Membrane Training Taking It Into Our Own Hands

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Membrane Training Taking It Into Our Own Hands

Posted on 13 November 2017 by Robby Isbell
Posted in FluksAqua Community, Spotlight, Training,

Bud Ervin Water Treatment Plant in Mansfield, TX


Imagine you’re 16 years old, mom and dad buy you a brand new Lamborghini, throw you the keys and say “good luck.” That feeling of terror mixed with excitement is how my operators and I felt when we were given our new multi-million dollar Pall low-pressure membrane plant.

I want to tell you our story because it is typical across the industry to have insufficient start-up training. Furthermore, there was and still is, at a lesser level, a lack of quality continuing education training..

You cannot have a great tale without a riveting back-story.

Let me take you back to 2010 when we were in the midst of construction of a 26 million dollar expansion at the Bud Ervin Water Treatment Plant in Mansfield, TX. We all watched as equipment was installed, pipes were laid in the ground, along with everything else you would expect to see in the construction of a water treatment plant. The question came up on several occasions whether we were going to get training. I ensured my people that we would be adequately trained before the new part of the plant was turned over to us. The construction was almost complete, and some classroom-based training was set up. I managed to get everyone there, some more awake than others. About an hour in, I looked across the room, and it was like looking at deer in headlights. It was way too much material, way too fast. The hands-on training was a little better but the information still did not click for most of the employees. In addition to the membrane technology, we needed training on a new ultraviolet advanced oxidation process and a bleach generation system. My operators were a little worried. One of the most prominent hurdles to understanding the trainers was the endless acronyms. We pushed on with our on-the-job training and used every resource available to ensure we continued to make excellent water.

O’ Training where art though

There are plenty of opportunities for conventional treatment plant training, at least here in Texas, however, they vary in quality. Most of the treatment processes for membrane technology are very different from conventional treatment. While membrane technology is becoming more and more widespread at a breakneck pace now, you would have been hard-pressed to find localized membrane treatment training in 2010. Operators with years of experience in conventional treatment are having to learn a lot from scratch due to this lack of available training. 

Where do we go from here? A colleague of mine recommended an organization, South Central Membrane Association (SCMA). This group was founded as an operator’s resource for membrane training. SCMA provides workshops, and now, membrane courses that are designed to be operator-friendly. The goal is to be interactive with the operators to make sure they have the tools to do their jobs well. The workshops usually target specific topics like troubleshooting problems or membrane cleaning. SCMA covers a five-state area, so it is imperative that the training is available throughout each states. Before going to an area, SCMA will poll the host facilities to see what their needs are and adjust the training appropriately. I have been actively involved with SCMA since being introduced to the association. I now serve on the board of directors and act as conference planning committee chair. It has been my honor to be a part of this ever-growing association. While there is much to be proud of, working with the TCEQ to develop certified membrane classes tops the list. There will be four classes when all is said and done, which are listed below.


MOC-I: Introduction to Membrane Systems
MOC-II: Advanced Training of RO Systems
MOC-III: Low Pressure Membrane Systems
MOC-IV: Membrane Bio-Reactor Systems


Having these courses in place will help establish a membrane operator license through the TCEQ. If I were to pick the most valuable asset I have gained from the SCMA, it would be the network of professional contacts. It has been extremely beneficial to me to have this vast pool of peers, that I now consider friends now. I have received advice, solutions, and on occasion, spare parts from my friends in the industry.

When we started the membrane plant in 2011, we struggled to grasp the complex operations of the system. One of the tools we used to help were screenshots of the different processes; i.e., backwash, chemical cleanings and integrity tests. I would print the appropriate screens and use my “high-quality highlighters” to show the flow paths of the operation. This tool helped the operators visualize what was happening and led to a better understanding of the processes. An unexpected benefit of the screenshots was a tool for the maintenance department to troubleshoot problems.


In conclusion, there is no enchanted well to wish upon to make all of your training dreams come true. We all need to use every resource available to ensure a safe and reliable water supply. Operators respond differently to training. Look at what you can do internally to give them what they need. Do not be boxed in by traditional ideas.

Be creative. Be bold. Be badass.


About the author

Robby Isbell serves the City of Mansfield, Texas as the superintendent of the Bud Ervin Water Treatment Plant. He has more than twenty-two years of groundwater, surface water treatment and distribution system experience. Robby serves on the board of directors for the South Central Membrane Association.
For the last nine years, Robby has supervised the design, installation, and operation of a 15 MGD low pressure microfiltration membrane expansion. The expansion included the design and startup of an Ultraviolet Advanced Oxidation Process (UVAOP) and a transition from gaseous chlorine to onsite
chlorine generation. Robby has implemented a number of predictive maintenance procedures, most notably the use of thermal imaging to identify areas where chemical cleaning processes may not be attaining optimal performance. Under his leadership, the City of Mansfield’s water treatment plant has become known for its ability to implement a diverse range of water treatment strategies. Robby continues to serve the city, and the industry as a whole, by passing along his knowledge.