Tim Dobyns, director of operations for Siemens Energy, sat down with Water Online Radio for this live interview from the show floor at WEFTEC 2011 in Los Angeles. Dobyns talked about the current state of the water industry, the need for efficiency and innovation, and the promise Siemens offers for the future. Listen to learn more.
Todd Schnick: We're back broadcasting live from Los Angeles Convention Center and the tradeshow floor of WEFTEC. I am Todd Schnick, joined by my co-host, Todd Youngblood. Todd, we are deep in hour seven and having a ball.
Todd Youngblood: You know what I thought, that I would be tired by this time of the day.
Todd Schnick: I am fired up.
Todd Youngblood: I’m kind of disappointed. We are getting to near the end of the day.
Todd Schnick: This going to be a fun guest, though. I think we are going to be energized by this one. He is, now bear with me a second, the Director of Operations for Siemens Energy - Oil and Gas Division/Compressors and Solutions/PCF Americas. Welcome, Tim Dobyns, to Water Online Radio.
Tim: Thank you.
Todd Schnick: Did I cover everything?
Tim: I think you got it.
Todd Schnick: Outstanding
Todd Youngblood: Todd, I have to jump in with a question. Siemens Energy? Tim, are you sure you are at the right tradeshow?
Tim: Absolutely. You said you wanted to be energized for this portion of the program, so I am here to help you do that.
Todd Youngblood: Are we in trouble here, Todd?
Tim: You could be in trouble. Absolutely, though...Siemens energy is an integral part of the water business. Every water and wastewater facility uses a tremendous amount of energy, and as we move forward into the future, one of the goals of Siemens is to reduce that energy and that carbon footprint. We came in as specialists in the water market to help with that.
Todd Youngblood: I get it...so, deep technical knowledge on an application, or a large expense item.
Tim: Absolutely. The largest.
Todd Schnick: Tim, let’s take a step back for a quick second and before we get back into it, why don’t you take a second and share with us a little bit about you, your background, and the work that you are doing for Siemens?
Tim: Well, I have been with this part of our business for, going on 20 years. I am a native Midwesterner; I grew up in the south and moved up to Missouri about 22 years ago. I have two beautiful kids, a beautiful wife.
Our business in the energy sector of Siemens is critical in that we focus on both small and large compressors and fan products, and these products use a tremendous amount of energy. And of course again in the wastewater market, about 35% of every city’s energy spend goes toward running these types of products.
Todd Schnick: Looking forward, what do you see as the biggest trends in the wastewater industry?
Tim: Well, that varies across the globe. Each region or each part of our globe has a different problem. Of course here in North America, where I live, one of the biggest problem is funding and financing. We have got a deteriorating infrastructure.
We built a beautiful country here with lots of beautiful roads and the most advanced water systems in the world. Unfortunately, they are aging and they are deteriorating. And as you know, our federal and local governments aren’t just rolling in cash right now. So one of the biggest problems we’ve seen in today’s market is being able to provide funding to do these very critical retrofits.
Todd Schnick: How is Siemens positioned to deal with all these trends?
Tim: Well, one of the things that we do today that’s the most interesting is we go to a municipal government, we look over their city infrastructure, and we find opportunities where they can improve their energy footprint.
So, in the case of wastewater, I come in as an energy expert and help them look at their big use energy items and we take the savings by putting in more efficient equipment and we convert that savings into money, and that money funds their infrastructure projects.
Todd Schnick: I might be oversimplifying this a little bit, Tim, but it seems like your strategy is to go in and save enough money for a municipality, for example, so that they take that same cash that they are spending with the energy company now and taking it right back Siemens to improve a longer-term infrastructure investment.
Tim: That’s correct, and it’s even more simple: we take it right back to their constituency and put it back into their city. So, even though it’s going back into their city in the form of Siemens equipment, it’s equipment that’s saving them money, that’s providing them the money to pay for that equipment.
