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🌐 Automating Wastewater Engineering Design

Water Foresight Podcast

Photo by Martin Kníže / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Matthew Klein
Guest: Ari Raivetz | CEO | Transcend Software
Category: 🌐 Digital

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[1:03] “Transcend is a software as a service company that automates the preliminary and conceptual design for any kind of built infrastructure, but primarily focused on water and wastewater treatment facilities, not the pipes and the sewer network, but the actual facility itself. And by automate, we mean that anyone who's involved in an infrastructure project, whether that's a utility, an engineering firm, or a technology provider, who's selling an engineered system that needs to be part of a facility, can enter some basic data, 10-15 minutes worth of data entry, hit a button and they will get back a full preliminary conceptual design package, including mass balance calculations, process flow diagrams […] and a full 3D building information model that has all the civil drawings. So you can do a fairly accurate capital cost and operating cost assessment for that facility.”

[3:22] “This offer was developed 10 years ago, when I was the CEO of a water technology company called Organica Water, which sells technology for recycling wastewater. And it's really unique in that it looks like a botanical garden, instead of a conventional smelly, ugly kind of wastewater plant. So we were selling this technology. And we had a huge bottleneck in being able to deliver […] preliminary designs to potential utilities. It was taking us hundreds of hours just to do one preliminary design package. And we were a startup, couldn't hire an army of engineers to do this. So we built a software tool to allow us to automate that preliminary engineering process and basically get those designs in front of either the utilities or the engineering firms who are hired by the utility. That was a major bottleneck as a technology provider. And so really Transcend was born out of one of the challenges that I think utilities face when they're trying to adopt new technologies.”

[5:19] “We started this business in December of 2019. One month later, we're a 15-20 person startup, no customers at that point in time, had this product that had been used previously by Organica, so it's kind of a proven product, but no third party usage at that time. And then a month later was the pandemic. […] And what was really interesting was, having spent 15 years in water, I was super conservative about the pace of adoption of digital technologies. I just didn't think that this industry was going to be super fast. […] And the pandemic changed a lot, actually. Now, all of a sudden, you had all these utilities and engineering firms, and technology providers sitting in their house, they were forced to work in the cloud, they couldn't work on premise anymore. And they started to really open up to using digital technologies. And so like the initial demand in our first year, in 2020, was probably 2.5 to 3 times what we expected it to be when we started Transcend. Now, that's initial. So then the question is […] how does that expand in the organization? What kind of cultural transformation has to happen in order for you to do something like implement engineering automation software? And that is a slower pace. […] And that's certainly our biggest challenge in terms of that cultural adoption of digital transformation.”

[8:33] “We target this triangle who's involved in an infrastructure project. So the utility, the engineering and construction firm […] and then the technology providers that are kind of bundling engineering with their offerings, so somebody like a membrane supplier, for example. Within those three groups, we have seen that the technology providers and actually the utilities really are adopting faster. A bit partially as a result of the pandemic and kind of getting more comfortable with using cloud based software and digital technologies. […] When we started Transcend I did not expect at all to target utilities. We were going to focus on engineering firms and technology providers. And we just got a big inbound […] influx of interest from utilities during our first year as they discovered us.”

[13:40] “The pace of innovation that we've seen historically in water in North America is demonstrably slower than it needs to be, by a huge margin. And most of us in the industry know that. […] There's a lot of reasons for this. There's regulatory reasons. There's reasons around the procurement process. But I do believe that a big reason for it is that we don't evaluate enough options or do enough detail before we set a budget and finalize a design and start digging. And that also goes all the way back to the regulators. Before we set a regulation, like we're hearing about regulations around PFAS and the drinking water now, or we have our phosphorus regulations that came out in the past decade. Before we do that, we also don't evaluate what the impact of that's going to be and how much funding is going to be required to implement that and what the ultimate result is going to be on rates. And I think that a big part of the reason for that is that the people that can do that kind of work historically, are slower in doing it, are expensive and spending hundreds and thousands of really expensive engineering hours, and somewhat limited in capacity and in kind of scarcity in terms of the people that can do that. And so what we're seeing is that, just by putting this information, that know how, that expertise in the cloud, and making it available at a much lower cost, and with no engineering hours being spent or very limited that it opens up a whole new world in terms of optionality assessment for all those different stakeholders.

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Spotify (Original Title: "The Future of Regulators & Innovators")
🕰️ 40 min | 🗓️ 11/10/2021
✅ Time saved: 38 min