Isolate the Problem to Solve the Problem: Interview with Jody Millsap – President and Owner of Water Solutions Engineering
Pump Engineer had the pleasure of speaking with Jody Millsap concerning his role as the president of Water Solutions Engineering. Jody Millsap gets his hands dirty. “With my personality, I am not content simply sitting in an office,” he said. “I like to interact with the customers, help with sales calls and get my hands on the equipment. President is just a title. You have to be a jack of all trades. I like to be out doing stuff and staying busy.”
for his customers is what sets Jody Millsap apart from the pack. “I love to
investigate a problem and find a solution,” the 50-year-old president and owner
of Water Solutions Engineering said. “This is what I really enjoy. This is one
reason why I like to do consulting in addition to our regular work. The
customer I started consulting with in 2012 had a 15-year-old problem. It was
water related and we were able to solve it. That is what I really love to do—go
in and help a customer solve an issue—to show what the problem was and show how
we solved it. The gratification of doing that means the world to me.”
interested in engineering at an early age. “My dad had a huge impact on my
life,” he said. “Growing up I was good in science and math and my dad worked at
Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee. When I was 10 or 12 we had an
issue with a camper that exploded. Over 60% of his body was burned and I
received third-degree burns. In the middle of the lawsuit associated with that
incident, my dad recommended that I should think about being an attorney, but
that required too much school for me. So I focused on my science and math
skills and went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (UT) to study chemical
Millsap worked for
a couple summers at Eastman, but he did not enjoy the large corporation
atmosphere. “It was just too big,” he said. “But I learned a lot from the operators.
They really know the process. My advice is always to get to know the operators,
as that is where you will learn the most. I went into engineering mainly because
my father recognized the skills I had. I can now admit that perhaps fathers and
mothers know more than their kids know.”
Millsap earned his
Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from UT and began his career
as a manager in a textile chemical company. He then landed a project process
engineering position with a fiberglass extrusion company, which is where he got
more involved with valves, automation and large mixing projects. He worked
there for roughly 5 years before becoming interested in chemical water
For the past 10
years, he has been running Water Solutions Engineering, which treats industrial
water for corrosion, scale, microbiological issues, cooling towers, boilers,
chill water systems and everything industrial. He co-founded the company with
another gentleman in 2008, but became sole owner in 2014.
treatment typically consists of adding numerous types, and sometimes excessive amounts,
of the chemicals necessary to overcome poor water quality in an attempt to
achieve acceptable performance from water systems. “The key to our chemical
water treatment programs is to first provide and maintain the best possible
water quality through physical water treatment, followed by chemical treatment
to enhance the performance of water. We use these processes rather than combat
poor water quality with an abundance of chemical,” Millsap explained.
Engineering™ is headquartered in Kingsport, TN, (90 miles north east of
Knoxville). Reducing overall water and energy consumption is a priority. Water
Solutions Engineering™ relies on its experience and expertise to design total
water solutions for its customers utilizing the latest technologically, advanced
industrial wastewater treatment equipment and a wide variety of
environmentally-friendly chemical water treatments.
“We have about 100
customers and perform chemical water treatment on a much smaller scale for
small and mid-size industries and commercial accounts,” he said. “Employees
handle the day-to-day operations of seeing customers, ordering chemicals,
ensuring the chemical levels are correct and that the equipment is functioning
the way it should. In 2012, I began doing some consulting to help customers as
a chemical water treatment supplier and to help them with overall water re-use,
water savings and overall industrial water usage and chemical programs."
Problem Solving Expertise
Millsap described one kind of problem that he might be asked to tackle.
“One customer had a staining issue with their product,” he said. “Their product was white, but as steam and cooling water would regularly touch the product, small yellow stains would randomly appear. It was very small and difficult to see at times, but it had been ongoing for about 15 years. Through a combined effort and after several visits, we discovered that the staining was a result of an incompatibility between some chemical water treatments from the previous vendor. We made some changes and found that the stain got worse. This helped us to isolate the problem. Prior to 2012 this process was completely random. They could not increase or decrease the amount of staining, nor could they affect it adversely or positively. We were able to adversely affect it, which helped us identify the incompatibility issue with some of the chemicals they were adding to their water. We removed the chemical and there have been no stains for the past 4-plus years.”
