Interview with Bill Thompson: Infrastructure is Eroding

In preparation for an article in October RER, we spoke with several pump manufacturers. Bill Thompson, president of Thompson Pump, spoke with RER’s Michael Roth about technoIogical advancements in the pump industry and why even optimists are challenged by today’s economy.

RER: What is new in your product line technologically?

Thompson: Beyond the multitude of changes that are being mandated to comply with EPA regulations regarding exhaust emissions from diesel engines, we are progressing rapidly with improvements in sound attenuation with new versions of our Silent Knight models. We have achieved significant reductions of from 3 to 7 dbA on many models. These noise reductions will result in many Thompson pumps being the quietest in the industry, a characteristic that will be appreciated immensely by operators, contractors and neighbors in the vicinity of jobsites throughout North, Central & South America.

In addition, as other “Green” features, we have incorporated what we are terming our “Oil-Less Vacuum Technology” (OVT) by specifying oil-less vacuum pumps on many of our dry priming units, and we have redesigned the impellers and volutes on many models to achieve higher efficiencies, which results in substantially lower fuel costs for the end-users.

From a performance aspect, we have expanded our line to include larger pumps capable of up to 14,000 gpm with heads up to 430 feet. By having higher performance and enhanced air-handling capacities, we are able to achieve faster draw-downs, saving our users time and operating costs. In addition to diesel, natural gas and hybrid engines, most of our pump models are now available with electric motor drives. By incorporating electric motors with variable-speed drives and automatic start/stop and speed-control devices, we are now able to operate our pumps within a specified range of rpm’s to conserve energy and to reduce maintenance costs.

We are also working to develop products that will last longer and will require less routine service and maintenance. Our new “compact series” pump models have virtually eliminated many of the traditional service points required with currently available pumps. Fewer service points and longer service intervals will enable our customers to spend less time maintaining and servicing pumps and to devote more of their time to the actual work at hand.

What are some of the trends you expect to see in your type of pumps and the pump industry in general?

We are intent on being on the forefront of product evolution in our industry. Accordingly, we are focusing on leading the trends toward higher performance, higher efficiencies and environmentally compatible products throughout our entire range and scope.

What are some of the changes your customers, particularly in the rental market but end users as well, are asking for?

Today’s customers have extremely high expectations — and, rightfully so. They expect pumps to be readily available, at a reasonable price, of the highest quality, extremely reliable, and economical to operate and maintain. Every day, we see our customers asking us to do more than simply manufacture, sell or rent our products. They are constantly requesting us to provide extensive support in terms of training, demonstrations, specifying, designing, engineering, installing, operating, servicing, maintaining, repairing, and, in many instances, taking total responsibility for the success of the portions of a project that involve pumping. We have remodeled our company to meet these requirements and expectations of our customers.

Any developments and changes you are seeing or expect to see in the marketing of pumps in rental?

With the current limited availability of financing from the banks, our customers are seeking floor-planning and extended payment terms from the factory or from our distributors. Internet marketing is becoming more prevalent and we have invested quite a lot of time, effort and money to make our website user-friendly.

What effects have the economic downturn and construction slump had on your business and on the pump industry in general? Do you see any signs of a turnaround or improvement?

While the recession, the absence of new home construction and private development, the minimal impact of the ARRA, the limited expenditures for infrastructure improvements and the turmoil in the financial markets have severely impacted our business, we have modified our business model to adjust to current conditions and conditions we anticipate in the foreseeable future. In that regard, I do not envision any significant improvement in our industry in the next two to three years.

What do you expect economically in the rest of 2010 and 2011?

While I’m normally an optimist, stagnation with the outside prospects for minimal improvement is my best guess for the next two to three years. The demands are still there. We still have a growing population, our infrastructure is eroding at an alarming rate, and we have rising expectations for transportation, clean water, a clean environment, adequate housing, schools, hospitals and other services. Private investment and government expenditures are not addressing the needs adequately. The X-factors are the extent of government involvement — positive and negative — and the confidence factor of the American people.

In many types of equipment, computer technology is playing a major role in the evolution of that type of equipment. Is that occurring in pump technology as well, and, if so, how?

Yes, with the advent of new electronically controlled diesel engines. These new engines can be controlled and diagnosed remotely with computers. Many of the newer engines enable the operators to monitor conditions, performance and faults, and they can start, stop and control the speed of the engine remotely via the Internet.

How big a role does and should a manufacturer play in the training of rental company personnel? Mostly in what areas — safety? Equipment application?

We believe that training is one of the primary responsibilities of a pump manufacturer — especially in these times of rapid product evolution. We want our rental company customers to have an in-depth knowledge of our products and we want them to know how to apply them properly so that they can be safe, effective and profitable.

As a manufacturer that also operates a rental fleet, we have a distinct advantage in that we are involved directly in hundreds of actual, real-life applications every single day. Consequently, we are in a position to train our distributors, dealers, rental houses, OEM’s and end-users constantly and in all pertinent areas of knowledge.

Through informal instructions, manuals and training aids, 24-hour HELP lines, Lunch & Learn sessions, and our formal Pumpology courses, we address everything from product and jobsite safety, application advice, use, service, maintenance and repair of our pumps along with troubleshooting of pump and application problems.

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