Taking on the role of Head of Customer Success at Pani was a natural fit for Tony Rodrigues. His decades of experience working with technology in various industries, as well as his passion for customer support and success, was the ideal mix to help operational teams at water processing facilities get set up and started on their digital journey. Since joining the team and engaging with large-scale treatment plants from around the world, Tony has witnessed how digital technology is playing an increasingly important part in bringing water treatment into the modern era of operations.
A Focus on Technology and the Customer
Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Tony has been working with technology for decades. After completing a degree in electronic technology, his career path provided work with semiconductors, consumer electronics, dot coms, and the music industry. In every role, his focus was always on designing and architecting technology.
Tony’s done everything from tech and customer support to product management to technology and business development to sales and marketing throughout his career. The wide range of experience has allowed Tony to work on both the technology side of the coin, doing product conceptualization, design, and implementation, and the people side through his marketing, customer service, support, and success roles.
This history made a role with Pani an enticing opportunity for Tony to combine his product and customer-focused knowledge with the technology that he’s been interested in since the early days. A bonus was the “save the world” aspect behind Pani’s philosophy to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable water. With first-hand experience of what it takes to make freshwater from seawater using a reverse osmosis (RO) system and a small desalinator on his boat, Tony already understood the principles behind the water treatment process. This knowledge helps him connect the pieces in a digital world so that plants can leverage the power of computing to reach peak performance.
We sat down with Tony to talk about how Pani’s technology is helping customers navigate their digital journey and how advances in digital technology are helping to rapidly change the water sector.
How do you see (digital) technology changing water treatment?
“Once you’ve captured data into the digital domain, the ability to process and make decisions based on it is monstrous. When looking at the water treatment sector specifically, we see these three segments: people who are still doing stuff on pen and paper, people who have some digitization, and some plants that are very modern.
When we look at the modern plants and what [Pani is] able to do for those modern plants in terms of predictive analysis to deliver asset life extension, energy reduction, and a lower cost of water, that’s where we want to get to at every plant to make the biggest impact. I think that’s what digital can do. Once we have the data, we can do so much with it, so Step 1 is to get the whole [manual process] digitized.”
Can you explain what "digital twin" technology is and what something like that does for water treatment plants?
“Data capture allows us to bring in data and report on it. Rather than just giving you a row of numbers, we’ll draw a pretty line for you – or it could be an ugly line – and that line tells you what’s going on with the plant; from there, you can make your assumptions. We can also look at individual assets, something like a pump or a motor or a tank or an RO system, and we can show you that data in a certain way. And then we go to digital twin technology and what we can say there is we’re going to look at not just a single asset, but we’re going to look at how those assets are interconnected.
So now you have a motor, which drives a pump, which drives an RO train. When looking at all of that stuff at once, the interconnection allows us to say what’s going on and where. In this example, if we just look at a pump motor that we know is hitting high RPM [revolutions per minute], we know that’s an issue, but we don’t know necessarily that that pump motor is driving this membrane and the membrane is fouling, which is why this pump motor is going up.
With digital twin, we do know that. We know the relationship between multiple assets and we can say, okay, it’s not the pump motor that’s the problem. The problem is the membrane clogging up, which is causing the pump motor to have to run faster to push the water through, which is then consuming more energy and driving up operational costs.”
Can you describe the typical Pani customer?
“Each plant has its own goals and priorities so there isn’t a ‘typical customer’ really, but there are three types of customers that get a lot of benefit from using the Pani platform. First up are the plants still using pen and paper. They realize they need to get into the digital age and they have enough understanding of the technology to know that they can use it to eliminate pen and paper and the dreaded spreadsheet. They can just upload their data to us and then we are able to actually do some of the work for them – create key performance indicators (KPIs), alerts, customer dashboards, and a lot more.
