October 2009, Vol. 21, No.10

From the Editors

Operations Forum Editor’s Note

Alternate Paths

Steve Spicer

The three feature articles in this issue discuss options for handling the challenges they present. These examples underscore the fact that “the way we’ve always done it” isn’t necessarily the only way or even the best way. Of course, reliable procedures and established concepts have earned their place and shouldn’t be tossed aside too quickly.

For example, the article, “WAWTTAR: A planning tool for selecting wastewater treatment technologies,” discusses how taking advantage of a free computer model can help planners weigh a wider scope of potential treatment processes for a given set of conditions. That’s a useful tool that could help new possibilities emerge. Yet, the authors wisely write that the software “will not choose the ‘best’ possible option for a specific situation — this can only be done by using solid engineering judgment.” New technology widens the scope of what’s possible, but experience must be used to narrow that focus to the right answer.

Likewise, “Rolling On: Validating grease-lubricated rolling bearings for large decanter centrifuges” puts a new spin on lubricating bearings in larger decanter centrifuges. The traditional route would be to use oil lubrication, but the article describes how research into grease lubrication is opening new possibilities. The information presented should better equip users to choose between grease and oil lubrication. Again, innovation expands the possibilities, but specific knowledge of a specific application will be needed to measure if these possibilities are the right fit.

In a more hands-on example, “How To Troubleshoot an Underperforming Pump Station” offers a step-by-step guide to quickly and efficiently find and correct problems. In the most literal sense, this article provides a series of paths to follow as shown in its first figure. By organizing the tasks needed into a sensible order, this plan frees the investigator to focus his or her knowledge and experience on conducting and assessing each of the screening steps, which is where the problem will be detected and solutions applied.

New options, technologies, and methods are all good things. They open up new paths to explore. But all of those options can amount to nothing more than distractions unless wisdom and experience are used to navigate to previously undiscovered benefits. 

Steve Spicer, editorsspicer@wef.org