The Untold Story of Transcends Director of Engineering Assisting in Mastering the Roots

Updated: Feb 3



Adam

Let’s start from the beginning - tell us how you got into the water industry.

Imre

When I had my studies there were certain areas like environmental sciences and environmental engineering. Some of that was focusing on technology. And when we were talking about technology, it was always about certain environments, like soil water, air pollution, noise... and water was the most interesting for me. I was always interested in the water and wastewater treatment studies.

So basically, when I finished school, I started with Organica Water, who was working in the wastewater treatment industry. Everything was interesting to me and certain process units had to be developed. At first, I was managing new grant projects, setting up pilot studies, doing the report at the end, and identifying the development directions for the technology.

At some point, I got into the engineering part, and specifically process engineering. I became more involved with doing designs for proposals. Even pre-proposals and related activities about marketing and business development. Then I started doing more detailed design and the proposal became a contract, and then moved into project execution. So I became involved with the commissioning and closing of the project.

Adam

Why did you choose Organica?

Imre

Because I found them most attractive. Everything about the green plants and all the vision that they have. I had visited a couple of wastewater treatment facilities in the past during University and I was hoping that I don't need to work on that environment. But with Organica, it was different!

Adam

That's funny. And you worked for Organica for what, ten years or more?

Imre

I joined in 2010, then Transcend was separated from Organica. And so it's probably like, nine or ten years.

Adam

And over those nine years, you mentioned that your role as a process engineer grew over time. So in the beginning, you said you were managing EU grants to develop process units, to basically develop the treatment system.

Imre

At the very beginning, I was an assistant, like a research assistant. And then when I got the engineering degree, then I became a process development engineer. At that time, it was still about pilot activities, research and development, new grants. And from there I went into the process engineering, which is like the full-scale treatment development and all that stuff.

Adam

When you started the process engineering role, what did your day look like? Was there a typical day? Who were you talking to? Were you talking to clients? Who did you talk to inside the company? How often were you doing designs?

Imre

There were a lot of questions about business development with potential clients. They were asking about how Organica is doing this and that part of the design. That was probably like 15% of my time, which was spent on answering client questions, preparing presentations, getting involved with site visits…

And about 50-60% of the time was actually work on process design. And the remainder was coordinating the activity of the process engineering team and discussing different business strategies to doing projects with the sales team.


Adam

Did you work with the other engineering teams or disciplines inside of Organica?

Imre

Yes. When the process design was ready it went to the application engineering team who developed the P&ID’s, the equipment, and then the civil engineers who developed the civil part of the design. And there were a lot of iterations as we learned new tactics as process engineers, especially from other projects we had worked on. Often when it went to the mechanical and civil engineering team, they came back and said that it's not possible or the demands are different compared to what was provided by the client. So we had to revisit everything again, which was impacting the process design and the other engineering disciplines. So it was quite an iteration process by the time we could finalize the proposal. And that's the same with the preliminary design phase.

Adam

And as part of your process engineering work, what tools did you use every day to do that work? Excel, simulation tools? Did you use CAD at that time?

Imre

It was a combination of different in-house tools. The Organica technology was a pretty complicated one, and it was not easy to develop certain Excel sheets or spreadsheets to calculate the process design part. The company did the process design using a simulation software package, which was GPS X.

So the biological part of the design was always prepared by GPS X, and that impacted basically the remaining part of the sizing. Things like the sludge line and the information about the aeration capacity and the phase separation all came from the process design software. So we started with investigating the influent characteristics and the flow rate. We had a questionnaire because at some point we realized that we needed to have some kind of validation for the data which was provided by the client. So the questionnaire was allowing us to collect the information.

In some cases it was still containing invalid data like ammonia was higher than TKN and a couple of issues here and there. So in that case, we just reviewed the questionnaire and pushed it back to the sales team. And then it took them a couple of days again with iterating with the client and then coming back with the proper content, which was believed to be accurate. And then we developed the primary treatment of the design using Excel sheets. And then we built some in-house sizing tools which were based on code. So it was like having the Excel calculations in code.