Next are plants that have some digitization, maybe a SCADA system and P&ID [piping and instrumentation diagrams] and this customer tends to say to us: ‘We’ve got some digitization, but it’s data, it’s not workflow, it’s not value, it’s not actionable.’ And they implement Pani because we can actually make that data actionable. We give them insights, show them analytics, and provide deep-dive root cause analysis tools.
And finally, there are fully instrumented plants, lots of digitization and digitalization, but that still doesn’t help them prevent costly downtime. These plants use tons of energy and need to reduce that usage. The customer recognizes that they’re running as well as they can with the data they have, but the data is so big that they can’t process it all efficiently to identify and address possible issues before a shutdown happens. We can take all of that data and use technology to make it actionable and easy for them to do that.”
What would you say is the biggest value that customers get from the Pani platform?
“Each customer sees different values. For that first customer type, it’s just getting into the digital world with some tools that are easy to use. I was training a new plant recently and four hours later, the person I was working with was over the moon with how quickly they were able to build the plant and get their data in.
For customers further along in their digital journey, the value is the ability for us to make recommendations, to help them be more proactive instead of reactive. [Pani] can tell you that there’s a problem over here that you need to go look at. Or we can say that this membrane will likely foul in the next three or four days so start planning your maintenance. We will help you prevent things from going sideways, we will save you energy, we will increase your water production and lower your costs.”
How do you see Pani's predictive analysis and prescriptive maintenance features changing the way water treatment operators think about day-to-day operations?
“There’s a lot of turnover of knowledge. A lot of people who are running plants [today] have been there for twenty or thirty years and they can put their hand on a pump and know that it’s time to service it. New people coming into the industry don’t have that experience, but they are more digitally aware and digitally savvy, and they trust computers and digital operations to tell them what the recommended action is and how to go and do it. [Pani is] decision support, we’re not actually flipping the buttons and turning the knobs.
I think that’s kind of the evolution that we’re seeing in the water sector. We’re going from the operator that knows exactly what’s going on because they’ve been doing it for decades to a younger set which is going to be handed over the keys to this water kingdom, with the digital tools that are going to help empower them to keep things running smoothly and more efficiently.”
If there was one thing you'd like readers to know about Pani platform, what would that be?
“[Pani] is designed to make an operator’s life easier, and to be a force multiplier for the staff that you currently have. So, if you take a process analyst, instead of them spending 6 hours trying to figure something out using outdated spreadsheets, we’ll get them there in about 5 minutes. If you have an operator that has to search through documentation every time they see a fault, we’ll get them there in a few seconds with an insight that tells them exactly what they have to do. When you’re looking at a plant manager that’s trying to guesstimate when it’s time to do servicing and maintenance or when it’s time to replace things, trying to predict if something’s going to go wrong, we’ll help them do that in nanoseconds.
Your labour force becomes much more efficient and the decisions they make become much more efficient for the plant. You save money on the labour side by increasing knowledge retention and not having your employees burning out, and you save on energy and operational expenditures, increase performance reliability, and reduce faults. That’s the sphere that Pani operates in and the benefits the platform brings to the water industry.”
What can water industry professionals do to adapt to a changing world?
“I think you have to accept that the change is here. Say you have an aging infrastructure. When you have the opportunity to repair that infrastructure, don’t just think of doing the repair the way we did it before, but think about how that repair takes us forward. There’s a chance to add new sensors to the same [plant] when you think of repairing or replacing something and I would say, yeah, go ahead and do it, with the assumption that, by embracing digital technologies like Pani, you’ll get a return on that investment.
You might be looking at a thousand dollars more in CapEx costs to add the sensors, but when that sensor is there and something like Pani comes along and can actually use that data to save your energy costs to the tune of three or four thousand dollars a year, you already paid for it. It’s a good investment to make. And you can’t just look at it piecemeal, you have to say ‘look, I’m doing this because I’ll combine it with that and then I will get the full benefit.’”
Reach out to get started and see how Pani can accelerate your plant’s digital transformation.