Marquette, A.O. Smith collaborate on water technology study

Posted on Oct 6, 2016


Innovation in water engineering, sensors and data-gathering will be a crucial competitive advantage for manufacturing-driven economies such as metro Milwaukee, according to a new report issued Tuesday from Marquette University, A.O. Smith Corp. and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness.

The new study examines the economic nexus of water-intensive manufacturing sectors and the emerging field of water technology — both regarded as cornerstones of the Milwaukee-area economy.

Tuesday’s report, “Leverage: Water and Manufacturing,” is the latest acknowledgment that the golden age of cheap, seemingly limitless supplies of fresh water has ended. Water itself is becoming an increasingly scarce, polluted, in-demand and costly economic resource.

“When we think about some of the manufacturing that the city was known for, like the breweries and tanneries, they were very water intensive,” said Marquette President Mike Lovell, in releasing the 36-page report. “So much of the history of the region has been a marriage of water and manufacturing.”

Smart water technology will be “a tremendous catalyst to revitalize manufacturing,” said Ajita Rajendra, chief executive of Milwaukee-based A.O. Smith, which has global markets and manufacturing for its water filters and heaters.

JaglerSelf-disruption propels A.O. Smith

Internationally, agriculture sucks 70% of all water consumption, followed by 20% for industry and 10% for residential use. “Nearly half of industry water consumption is attributable to manufacturing products,” the report said. Some of the most water-intensive industries include pulp and paper mills, breweries and microprocessor makers. It takes about 75,000 gallons of water to produce a ton of steel.

“Manufacturers need ample, reliable supplies of fresh water if they are to compete in a global economy,” Rajendra said.

The study joins a chorus of economists goading all users — from golf courses and agriculture to homeowners — to shift their views of water. The report sees “a need to look at water management as an issue of stewardship rather than compliance.”

Several recommendations encourage water engineering research in the direction of creative new infrastructure to create new water sources, such as roof installments and manmade wetlands. It encourages a new generation of sensors to monitor water as a precious resource. In an era of Big Data, the report urges efficient new ways to use water in the way that smart grids” maximize industrial consumption of electrical energy.

The report is meant as a national policy document, even if it was conceived under Milwaukee-based leadership, said  David Strifling, a collaborator on the report and director of the Water Law and Policy Initiative at the Marquette University Law School.

The report elevates Milwaukee’s voice in the national water policy debate, Strifling said.

For Marquette, water technology has become a major new area of local economic engagement under Lovell, president for the past three years. Marquette is hiring new faculty and offering new courses, complementing similar efforts across town at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Lovell previously served as chancellor. Marquette has 13 water technology research projects underway.

And A.O. Smith Corp., a Milwaukee-based water technology company with global markets and manufacturing, similarly sees an active role in the water economy. A.O. Smith is a co-sponsor of the Milwaukee-based Water Council, which leads efforts to coalesce research and private enterprise to spawn jobs and research in the water technology sector. The company also recently announced the acquisition of Texas-based Aquasana Inc., which designs and markets residential treatment systems, sold primarily to U.S. consumers through an on-line website.

The Council on Competitiveness, founded in 1986, includes corporate, academic and union leaders. It will share the “sector report” with the incoming White House administration following the November election.

Speaking in Milwaukee, William Bates, executive vice president at the Council, said: “Water is a limited resource that plays a critical role across multiple sectors of the U.S. economy.”

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