It became easier to just select certain sheets in a project folder and have the calculation for the influent flow patterns, temperature curves, influent characterization, which was then fed later on to GPS X, the simulation software package. Relying on the predicted performance by the simulation software package ready, which was containing a couple of steady state and dynamic simulations, we started reiterating the design manually within the software. We found the proper configuration and the setup for the system. And once it was confirmed by steady-state simulations at a minimum and maximum temperature, then we went for the annual simulation, which was a 365 day dynamic simulation at that time. And if everything was appearing to be acceptable based on the modeling outcome, then we finalized the process design which was basically the process flow diagram, the technical description, and a couple of Excel sheets containing additional information.


Adam

So the use of GPS X was primarily helping you get to a suitable answer for that project on the process design?

Imre

Yes. Given the complexity of the technology, that was probably the only solution which could translate everything to a proper process calculation. For more simple technologies and technologies which are around many years, there are rule of thumb calculations and standard sizing sheets. Organica also had those kinds of technologies before, like a modified SBR system. And those were designed first with a spreadsheet using some standards like ATV or Metcalf & Eddy. And once those designs were done and the client was interested, then we went to the simulation again with GPS X and then confirmed all the assumptions that we made are accurate, and if it was possible to meet the effluent treatment objectives.

So nowadays it is more and more like a daily routine to do these kind of dynamic simulations more conventional treatment technologies. Ten years ago, it was pretty rare that people were doing those kinds of simulations from the very beginning, starting in early project stages or proposal stages.

Adam

Would you say most process engineers are using some sort of simulation software today?

Imre

I would say quite some. It's very difficult to tell. Whoever is in the industry for 40 years and designed like 50 plus wastewater treatment facilities, they probably are not interested in these kinds of things, but some of them are still open to use them. And that's the same with civil engineering and mechanical engineering. So, for example, BIM management is something which was a very fancy thing, like ten years ago, but it became more and more like a general standard to use those kinds of tools.

Adam

Are there any other tools that are becoming standards that you know of across any of the disciplines when it comes to wastewater projects?

Imre

That's a good question. From process engineering it is the simulation software packages which are becoming standard. And yeah, the BIM, which is getting very popular. And once the project is closed, then obviously the asset management is something which the asset owners are very interested in because then everything is in one place.

Adam

At some point in Organica's history, they decided to try to streamline or automate the entire design process, which now we know, is the backbone behind Transcend software. But tell me about the first time you remember that idea or concept being put in front of you - that you are going to automate the proposal process using software.

Imre

I remember the time that was required to prepare process design when I first joined the process engineering team. Normally it took like 16 hours. And then while we started to develop these kinds of engineering tools and spreadsheets, and we had the code in the background, we could reduce that to like, 12 hours per proposal and for the process design part. There was always continuous pressure from sales to respond faster and more accurately. They were especially interested in a rough price estimation.

We as process engineers, we did not want to miss anything or leave anything out from the proposal. The idea came that we can probably start to accelerate the process by automating the design. So we started to link our Excel sheets together. There was an input page which had to be populated once. This was a big difference because we used to have to populate one Excel for screens, and then moved to the grit chamber where you still had to provide the same flow rates and all the flow patterns. And then you had to move to the primary clarifier doing the same calculation - basically repeating the information input in certain process units. So it all became tied together and you only had to provide information at one point, basically. And then the idea came up that we could automate the dynamic simulation part as well. So this is what led us to develop automated design procedures. We first started by standardizing our design for certain applications, like selecting the configuration HRT ranges, operational conditions like MLSS, dissolved oxygen, and a couple of others.

This was the time when we started to draw decision trees all over the whiteboard. We covered entire whiteboards.

Adam

Whose idea was it to do this?

