Mark Spencer, president of Water Analytics / Aquametrix, sat down with Water Online Radio for this live interview from the show floor at WEFTEC 2011 in Los Angeles. Among other topics, Spencer shared his insight on new product development and the future of water instrumentation. Listen or read on to learn more.
Todd Schnick: And we are back, broadcasting live from the Los Angeles Convention Center and the tradeshow floor of WEFTEC. I’m Todd Schnick, joined by Todd Youngblood. Todd, we have turned corner four, we’re in the home stretch.
Todd Youngblood: Corner four, and the brain is not fried yet. Unlike our guest, he kind of was talking about that a little bit before the show. This is going to be interesting to see how this pans out.
Schnick: But I think we’re going to have a good time. We are joined by the President of Water Analytics, makers of Aquametrix instruments, Mark Spencer. Welcome to Water Online Radio.
Mark: Glad to be here, Todd and Todd.
Schnick: Well, it’s great to have you. Before we get into a conversation, Mark, why don’t you take a second and just tell us a little about you, your background, and the work that you’re doing for Water Analytics.
Mark: Well, my background is really R&D. I have a degree in physical chemistry. My previous life was in R&D of government-sponsored research, so I’ve worked in a large variety of high tech developments.
Water instrumentation is something that’s always interested me, so when I saw an opportunity to purchase a manufacturing company and use it as a springboard to develop a line, I just jumped.
Youngblood: Give me an example of a couple of projects that you do. Help our audience understand exactly what you’re delivering to your customers.
Mark: Well, right now, Aquametrix has a solid core of manufacturing instruments, mainly for the wastewater industry – pH or ORP conductivity, dissolved oxygen. These are solid, very rugged, very well-known, very well-admired instrumentation.
As the years go by, you’ll see more products that are on the cutting edge of technology come forward. We have a roadmap that goes out for five years, and you’ll see instrumentation go from the mainstream to the very cutting-edge.
Youngblood: Mark, you mentioned before the show that you purchased the company two years ago?
Mark: That is correct.
Youngblood: And given the economic climate over the last couple of years, it is a little bit of an odd time to be making an acquisition. What was attractive?
Mark: Actually, in a down time, it’s a very good time to buy a company. Interesting, as you probably know, the water segment is growing at about 8% a year. So anybody that gets into any segment of the water market, over the long term, is going to be part of a growing market.
I saw in Aquametrix a company that, even though it had a very small core of products and did not promote them very forcefully, was still selling very, very well. It was very highly respected. So I saw a product that was already great to begin with and would be ripe for some technological development, which is where my background comes in.
Youngblood: Mark, just clarify for the audience, what exactly is Aquametrix’s niche in the marketplace, and where do you see it evolving?
Mark: Well, our niche has always been, as I said, in the wastewater – traditionally, more in the industrial side than the municipal side. Our niche has been in the three big ones: pH, ORP conductivity, plus dissolved oxygen. As the years go by, actually starting very shortly, our niche will be growing from just wastewater – industrial, to clean water – municipal and industrial.
Youngblood: Mark, you’re very clearly a technology guy. What kind of technological developments are coming down the pipe here that are going to be exciting over the next few years.
Mark: Well, just today, we unveiled an early version of our new controller, which is the only controller on the market that can handle five inputs, take in two channels, and is 100% touchscreen IP-enabled, so you’ll be able to check up on your parameters with your cell phone.
Coming after that, we’ve got instrumentation that is…well, we have a motto, “No me toos.” So we have a very innovative chlorine analyzer coming out – that’ll be out in about a year and a half; a toroidal sensor, which measures conductivity over a huge range, uses an entirely new principal that’s never been commercialized. You’ll be seeing that in two years.
And, in fact, we see so far out that we have two proposals that we partnered with, with other companies – to the EPA and NASA – to come up with instrumentation to measure species of trace metals in waters using a technology that has never been successfully commercialized for the wastewater or the water industry.
Youngblood: But you announced that new project just here at WEFTEC. Was that one of the principal reasons you attended – to launch that formally here?
Mark: Well, we definitely worked overtime to get it ready in some shape or way or form to show it. You know what, if you’re in this industry, if you’re not at WEFTEC, you’re pretty much missing the boat.
Schnick: What are some other objectives that you have here at WEFTEC?
Mark: It’s, well, having been…
Schnick: Lead generation, market education, all those kinds of things.
Mark: There’s product knowledge, there’s technical knowledge, which of course I have no problem getting; but knowing the industry well can only be done in a face-to-face environment, and I just don’t know of a better environment to do that than WEFTEC.
Youngblood: Mark, you mentioned the EPA just a little bit ago, and regulation from various government entities is a big deal in the water/wastewater industry. It just strikes me as kind of interesting; you’re actually working with, or collaborating with the EPA on this project that’s coming out in a couple of years?
Mark: Our connection with the EPA is that the EPA, like other government agencies, has set asides for very innovative research called the Small Business Innovative Research Program. Any company can apply for these grants, and we partnered with another company to respond to an EPA request for proposals.
Once that happens, if we are fortunate enough to win this, and we are able to demonstrate this successful technology – that is new and innovative – then we will work with the EPA much more strongly to make sure that our instrumentation has an EPA-approved method.
Youngblood: Well, in this case, collaboration with a partner is clearly very important. In a more general sense, how much are you collaborating? How important is that for the future – not only for your company, but the value you give to your customers?
Mark: Sure, well there are several types of collaboration, and you probably know more than I do that this is an industry where everybody knows everybody, and there’s always some collaboration going on between one company and another. We’re not different in that. We have partnered with a couple of other companies that are strategic partners.
On the technology front, I may have an idea in my head, but I’m not the expert. The collaboration comes in when we find someone who is an expert and is willing to go in with us. For instance, in this latest proposal to the EPA, we partnered with a company that has years, actually decades, of experience in fuel cell technology, which is the basis of our proposed technology; and also a professor from a university. Our collaboration spans everything from the commercial world all the way out to the R&D world.
Youngblood: Well, Mark, I hate to say it, but we’re out of time. Before we let you go, share with the audience where they can get more information on Water Analytics and Aquametrix.
Mark: Sure. The easiest thing is to go to our website: www.Aquametrix.com. Also, wateranalytics.net will work. We’re located in Massachusetts, just north of Boston, and I think you can find us with a little typing on Google.
Youngblood: And where is your booth here at WEFTEC?
Mark: Our booth number is 9026, Kentia Hall.
Youngblood: 9026, okay. Mark Spencer, it was a real pleasure having you. Thanks for joining us.
Mark: Thank you, Todd.
Schnick: Thanks for the insights, Mark.
Mark: Thank you, Todd.
Schnick: Okay, that wraps this segment. On behalf of Todd Youngblood, I’m Todd Schnick for Water Online Radio. We’ll be right back.