Feature Article - April 2020
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Managing Aquatic Maintenance

Automation Helps Boost Efficiency & Safety

By Rick Dandes

Automation is making aquatics maintenance more efficient and ultimately more cost-effective, but the human element cannot be ignored either, when it comes to pool safety and on-site inspections.

Water quality is key to a good user experience. And to that end, all public swimming pools by law (although those laws vary by states and municipalities) require sanitizing systems to eliminate microbes in the water to provide a healthy swimming environment, said Kevin Post, principal, director of aquatic operations for Counsilman-Hunsaker, an international aquatic facility design company with corporate offices in St. Louis.

Good water quality is more than simply eliminating visibly dirty water. If pool water is not properly maintained, a pool can become a breeding ground for germs, bacteria and algae. Having the proper equipment that dispenses the needed chemicals into the water to prevent such unwanted bacteria is an essential first step in making pool water safe.

Industry Trends

"A lot of the big paradigm shift that we are seeing in the business is because of the industry's recent developments with the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC)." said Troy McGinty, product manager of commercial products for a New Jersey-based company that manufactures pool equipment.

The MAHC is backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations, McGinty said. "What this model code is suggesting is how can we become more consistent with the legislation, the requirements or codes as pertains to the operation of a pool?"

Currently, codes covering aquatic facilities vary from one jurisdiction to another, at various levels of government, across the United States. "What we are trying to do in the industry," McGinty explained, "is to gain some sort of consistency that can be followed by all of the local health departments in their jurisdictions. What that does is gives us a better baseline for us to develop and research products to adhere to those requirements."

There are quite a few different products within a commercial pool—everything from sanitization systems, pumps and filters to heaters and lighting.

"The last part" of the equation, McGinty said, "is the IoT [note: the Internet of Things, or IoT, is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction], which is a fairly recent development in the last five years, and how we are integrating everything together so that all the equipment is somehow talking to one another while working simultaneously. At the same time, these functions are controlled remotely."

What McGinty has noticed is that as technology grows, equipment is getting lighter, through the use of different plastics and materials to try to lessen the load of the equipment, as pertains to initial installation. "As for the equipment itself," he said, "the motors are getting smaller and more efficient, and the installation, the wiring and the operation are becoming less expensive. For example, there are better filtration products like bulk system DE, which is reducing things down to less than two or three microns, trying to remove harmful bacteria from the water."

In the industry, you are seeing automated chemical control so that water chemistry stays consistent and is monitored 24/7. This means water—and the bathers in it—are safe as it pertains to the sanitization and pH level, McGinty said.

"You are also seeing things like LED or low-voltage LED lighting as it basically becomes more intrinsically safe, because you are only allowing a 12-volt light in a pool," McGinty explained. "Besides the energy savings, there is the reliability of the product lasting a lot longer than your typical 120-volt incandescent bulb."

We have seen changes in ADA compliance and other regulations, such as the VGB Act, which covers drains to prevent entrapment, McGinty said, "…making sure that drains are either split or that the drains themselves can handle a specific flow rate, a specific velocity, so that it can protect bathers from any type of suction entrapment. That's a new technology that was introduced there as well."

Across the spectrum, McGinty noted, the industry has come forward with innovations such as variable speed pumps, better filtration products, more efficient heating products and more. Sanitization products are not simply chlorine-based; many use secondary or supplementary sanitization, such as UV or ozone. And these products are very helpful in assisting in the removal of water-borne pathogens, and better than your typical chlorine that would be in the pool.

"That additional layer of protection," McGinty said, "is becoming mandatory in certain jurisdictions and states and for certain types of bodies of water like spas, therapy pools or kiddie pools that can be a lot more susceptible to a lot more of those types of challenges."

All in all, he said, "what you are seeing is technology is increasing in the way of safety, and I think that as an industry, as a whole, we are more consistent in how we are operating and designing our pools."