the Turbomachinery Laboratory Research Consortia, Turbo Lab hopes to solve emerging problems and improve performance of mechanical systems used in various industries. The Turbomachinery Research Consortium funds research projects of their choosing, engaging 90-100 graduate students from Texas A&M University engineering departments. In addition, Turbo Lab is organizing a new research consortium, Energy and Propulsion Research Consortium (EPRC), to give students and faculty working in these areas expanded opportunities to work with industry and government partners.