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Project SLAM – Prevention is better than cure

05 May 2009

An innovative Hampshire-based company will be playing a pivotal role in the success of Defence Estates’ £1 billion SLAM project to upgrade Single Living Accommodation for some 30,000 members of the armed forces over the next ten years.

The business in question is Environmental Treatment Concepts Ltd of Fareham – familiarly known as ETC. Its role is to provide electronic water treatment equipment that will protect hot and cold water systems throughout the new accommodation from deterioration and loss of performance due to limescale.

This will quite literally save £millions over the anticipated 35-year working life of the new buildings, not to mention the considerable inconvenience and discomfort resulting from any breakdowns over that time. Importantly, the installation of ETC’s Scalewatcher ENiGMA system will enable Debut Services Ltd, who are constructing and managing the SLAM buildings over a seven year period, to meet a contractual requirement to hand over the buildings in ‘as new‘ condition.

All this arises because about 70 per cent of the UK’s water supply is hard, meaning that varying amounts of naturally occurring calcium carbonate are dissolved in the water. While this is good for human health in that it contributes to strong bones and teeth and is considered to protect against heart disease, it is bad for hot water systems as deposits of the mineral – in the form of limescale – narrow pipes, block showers, and reduce thermal efficiency. It is also costly to remove.

Back in 1989, ETC was the first to introduce an electronic means of water treatment to the UK market as an alternative to established chemical methods and also to the older physical treatment methods that varied considerably in effectiveness and quality.

It went on to establish a strong track record serving commercial/industrial, residential and public sector clients including major water companies, housing associations, MOD, health authorities and many blue chip corporates including Babcock, which partnered with Bovis to form Debut.

The value of ETC’s Scalewatcher ENiGMA system is demonstrated through research findings, which show that just six millimetres of limescale deposited in pipes, radiators or other forms of heat exchanger cut energy efficiency by a massive 40 per cent. Worse, in even a moderately hard water area three millimetres of limescale can form in as short a time as a year.

While there are no figures available for military establishments, it is estimated that limescale costs UK industry around £1billion a year in descaling alone. Further billions are wasted through lost production, higher energy bills, and early renewal of capital equipment – but prevent limescale formation, and both problem and costs disappear.

Debut was alerted to this type and level of risk in the context of its future obligation to hand over ‘as new’ SLAM buildings. Not wishing to incur the considerable costs of replacing heating systems, it evaluated conventional means of water treatment before learning about Scalewatcher ENiGMA.

As ETC’s managing director, John Thompson, explains: “Scalewatcher ENiGMA offers an elegant solution from a technical point of view as well as being extremely cost effective.” It was doubly attractive in this instance because ETC’s business philosophy is to build close relationships with its customers, based on product and service quality, alongside high standards of installation, commissioning and long term monitoring.

In simple terms Scalewatcher ENiGMA relies on modern microprocessors and signal processing techniques. These work to remove any existing limescale within water heating systems and prevent new deposits; they can cope with pipes of up to a metre in diameter.

There is no apparent chemical change to the water so treated, but significant physical changes to the calcium carbonate in normal hard water prevent it from adhering to the internal surfaces of pipes and boilers, so the mineral remains in suspension within a water system until it is flushed out. Calcium deposits from dried water outside of the water system remain soft and easily wiped away.

Further benefits are that water treated in this way is healthy and safe to drink, should anyone choose to do so. There is also a reduced risk from bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease, and other infections, because there is no limescale to provide these organisms with a habitat and nutriments.

Debut had previously evaluated the possibility of installing conventional water softeners as a means of preventing the build-up of limescale, but overall cost, size and the need to create space in which to store the salt that regenerates the softener ruled this out. Buildings would have had to be redesigned, and consumables purchased, leading to a working life cost for each building in the order of £188,000. An alternative solution was required – urgently.

Bert Ring, the 145 Brigade Energy Adviser at Aldershot told Debut’s Compliance Technical Manager, Chris Sharp about Babcock’s past experience with ETC. He was suitably impressed by what he heard about the Scalewatcher ENiGMA units already operating across various Army sites in southern England and ETC was invited to present to a group at Defence Estates, Sutton Coldfield.

Further detailed evaluation and inspection of the installation at Dalton Barracks near Abingdon, Berks followed. As John Thompson claims: “It became obvious that Scalewatcher ENiGMA was the best solution; the Debut and Defence Estates team were impressed by our supportive operating style, and in due course we were added to the SLAM approved supply chain. We expect to supply 50 buildings a year until 2012.

We look forward to a long and successful relationship with Project SLAM.”

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