Millsap’s process for problem solving is simple, but precise.
“First, we try to understand the whole process. We attempt to understand not only the water, but what outside influences are impacting the problem area,” he explained. “Then we determine if there is direct or indirect contact; the focus begins inward and expands outward. We try to discover what the potential sources of impact are and, one at a time, we make changes to the direct contact to see how it impacts the issue. If you make a change, you have to give it some time to take effect. Sometimes we wait 24 hours, for example. If we don’t get a change or response, we try something else. It’s important to not change more than one thing at a time, because then you cannot identify the problem. The key is isolating the problem.”
Problem Solving Pumps
The standard pumps that Millsap’s company uses for chemical injection are peristaltic pumps. “If you want a precise amount of chemicals delivered into a system, a metering pump is perfect,” he said. “But in our industry, most of the time we require reliability and self-priming more than we need precision. If you are pumping something like bleach, it can air lock and you have to check it often. If you run empty on a tank or empty on a drum, air can get in and you have to bleed that air out. This can cause the diaphragms to fail. In 2005, we started seeing a lot of bleach (sodium hypochloride) and sodium bromide (a halogen product) being used because of off-gassing. In these cases, peristaltic pumps are very reliable—if it runs dry or if it gets air in the line it doesn’t matter, the pump will continue to pump. They are not as precise, but we don’t need to be that precise. The standard tubes last a long time and they are user friendly.”
For pumping water, Millsap prefers a basic centrifugal pump. “Sometimes we have customers who use diaphragm pumps for chemical injection, so of course we know them and understand them and can provide them. We can replace parts and perform rebuilds, if needed,” he said.
Finding solutions to challenging problems is a daily activity for Jody Millsap.
“For the pumps we use, general maintenance includes checking the pumps at least once a month. Typically we check for functionality and leakage while making sure they are mounted properly. If the pump head or tube ever leaks, the chemicals can get into the motor if it is not mounted properly. Mounting is key. These pumps are great for industrial settings, but if you have a lot of dust the pumps may need to be placed in a dust-proof box that provides good air flow. Motors need to be kept cool while running, so it’s a good idea to have good air flow.”
The first rule of safety, Millsap said, is to always wear the proper PPE (personal protective equipment).
“We follow the customer’s PPE standards and we even go one step further,” he said. “For example, they may not require safety shoes, but we still wear safety shoes. We use steel-toed shoes, safety glasses, ear plugs and gloves. We are typically handling chemicals or equipment that contain chemicals. So the gloves, though not required, are something we use most of the time. Follow the safety guidelines of the facility. Be aware of your surroundings and the location of the exits. Many customers require annual safety training. We are fortunate that in 10 years we’ve had nothing more than minor incidents that required minimal first aid.” Millsap’s team enters up to 90 different sites on a monthly basis. When people go into the same facility every day, they know all the hazards, he said. “We are going into a plant once a week or once a month, or once a quarter. There are constant changes at these facilities. We train our guys to be sure to walk slowly, look around, don’t be on your phones and pay attention. Make sure you have the proper protection equipment. Any hazards we find, we bring to the maintenance team’s attention. Our philosophy is to be an extension of the customer’s maintenance team. Make sure the area you are working in is well lit. If you are doing extensive work, make sure someone knows where you are in case of emergency like electrocution, etc., especially when working in remote areas.”
The Water Solutions Engineering team works primarily in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. But they also service some customers in Maryland, Florida and California.
Advice for End Users
First and foremost, Millsap advices other end users, especially young engineers just beginning their career, to simply be happy and enjoy what you are doing. “If you don’t enjoy it, make a change,” he said. “Don’t make decisions based on money. If you love what you do, the money will come. If you don’t love what you do, you will be miserable. Find what you enjoy and give it 110%. And, be like a sponge. Listen and learn from others. Try to understand what others are doing because that could impact what you are doing. The more you learn, the more you know. This will always add value to what you do.”