Imre

It was Ari’s idea. And I guess that it was coming because of a continuous pressure from sales that they are not getting responses fast enough. So normally it took like one to two days to get to a process design. If it was an existing site assessment, then probably three to four days and then the mechanical engineering and the civil engineering. So a complete proposal package took two weeks of work before they could get back to the client.

Adam

And when Ari told people, told the team, especially the engineering team, about this idea, was everyone like, yeah, this is something we should do. What was the reaction?

Imre

There were open minds who started to automate their disciplines in the very early stages. The challenging part was that many people knew by heart how to modify certain design decisions based on years and years of experience but detailing those decisions and automating them were difficult.

The engineers that weren’t so open minded started to think about their most complicated projects. Saying things like I cannot automate these decisions because it does not work here, it does not work there. So it became very important to figure out the number of projects and the percentage of those projects we wanted to cover with these kind of standardized decisions.

Adam

So how long did it take before there was a functioning software that automated a number of potential projects?

Imre

It took almost two years to get to a point where there was something which was running and providing reasonable output, around 2013.

Adam

Do you remember the first time that an output came out and you were like, oh, my God, this is incredible. Or was it not that special?

Imre

Well, it was special because we had it for IFAT Munich at that time. It was 2014, and there was a product launch planned on the Munich water event. So a couple of days before that event the software started to generate the different packages.

Adam

Do you remember at that time at any point in this process, were you or any of the other engineers concerned that it would take your job?

Imre

No, not at all.

Adam

Why is that?

Imre

Because I think that we saw the purpose that it is not replacing us, but it is accelerating the procedures and make processes more efficient. At that time, Organica was growing quite rapidly. So instead of focusing on the general Greenfield designs, the design generator took over. We just had to verify that whatever comes out is accurate enough to give a proposal based on that. So we were able to focus on more complicated projects & existing sites. Previously the sales team was unable to reply to more requests because our engineering team time was so limited – the engineering team could take probably five or ten requests per month. And I remember that there was a project gating committee or whatever, just prioritizing or making clear that which are the projects which are good leads.

Adam

And how about after the software was developed. Did that committee go away?

Imre

It was still there, but it was there just to have everything in one place and discuss certain projects and the tasks that are required and priorities. But otherwise, most of the designs were developed by the design generator for the Greenfield designs.

Kaitlin

I’m interested in the simulation software and why it wasn’t the norm, or still isn’t? I mean, I just don't really know much about it, but wouldn't that give an input on how things are actually running or going within treatment plan? Why wouldn't that be something to take into account for engineers within the field? Like what's their reasoning on not wanting to see a simulation of the process currently versus what it could be or potentially be at a time when design is prepared.

Imre

It is like a predicted performance which is being done by the simulation software. It allows us to come up with a design which is believed to be accurate to the level where the treatment objectives can be met. And I think it’s so specific to the process engineering and the biological part that the other engineers were not really interested to see how those 200 differential equations are calculating. They were focusing on their part, and they were interested only to see the aeration demand and pressure, which allowed them to select the blowers, the pumping requirements, which were allowing them to select the equipment and same for the civil, with reactor volumes, main dimensions. So they were interested to see that how many reactors, water depth, how many equipment is put into that system?

So at some point during the onboarding process, we always showed our simulation software tools, and how it is predicting performance, curves are going up and down. And it was very interesting to see once, but then not really after that.

Imre

There was more and more pressure from the sales to see more alternatives and especially the competition, which was the Activated Sludge Process. So in 2015, we started to think about conventional activated (CAS) sludge design of the Organica technology, which allowed the sales engineers to start to compare and they could see the advantages and disadvantages. And they could come back with more specific requests to the engineering team like I would like to have a little bit more aggressive design, or I don't know, the activated sludge will be a huge system, so we can relax a little bit and we can provide a more conservative design. The design generator helped the sales team and the engineering team to develop those strategies. And when we completed CAS, I thought okay we can probably add more technologies that are competition like MBBR and IFAS. Then I was always thinking that this software can be a standalone product and can be sold to consultants because it can generate more designs for multiple technologies.

