Process and Operations

MRO Q&A: Water Hardness Changes

MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

Q: Our company has had a zeolite water softener with a brine regeneration system for years. In recent months, the hardness of our water has been getting worse and worse. We have made no physical changes to the system. Do you have any suggestions?

A: As you know, the water softener process takes incoming water, performs a sodium ion exchange with calcium, magnesium or other impurities that make the water hard, then goes into a regeneration cycle to rejuvenate the zeolite and rid itself of those calcium and magnesium ions. Over time, you may have increased your demand for soft water, which may have resulted in a decrease in retention time of the incoming water in your brine tank. This could also result in the strength of your zeolite being diminished sooner than normal. If this is true, you may also have to adjust your regeneration cycle times. Installing a water meter upstream of your system is always a good idea to gauge your usage. You also may want to check that the source of your incoming water has not changed. If you are supplied by a well system, it is possible that the hardness of the water may be spiking beyond what your system is capable of treating.

Ion exchange water softening is the least expensive process if the only need is for soft water, but if you utilize boilers in your process that require chemical treatment, you may want to consider using a reverse osmosis system. This process not only softens your water, it eliminates or reduces the need for chemical treatment in boilers. In most cases, the economics to invest in this technology when boilers are used is very favorable.

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.