Automatic, remote controlled and able to interface with on-board electronics. We learned how watermakers have evolved, asking experts who have been making them for over a quarter of a century
by Niccolò Volpati – photo by Andrea Muscatello
THE GREAT VALUE AND NUMEROUS DISTINCT CHARACTER TRAITS OF FAMILY FIRMS, together with the numerous issues that they are exposed to in their development, can be clearly seen in the entrepreneurial fabric of our country. The story of Gianni Zucco and his father Luciano is a purely Italian success story. Thanks to the central role played by the family, which imprinted its values on the business, guaranteeing stability, long-term direction, quality and other critical factors that determine the success of a company, they have been able to achieve performance levels superior to other kinds of firm. Their field is desalination. Conscious of the fact that owners, when installing a watermaker, are above everything else looking for a machine that works, the firm has adopted the motto “no problems and complete efficiency”. There are watermakers of various types currently on the market, but they are not all the same. At times, it is a bit like comparing an old-style mimeograph copier with a laser printer with Wi-Fi. We went to discover the world of Wi-Fi laser printers.
«In the 1950s my grandfather had to crank the lathe by hand», says Gianni Zucco, co-founder of HP alongside his father. Since then a lot of water has flowed through the membranes, and the company – after having supplied parts for desalination machines to other firms during the 1970s and 80s – has gone it alone. What are the features that make a modern watermaker stand out? I felt I understood after visiting the facility in Zibido San Giacomo, in the province of Milan, and it can be summarised in three aspects: automation, remote control and interaction with on-board electronics. Let’s take it in order, and start with automation. What exactly is it? Principally it is the procedure of pressure regulation, which avoids the user going to the engine room for setting the exercise pressure. This function, patented in 2002, combined with the automatic washing, ensures that the machine is always perfectly regulated and the membranes are rinsed with fresh water at each switch-off with the regulation valve fully open, removing salt residues perfectly.
The membrane isn’t just cleaned with fresh water, but is also sterilised using sodium metabisulphite. That way, the membranes last from five to ten years. The more they are used and properly looked after, the longer they will last. With automatic pressure regulation system, the only thing you have to watch out for is changing the filters, but that is another thing that doesn’t have to be done that often. Less maintenance and fewer problems. In practice, every time that you turn off the watermaker it is as if you were putting it into winter storage, and that means that all the components – including those in contact with sea water, can last longer. Indeed, HP watermakers have a three-year guarantee, and that is raised to four for the machines equipped with the BiBi remote control system.
Thanks to the user interface, which is compatible with Garmin, Raymarine and Furuno systems, the watermaker is directly connected to the plotter. That means the machine can be turned on or off, alarms can be reset, the machine’s working can be monitored, and all the data from the desalination plant can be directly controlled from the display on the steering position.
And what is remote control? «Nowadays everybody carries a smartphone, and it would be stupid not to use them for monitoring», says Gianni Zucco. «With distance monitoring we can check on a boat that is in the Maldives. We get feedback on any problems, since we get the alarm signals too, and can thus contact the client to sort out the problem. Electronics also means we can do a large range of work, just about everything, remotely». It is HP that does the monitoring and intervenes directly, from its base in the province of Milan. In that way no manual operations are done, and the guarantee is extended to four years. That is double what the European Union requires for CE-branded products.
HP doesn’t take a programmed obsolescence approach to their watermakers. Quite the contrary, they work really well. They are specifically designed to last with as few problems as possible. The company has recently added a function, which allows them to work in synergy with the on-board instrumentation. «We use an HTML platform, so it is very easy to link up with the main plotter systems, like Garmin, Furuno or Raymarine». That means you can always have the device’s functions under control, from the displays that are on the boat’s dashboard, as well as from the HP offices or from the captain’s and owner’s smartphones. That is true for monitoring and for maintenance, and also for everyday use. On the dashboard plotter you can see how much fresh water is being produced, and how much energy is being used. Fuel consumption is another area where enormous advances have been made. Consumption levels are now low, and there are desalination machines that can work with twelve volts.
HP Pressure machines are really aimed at slightly bigger boats, with on-board generators. To get an idea, to produce 440 litres an hour you need three kilowatts and for a 140 litres per hour device you need just over two kW. As is the case with any accessory installed on board a yacht, customisation is important, and HP is no different in this respect. The machines are generally of three types: horizontal, vertical or modular. All of these models are very compact, but the shape has been designed so as to adapt to the needs of different engine rooms. The most traditional one is horizontal, the vertical one is identical, but is made for when there isn’t much room at floor level. Finally, there are models in which all the elements – such as membranes, valves and tubes – are kept apart from one another specifically to make the most of every last inch available.
The watermakers in the Ground Series can produce up to one tonne an hour of drinking water using sea water at 35,000 ppm TDS. This ground-based device can be combined with a special system to recover energy which means that consumption can be reduced by 60%, and it can be installed in containers from twenty to forty feet long.
The membranes can also be customised. HP has developed a system that means the same amount of fresh water can be obtained with one membrane rather than two. So how is that an advantage? Apart from the cost, if a watermaker has two membranes, the second will always be more affected by the salt than the first, because it receives water that has already been filtered, and so the water that reaches it has a higher percentage of salt. That creates an imbalance. One of the membranes will always be more used than the other. But if there is just one membrane, then the quality of the water that it has to filter will always be the same.
The 140 litres per hour model, which is one of the biggest sellers, is suitable for boats from 48 to 60 feet. As size increases, a 260 litre/hour desalinator is recommended, and that is enough for boats of up to 24 metres. For yachts from 24 to 30 metres, it is better to have a 330 litre/hour one, and when you go over thirty metres, you need the 440 litre/hour version. If you go beyond that size, more than one desalinator can be fitted in the engine room. Other things that the HP models feature are that when they double up, if you want you can have all the values, membranes and pumps contained in the same package. There are two of them, but they are both inside the same structure, which is of course in stainless steel.
The HP Watermakers technicians have invented the RP TRONIC, a system fitted with an extremely precise automatic micrometric valve that can automatically regulate the pressure inside a watermaker to optimal levels, thus avoiding the need to go into the engine room to adjust the settings.
(HP Watermakers, only freshwater – Barchemagazine.com – June 2020)