Imre

It could also prepare comparison documents where it's immediately possible to see which one is the best fit for that particular case, because it is not that there is one technology which is the best for everything. It is like a menu. There are preferences, there are limitations, there are budget constraints, footprint constraints. So that's how it's not possible to say that this technology will work in I don't know, 90% of the cases. There has to be always an evaluation. And by that time I probably started to spend like 30, 40% of my time on this software development, and at some point it reached the 50% and that was the time when the spin out happened.

Adam

Was the idea of working for a software company exciting? Was that compelling compared to doing typical process engineering work?

Imre

It was not that different because by that time I was spending like eight years developing this software. So it was my daily routine to be involved in the software development. It's more interesting than typical process engineering work because I'm not focusing on one specific technology to sell, but I get familiar with other process calculations, process technologies. So it's a more holistic thing.

Adam

Think about your process engineer at a large engineering firm who is responsible for thinking through what a given wastewater treatment plant might look like for upgrade or expansion, and maybe even greenfield. And you're using simulation software today. You're using a GPS X or BioWin or Simba or Sumo or Excel spreadsheets. Transcend comes in and says we can help automate this process for you. If you're in their shoes, Imi, what would get you excited about Transcend.

Imre

The speed and the level of details. I would say how much less time I need to invest in order to put in the input data and still get a lot of information about different alternatives. So with spending not much more time, I can provide much more in value to the customer to narrow down certain technologies, figuring out which technology is the best suited for their case and then continue to focus on that.

Adam

How much time are we talking about? Let’s say your life before Transcend and then your life after - where are you spending your time? What's the difference?

Imre

So for an upgrade project, we were spending about at least two to three days of work till we had a very preliminary idea about what has to be provided. And then it was on the mechanical and the civil team to prepare the remaining part of the documentation. I think we are talking about probably 100 to 300 hours depending on the level of details to get one design alternative, and that doesn’t include multiple alternatives. But with Transcend, once the input data is provided engineers can very quickly assess certain alternatives which may lead to additional ideas. Example: you now have time to check primary clarifier treatment with anaerobic digestion and energy recovery because those are getting very popular with the water and energy nexus. Everyone is interested to reduce carbon footprint and be more clean in terms of operation, using less chemicals, etc. So Transcend gives a lot of munition for thinking and trying to assess more alternatives than you were previously able. So it is no longer an intuition based on previous designs where you know that the primary clarifier and anaerobic adjuster is something which I need here, but I can use the software to check with and without and then see the immediate result with the construction, cost and energy balance, etc.

Adam

Imagine I’m a process engineer before Transcend comes along. How much time am I spending doing things that I don’t like doing or I shouldn't be doing, vs. what I’m now doing with Transcend?

Imre

Instead of spending more time repeating a lot of work like copying results of one sheet to another and then doing the simulation and then developing the drawings, you can scan through a lot of alternatives, and have time to review and decide which one looks the best. So, I would say it's very similar in time of time investment, but at the end it's a much more detailed assessment with more value. I think that repeating the calculations and copying things from here and there and doing the drawing itself can get boring at some point, especially if you are doing the same for the 30th budget proposal.

Adam

What if I've spent most of my career running simulation software and using Excel spreadsheets and doing a lot of that copy paste work in some cases. And now you're telling me I don't have to do a lot of that. If I have transcend, how can I trust it? If I'm not doing that work, how do I know that it's accurate? If I can't make all those tweaks that I want to, that I can in a simulation software as an example, why would I trust your software? I'd rather do it the way that I know it works.