It’s like in your household. You come in and buy fluorescent light bulbs and you save enough money from the fluorescent light bulbs, you can actually pay to put in the more expensive light bulbs.
Todd Schnick: And how did you sustain that long term? I may be looking at it the wrong way, but it seems like that’s a one-time shot. You can come in and make an improvement in the energy, make the upgrade. How do you replicate that?
Tim: Well, that would be the case if you, as a company, weren’t evolving. But we are continually improving the efficiency of our products over time and, of course, these are long capital expenditures. You don’t put in a compressor at a wastewater plant for few years; it generally lasts 5, 10, 20 years. But during that 20-year period, then we make improvements, and we have more efficient equipment, and you can start the cycle all over again.
Todd Schnick: Your implication there is that technology and advances in technology is a big deal as well. How does that play in to this whole financial story that you have been talking about?
Tim: It really is. At the heart of the Siemens, there are really two things: entrepreneurship and technology. We are a technology company, and we are innovators. And we believe that, particularly for municipal governments and to create a sustainable world, you have to innovate the technology and create new, improved ideas that cost less to operate over time.
Todd Schnick: Helping the government be an innovator? How you do that?
Tim: That’s a great question. But what we do is we partner. We sit down with the governments, we sit down with the municipalities. We look at what their infrastructure needs are, what their constituent needs are, and we try to understand them and then we try to apply the right technologies for their particular problems. Not every government is the same. Each one has a different need.
Todd Schnick: You talked about innovative technology and being a leader in technology, but things like the direct drive turbo compressors, no offense, I wouldn’t call Siemens a real leader in that. You were kind of behind the market. Is there a specific reason for that?
Tim: Yeah, I actually do take issue with that because I don’t agree. We are innovators, so we like to do things right at Siemens. We don’t just jump into a market because it’s a hot new idea and apply the technology with the first great idea we get.
At Siemens, we wanted to do direct drive technology right, and so we applied this with a very unique, specialized control platform that offers the client real savings. Secondly, we went into the marketplace and we spent several years creating a verification methodology. Because if I promise you that you’re going to save money on your light bulbs, but then I don’t prove it to you, have you really saved it?
Todd Schnick: I don’t know.
Tim: Ronald Reagan said “trust, but verify.” And we believe in this as well. So we created a technology platform that can be verified, and we actually have just completed about a two-year process of helping write the industry standards for verifying these types of savings. We are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is not something to play with.
Todd Schnick: Okay. So you really have to have the whole platform. You can’t just have one standalone piece of way-cool technology.
Tim: So we don’t see that we started the race any different than the other manufacturers. We are just going to be the tortoise that is going to finish first.
Todd Schnick: Well, that is very consistent. When I think about your perspective on overall saving money – generating enough cash to pay for the investment that you want to make – that is very consistent, that train of thinking.
Tim: That’s right. And Siemens, actually, when we do these projects, we guarantee that. So we have to guarantee that the saving is there, otherwise the municipality can’t pay back the debt. So we have to put in place a system that can guarantee the revenue to be able to pay for the actual infrastructure. It can’t be a false promise.
Todd Schnick: Guarantees. You don’t seem to hear a whole lot about that. Is that unique in this marketplace?
Tim: It really is. The division that I am in actually made its business by putting its money where its mouth is. We guarantee the performance on every one of our compressors. And if we don’t meet that performance, we pay the customer back for the amount of kilowatt usage that they would use above what we promised them.
Todd Schnick: How important are all the standards, like ISO standards, for example. Is that something that is a big part of the decision process?
Tim: It is critical. It goes back to this “trust, but verify” issue. Again, if I promise you that you’re going to save 10 kilowatts with my light bulb, but I can’t verify it in any way. So having a set of industry standards is critical. It’s much like in the medical industry – there is a standard level of care. Well, there is a standard level of performance guarantee that should exist in this type of business.
