Every year, the membership of the Submersible Wastewater Pump Association gathers their opinions for the organization’s Industry Outlook Survey, which presents a unique forecast based on professionals’ input. SWPA members span the submersible wastewater pump industry—including recognizable brands such as Crane, Flygt, KSB, Sulzer, and more—and embody a spirit of collaboration and professionalism. Therefore, SWPA’s annual member survey has an established reputation as a voice to listen to.
A LOOK BACK
Before we talk 2022, let’s go back to the expectations our members had for the past year. Some of the key factors SWPA members targeted in the 2021 version of the survey ended up being prophetic, including a rise in infrastructure funding and a highly fluctuating workforce participation rate. Factors specific to 2021 also tied into changes for the submersible wastewater pump industry, such as shortfalls in product deliverability and availably, the impact of work-from-home employees, and COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
One constant refrain we heard from members looking back on 2021 was a good news/bad news scenario: they were busier than ever, but it took longer than normal to fill an order. With that said, SWPA members reported that numbers were positive across several segments. For example, grinder pump shipments saw positive growth both for small units (2 horsepower and below) and larger ones (greater than 2 horsepower).
Building off those numbers, SWPA membership projects continued growth in pump orders for 2022, albeit tempered somewhat when compared with the dynamic surge in purchases from the previous year. For example, members expect grinder pump offerings to continue to expand. As more individuals work from home, demand will increase for these pumps to take on the rise in flushables entering residential wastewater streams.
Additionally, according to the survey, SWPA members are bullish on the future of solids-handling pump shipments—forecasting increases across the entire field, ranging from 3-inch to greater than 12-inch discharge units. Even though these units are losing market share to grinder and chopper pumps, the stable and reliable reputation these pumps have earned across the industry makes them a highly sought-after purchase for infrastructure projects, which bodes well for this segment in an era of increased government project funding.
Whether we’re talking about grinder pumps or more traditional wastewater handling options, the common thread is the constantly growing number of clogs in municipal streams. For some municipalities and private concerns, this will mean switching out older systems with newer grinder or chopper designs. Similarly, those systems who continue with traditional solids-handling pumps will also be chasing down innovation, only in this case it will be inventive and more powerful anti-clog impeller designs.
TRENDS BEYOND 2022
SWPA membership also shared their thoughts on big-picture concerns for the submersible wastewater pump industry. Recent years have brought forward an emphasis on premium and ultra-premium efficiency motors, and our members see no reason for that to slow down. In fact, given the increasing adoption of IoT devices for data capture and remote monitoring, submersibles should be on the precipice of a golden age of improved performance and efficiency.
For example, system monitoring is gaining—and hopefully will continue to gain—widespread use throughout the United States pump market. Members also report an expanded use of remote systems, including artificial intelligence.
FACING THE CONTRADICTIONS
Another long-term trend is the growing contradiction of improving quality of and access to water in the face of an aging infrastructure. On the one hand, a growing population is good for demand throughout the domestic pump market, but there are several factors outside the industry’s control. Those include a shortage of raw materials, limitations of product availability, continued long lead times, and the logistical cost concerns that pop up throughout every step of infrastructure breakdowns.
However, SWPA members also forecast several strategies the industry can take to face down these potential problems. For one, increased motor efficiency should bring down life-cycle costs for pumps across the board. Additionally, preventative maintenance programs have presented themselves as an alternative to the pump-replacement business model. These two trends can come together to create new revenue opportunities for several markets as manufacturers adopt more AI and virtual tools to bring down maintenance and operating costs.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Overall, buttressed by increased government funding and growing demand, the outlook is very good for the submersible wastewater pump industry. Although, SWPA members report they are experiencing an excessive backlog due to supply chain issues, many projects that were previously delayed are now starting up again. Furthermore, they report customers are seeking out complete “package systems” from one manufacturer as a hedge against long lead times and high prices that might result from building a system from several different suppliers.
Hopefully, 2022 will be the turning point where the pandemic and its related supply chain issues can be put behind us. Although it may take months to undo the damage these slowdowns have brought, the future is bright for the submersible wastewater pump industry.
By Adam Stolberg, SWPA Executive Director
MODERN PUMPING TODAY, January 2022
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