Imre

You can still do the verification on the one or two alternatives that you think is the most appropriate, so you can continue to work on it, refine it if required, and still have the editable version of the document package which is already set. All the paragraphs are there. So you don't need to search in different parts of previous proposals to get the description of process language for something like a DAF, because that is there by default with all the parameters which are interesting. And if you would like to tweak the design or refine, then you can do that without generating everything again. So you could just continue to work from there.

Adam

And let's assume that my client is looking for an activated sludge plant, and they don't want MBR. They don't want IFAS, they don't want any of that stuff. Is your software still helpful to me?

Imre

Of course, because it can produce the level of details which you may not invest too much at the very beginning of the project. It is possible that you run a certain alternative to go to the client and discuss that. Example: this is the projected flow increase. This is the end of the design horizon. There will be phases that have to be built in order to expand the capacity of the facility. We found that you can probably go with two trains in Phase 2 and one train with Phase 3 with some number of clarifiers with different surface areas. I'm providing treatment with anaerobic digestion, and maybe mechanical thickening before that. And then the client tells they don't want two trains in Phase 2. They would like to have three trains or let's make it one here and modify. And then the iteration starts, which Transcend can do instantly. Or the other thing is when these kind of planning process, like the master planning is like for five years and in five years it turns out that on the other side of the road, some properties were sold and there will be additional buildings built there and they are industrial buildings.

So the catchment will produce more industrial wastewater – which changes the designs. How much more they can discharge into the system, what they have to build in order to get the discharge level to the appropriate limit. Or what if the design capacity is increasing, because everyone would like to move out from the downtown and go to the suburban region. And the capacities are increasing in the suburb regions, and everything has to be started from the very beginning because flows increase & decrease. Everything changes. But with Transcend the changes are a quick update, literally seconds, and the entire alternative design package is generated instantly.

Adam

Yeah. And you're saying that Transcend software can help with all of that at some point?

Imre

At some point, yes for sure. Especially when there are new innovations in treatment like AGS or MABR, people would like to be able to check the impacts immediately. Or storm water management alternatives as stormwater management continues to be a hot topic, especially in Texas, Arizona, California…

Adam

What is the ideal use for our software? The types of projects where today, right now, today, not a year from now, not six months from now. Where is the most ideal use for Transcend software?

Imre

First of all, most of the projects are still not focusing on new technologies. Most of the projects are activated sludge systems, and are getting upgraded either with the same technology which is activated sludge or something more common like MBR, MBBR, and IFAS, and the AGS and the MABR are next on the horizon, at some point in the future the software may can help to assess those technologies as well. For very large companies, there is still a potential uses for our software but they often have so many resources fragmented to many regional offices and massive Excel sheets that it is tough to automate. Some mid-sized engineering companies cannot really afford to have these resources and the small ones even less. So the mid to small sized engineering companies I would think about to have that larger benefit. I would say to start to make proposals on more projects because they can free up some of the resources so they can bring in more projects.

Adam

Imi, if you had a message that you could share with process engineers in the industry about our software and you knew it was going to get in front of every single one and they would read it or they would hear it, what would you say?

Imre

For engineers in EPCs, I would say the future is about scanning more technologies, not just focusing on a few, because a new solution may appear or you may figure out that there is a better solution. Normally engineers are relying on intuitions, and they scan through three or four technologies. That’s how we’ve always done it. But we could never scan through 30 alternatives, and now it is very possible to do that.

And for the OEM engineers, I'm just thinking about the proposal work that Transcend freed up my time to focus on more interesting stuff like research and development and more complicated projects and refining the proposal work or the project work in later stages. And I did not need to spend time on having the first couple of iterations and developing process design, which was modified in any case. So there were people saying that they almost gave up when there was a request that on Friday they had to finish something by Monday. And they did that by Monday. And then no one was really interested because Monday the client came and changed their mind. So that's very demotivating that you are investing a lot of time. You are doing your best to develop certain things and then temperature changes, location changes, flow changes, one single parameter changes, which is impacting the entire design.

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