The Future of Fluid Machinery

Fluid Equipment Development Company (FEDCO)
Written by Ryan Cartner

Fluid Equipment Development Company (FEDCO) designs and manufactures fluid machinery for reverse osmosis desalination of brackish and sea water.
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The company was established in 1997 by a hydraulic engineer named Eli Oklejas. Prior to the founding of FEDCO, Oklejas worked as head designer in the research and development department at Union Pump Company. While researching energy recovery devices for reverse osmosis equipment he had the idea for the technology that would be the foundation of his future entrepreneurial endeavors.

When two solvents of different concentrations, such as freshwater and seawater, are separated by a semipermeable barrier, the one with the lower concentration, the freshwater in this case, will naturally pass through the barrier and combine with the other over time. This is a process called osmosis. Reverse osmosis occurs when high pressure is applied to the solvent with the higher concentration, forcing it through the barrier in the opposite direction. In this case, as the seawater is forced through the barrier, the saline is left behind. This process is used to desalinate brackish and sea water.

In order to pressurize the seawater so that it can pass through the osmosis membrane, a high-pressure hydraulic pump is used. This equipment is energy-expensive, so to reduce cost, energy recovery systems have been incorporated to make them run more efficiently. Oklejas’ discovery was that the pressure energy stored in the water after it has been forced through the barrier could be recycled in order to take some of the load off the pump. His invention can be thought of as a secondary pump running alongside the primary, but powered with a water turbine rather than an electric motor. This enabled the primary pump size and its energy expense to be significantly reduced.

Oklejas left UPC to form his first company Pump Engineering, and ran that operation until 1996. In 1997 he founded FEDCO, where he has served as president for more than 30 years.

Today, FEDCO offers the world’s leading energy recovery systems and high pressure centrifugal pumps for seawater desalination on the market. With over 3,000 units installed globally, FEDCO equipment is well recognized in the industry as providing a significant cost reduction asset for its users.

FEDCO is committed to quality in every aspect of its operation from design to production, and to ensuring customer satisfaction when the project is complete. In order to provide the best possible value, the company has developed proprietary engineering software to enable the design of custom products suited to each customer’s unique needs. A second piece of proprietary software is used to prepare those designs for use on CNC equipment for the parts to be manufactured. By developing its own software for these processes, FEDCO has been able to take fine control over its workflow, increasing efficiency, reducing the total cost of production, and achieving delivery times that are unparalleled. In many cases FEDCO can deliver custom products faster than competing manufacturers who offer pre-designed commodity units.

The design process begins with FEDCO engineers analyzing flow and pressure data from the customer. Using this information, the team can develop custom equipment that is uniquely suited to meet the needs of the customer’s application. Once the engineers are finished designing the equipment, those designs are converted into CNC programs and they are sent to the manufacturing floor. The rest of the process is automatic, reducing the potential for human error while improving the efficiency of the operation and the quality of the final product.

The company’s manufacturing operation is ISO 9001:2007 certified, demonstrating that its quality control system is comprehensive and consistent. Every part manufactured by the company is tested for accuracy, and anything used in FEDCO products that the company didn’t produce itself is carefully analyzed to ensure that they meet specifications. Completed units are thoroughly tested using software designed by FEDCO in order to ensure that all products meet the company’s stringent standards. The software collects analytical data on every aspect of operation so that any flaws will be detected immediately, long before they leave the factory.

Beyond energy recovery systems, FEDCO also offers a line of high pressure centrifugal pumps. Traditional hydraulic pumps operate using a reciprocating piston, while centrifugal pumps use a turbine, and are superior in a number of ways. The flow of fluid through a centrifugal pump is more consistent, more efficient, faster, and requires much less maintenance than a reciprocating pump. FEDCO pumps last longer and have a substantially lower total cost of ownership than competing reciprocating units.

Developing equipment that is used to turn saltwater into freshwater has made FEDCO most popular in foreign markets. While the company manufactures its products at home in Monroe, Michigan, it sells them around the world. FEDCO equipment has a wide range of applications. In the hospitality industry, luxury oceanside hotels and resorts are often reluctant to rely on public water, which can sometimes be of poor quality, inaccessible, or in short supply. These companies often use a seawater desalination system to create a clean, safe, independent potable water supply. FEDCO’s centrifugal water pumps run much quieter than reciprocal alternatives; they are the smallest pumps available, and they require no special training to operate. These qualities make FEDCO equipment perfectly suited to hotel and resort applications.

In fact, the company’s global appeal enabled it to weather the 2008 economic downturn. While many companies were struggling, FEDCO opened a multimillion dollar expansion and hired a dozen more employees to operate it. During the downturn, FEDCO grew between 30 and 35 percent annually. In the face of nationwide economic turmoil, the company’s innovative product thrived in foreign markets and enabled it to maintain its upward trajectory.

For industrial customers, reliability and ease of use are of primary importance because of the high cost of downtime. FEDCO equipment is built with reliability in mind, and to back it up the company offers the longest standard warranty in the industry. The company also designs portable systems that are suitable for temporary and mobile applications and are particularly useful for the military. They are small, quiet, require no special training to operate, and have passed stringent military quality and reliability requirements.

FEDCO’s energy recovery systems were initially designed to recycle pressure energy coming out of the system to provide a pressure boost to the feed going in, but the equipment can also be used to generate electricity for use outside the system by sending the pressurized water to a hydraulic turbine generator. FEDCO equipment is highly valuable to customers operating in the industrial sector.

As the planet’s population continues to increase, our limited fresh water resources become increasingly scarce. While water covers more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface, only about one percent of that is fresh water. Seawater desalination represents an important opportunity for humanity to build a sustainable source of potable water.

FEDCO is an important innovator in this space. For more than thirty years the company has been innovating and improving on the state of the art, developing more efficient machines that will serve to push us toward a more environmentally sustainable future.

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