Todd Schnick: I love the repeated use of the word guarantee. It is just so rare to hear that, particularly with the magnitude of investments that we are talking about. This isn’t a couple of hundred grand here.
Todd Schnick: So what innovations are coming down the pike, Tim? What should we be looking for in the next couple of years?
Tim: Well, one of the things that you will see rolling out of the Compressors Division in the next year, in fact, we will be introducing some really neat innovations almost annually over the next five years, that we have working. And what you will see next year is a new level of direct drive compressor technology that we think is really going to shock the industry.
Todd Schnick: With the entire platform surrounding it?
Tim: Absolutely. This piece will come with something very unique, that is tied to that word “guarantee.” We believe that not only do you need the compressor, but you need an energy management system that comes with compressor, so that you can verify how much you are saving and be able to monitor it and make decisions on your expenditures.
Todd Schnick: Do you find this whole approach to market as a real differentiator? It is so easy to get wrapped up in the technology itself and not look at the financing part of it, the integration part of it, over a long, long period of time. How significant is that as a differentiator?
Tim: It’s the core of who we are. Our company was founded by two men, and these two men – one was a scientist and one was a businessman and entrepreneur – and Siemens really at our heart is the putting together of innovation and business and entrepreneurship. So it’s critical to put those two pieces together for us.
Todd Schnick: Siemens is obviously exhibiting here at WEFTEC. What are the organization’s principle goals here in Los Angeles?
Tim: Well, what we really wanted to show this year is how the breadth and the power of Siemens deliver something that no other company in this world can deliver. So what you will see up in our booth at WEFTEC is a cross-sector display of technology and talent.
So you’ve got my group there from Siemens Energy. We, of course, have the Siemens Water group. But we have folks from the Building Technologies group, because what do cities have a lot of? Buildings. Buildings and cities and infrastructure.
On October 1, Siemens introduced its newest sector, which is called the Cities and Infrastructure sector. We believe this is one of the big growth areas in the next 25 years that we’ll focus heavily on. And that’s what you’ll see at our booth this week.
Todd Schnick: I am really curious. A different kind of question: How did you do knowledge sharing internally? You talked about all these different divisions and sections within Siemens. That didn’t happen by accident. There has got to be aggressive sharing of knowledge and technology.
Tim: There is. But, you know, people think it’s some magic secret. It really comes down to something extremely simple. It is called relationships. We drive relationships within Siemens. Our company is built on three principle values of innovation, excellence, and responsibility, and at the core of those values comes good relationships. We trust each other within Siemens.
So I am very open and willing to share my ideas with the people in Siemens Water. In fact, the new products that you will see at IFAT in May of next year are cross-sector products: half the idea from energy, half the idea from water. We put it together because we trust one another. It is that simple.
Todd Schnick: That’s a great story, isn’t it?
Todd Youngblood: Isn’t it always that relationship? I mean, the core tenet of virtually any success – on any front, in any endeavor – is about relationships.
Todd Schnick: I am not sure if you used the word “trust” in that, but in what you said, it came out very clear: I am not worried about my silo or my little fiefdom in all of this. We’re all in it together.
Tim: Yeah, and that’s what it’s about.
Todd Schnick: Well, Tim, it breaks our heart, but we are out of time. Before we let you go, share with the audience how they can contact Siemens and your division, and learn more about the work that you’re out there doing.
Tim: Hey, www.siemens.com. How easy is that, right? And, hey, I hope we energized you today.
Todd Schnick: You certainly did.
Todd Youngblood: I am fired up.
Todd Schnick: Alright, well, Tim Dobyns – insert title here, with Siemens.
Tim: You are not going to repeat the whole thing?
Todd Schnick: It was a real pleasure having you here. Thank you for joining us today.
Tim: Thanks, Gentlemen.
Todd Youngblood: Thanks, Tim.
Todd Schnick: Okay. That wraps this segment. On behalf of Todd Youngblood, I am Todd Schnick. Water Online Radio will be right back.