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Published: Tuesday, 8/3/2010

Monroe firm helps world make water fit to drink

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - The vast majority of pumps and other products made in a Ternes Drive plant in this Michigan community are used to help make water drinkable in Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and other faraway locales.

But Fluid Equipment Development Co. President Eli Oklejas said his native Monroe - with its proximity to good skilled employees, educational systems, and component suppliers - is an ideal place to work on products to convert seawater into potable water.

The 43-employee firm, which is completing a $1 million capital equipment expansion, builds high-pressure pumps and energy recovery devices used in the reverse-osmosis desalination process. It exports to more than 40 countries. In the next several months, it plans to hire at least seven employees

"There isn't saltwater within 1,000 miles of us," said Mr. Oklejas, a computer engineer. "It's far more important for us to be close to engineering and manufacturing resources."

Started 13 years ago in Monroe, Fluid Equipment initially was a partnership between Mr. Oklejas and a Minneapolis company to do research and development work. It eventually branched into manufacturing. The Minneapolis firm was bought in 2003 by General Electric Co., which relinquished its ownership in 2006 but remains a major customer.

Started 13 years ago in Monroe, Fluid Equipment initially was a partnership between Mr. Oklejas and a Minneapolis company to do research and development work. It eventually branched into manufacturing. The Minneapolis firm was bought in 2003 by General Electric Co., which relinquished its ownership in 2006 but remains a major customer.

As an independent firm, Fluid Equipment has been able to sell products to more customers, including energy recovery devices used to recycle energy for the desalination process. Although Mr. Oklejas declined to state annual sales, he said the company has increased revenues by 30 to 40 percent for each of the last five years except 2009.

The company is developing a product line aimed at U.S. customers that will be used to desalinate brackish water, such as that found in Florida, California, and Texas. Brackish water does not have as much salt as seawater, so converting it requires less energy, Mr. Oklejas explained.

A rapidly growing international market for the company is water recycling, Mr. Oklejas said. In Singapore, sewage water is purified and converted into potable water, a process not accepted in the United States, he said.

"It's hard for people to get excited about the concept, but it's a very efficient way to conserve water," said Mr. Oklejas, who, like other employees, spends a lot of time traveling.

Since opening its current headquarters four years ago, the firm has doubled the size of its plant and, most recently, added equipment needed to make the company's largest products. Those products are used, for example, in the municipal water supply system in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

"The trend is bigger and bigger systems," Mr. Oklejas said.

More than 50 percent of the firm's products are exported, and 40 percent are used by other U.S. companies, which then export them, Mr. Oklejas said.

Other users for various-sized products include food-processing plants, other factories, cruise ships, desert golf courses, and resorts, he said.

Equipment has been able to sell products to more customers, including energy recovery devices used to recycle energy for the desalination process. Although Mr. Oklejas declined to state annual sales, he said the company has increased revenues by 30 to 40 percent for each of the last five years except 2009.

The company is developing a product line aimed at U.S. customers that will be used to desalinate brackish water, such as that found in Florida, California, and Texas. Brackish water does not have as much salt as seawater, so converting it requires less energy, Mr. Oklejas explained.

A rapidly growing international market for the company is water recycling, Mr. Oklejas said. In Singapore, sewage water is purified and converted into potable water, a process not accepted in the United States, he said.

"It's hard for people to get excited about the concept, but it's a very efficient way to conserve water," said Mr. Oklejas, who, like other employees, spends a lot of time traveling.

Since opening its current headquarters four years ago, the firm has doubled the size of its plant and, most recently, added equipment needed to make the company's largest products. Those products are used, for example, in the municipal water supply system in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

"The trend is bigger and bigger systems," Mr. Oklejas said.

More than 50 percent of the firm's products are exported, and 40 percent are used by other U.S. companies, which then export them, Mr. Oklejas said.

Other users for various-sized products include food-processing plants, other factories, cruise ships, desert golf courses, and resorts, he said.



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