The Role of Water In Manufacturing

running water over a waterfallDid you know that in addition to the machines, the employees, and the factory, one of the key players in a manufacturing facility is water?

It’s true: This simple element is actually the key to many manufacturing processes. As the Alliance for Water Efficiency explains, “Many diverse manufacturing operations use water for cleaning and rinsing products, parts, and vessels, transporting parts or ingredients, as a lubricant, as a solvent in a chemical reaction, forming a water seal to block out contact with air, or for pollution control.” If the product itself is a water-based product (i.e. beverage manufacturing), there’s even more water used in the processes.

In 2001, Canadian scholars Diane DuPont and Stephen Renzetti noted that water’s role in manufacturing processes has received limited attention, and although we know that industrial water use doubled in the period from 1998-2000, there was still relatively little scholarship on the process. Today, increased attention to the role of water in manufacturing has revealed quite a lot of water waste, as well as water use.

The industries that produce metals, wood and paper products, chemicals, gasoline, and oil tend to use the most water during the production process. Especially for food products, water can be one of the most valuable ingredients in the whole process. Think about the example of canned soups or vegetables that have high percentages of water once they have been cooked or packaged. What if the water produces a flavor or smell that affects the quality or consistency of the final product?

Low-quality water could ruin an entire product line. As such, manufacturers must carefully evaluate water sources for new plant locations, a step in the process that’s frequently overlooked. However, water sources can provide innumerable tangible benefits. As Strategic Account Manager for Culligan Edward Orvidas explains, it’s important to understand the variations in local water sources, because different municipalities use different methods and chemicals to disinfect their water, like chlorine or chloramines: “Inquire about water supply seasonal variances that can affect well water, surface water, or both. When are the lines flushed out? When this happens, iron can be sent in the municipal water system and cause discoloration or alter the taste of certain products. Keep an open dialogue with your local municipality and ask them to keep your company informed in advance if there are changes made to the water processes.”

Orvidas’ article is an important read not just for food manufacturers, but for those interested in manufacturing who may never have thought about the crucial role water plays. If you’re interested in “green jobs” (hey, you’re in the right place!), a job dealing with water in manufacturing could also be a good fit. Because manufacturing uses so much water, there are many opportunities to reduce usage and become more efficient, reducing waste and inefficiencies in the process. There’s immense water conservation potential here, from cooling water to conducting waste audits or even just instruction in water use for sanitation, housekeeping, and irrigation workers.

If you have questions about the role water plays in the manufacturing industry or would like to learn more, leave a comment in the section below, any time!

photo credit: Gullfoss Waterfall via photopin (license)