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Plumber turns tech entrepreneur


By Simon Blake

If nothing else, Canadians are an innovative lot. When a Toronto area commercial service plumber saw a need for better leak detection, plumbing management and related software in commercial buildings, he decided to develop his own.

Reed Water began as a start-up developed by two friends, Adam Bartman and Avi Yurman, a second-generation plumber and audio-visual service provider respectively.  Adam’s plumbing business, Powerjet Plumbing Inc., Vaughan, Ont., had grown to 15 trucks and Avi had built a successful audiovisual production business.

With both businesses self-sustaining, Bartman and Yurman were able to shift their focus to the new company with Bartman providing in-field plumbing experience and Yurman as head of product design.

“He was on the automation side – commercial automation applications, and I was in the plumbing and mechanical environment,” said Bartman. After two years of intense development and testing, “what came out of that was a set of hardware devices that are designed to connect the leading brands of fixtures in commercial buildings to provide better water management.”

There are three basic areas the company designed products for. The first is leak detection and prevention. “The market is kind of begging for a solution, whether it be the insurance industry or the landlords and occupants of the building.”

The second key area of focus is water conservation and sub-metering. And the third goal was to help building operators with operational efficiency. “There’s in excess of a 100 key shutoff valves in any commercial property and with the amount of turnover with superintendents and management companies, for any plumber that walks in it’s like a fresh start. They have no idea where things are and how they are intended to work.”

A commercial opportunity

Buildings have three mechanical systems, he added. HVAC is controlled by building management systems, for the most part. Regulations require that fire suppression systems are connected and monitored by a monitoring centre, but “plumbing is traditionally unconnected or monitored… When we looked at the spectrum of available products you had the single-family home market that had some cool leak detection and flood protection equipment.” It was a different story on the mid-market commercial side.

A number of companies offer devices to monitor individual pieces of equipment. “But the market is really looking for products that drive the entire building’s plumbing system,” said Bartman.

But those were typically sophisticated building management systems – too sophisticated and expensive for the average commercial building. Bartman and Yurman felt there was a market somewhere in between.

“You had a market that had a lot of challenges when it came to plumbing and management of water. That is really where we come in – to be affordable, scalable, connected – a platform solution to do a better job managing water in commercial buildings focusing on three categories: risk management, operational efficiency and water conservation.”

“We had no interest in making the valve or the meter or the sensor,” he added. “Rather, we have a device that communicates with the leading brands that people already trust. Our focus is on the software management tool that the operator uses.” That can range from reading a few meters to controlling a hundred or more shutoff valves, pumps, risers, etc.

A simple product offering

The company had just five products, designed and manufactured in Canada. One controls up to eight valves. One controls sensors, valves and meters.  Another device is a wireless receiver that operates with wireless leak pads, all connected to one device – the Core – that provides the “gateway to the internet, and every building regardless of size, needs only one Core,” explains Bartman.

Probably the most used device is one with multiple communication protocols for meters, sensors and valves. “That’s our flagship product, but they all look identical,” he adds. “The idea was to have as few devices as possible that could scale from small to large projects, using the same equipment, where we utilize low-cost Cloud-enabled devices to control water systems in commercial and multi-residential properties.”

There is also a leak pad which, as it’s name suggests, provides spot detection in predictable leak areas. “When we’re speaking to developers, we often suggest that in a condo suite, for example, you would put one in the heat pump or fan coil and in the stacked washer/dryer unit.

“At most, you would add another for the bathroom and kitchen. That gives you protection against an actual spillage of water on the floor or a flood.” The sensors send an alert to the operation staff, so that the condo concierge or building owner can shut off the water and take any other needed action.

The goal is to provide a platform for engineers and service contractors “to use those building blocks to tackle every (plumbing) problem they might have,” said Avi Moscovich, Reed Water marketing director. The company often hears about new applications that contractors in the field have come up with for these devices, he added.

The devices are often sold as part of a kit. For example, the company has developed a pressure reducing valve kit to allow condominium operators to monitor downstream pressures, temperature delivery to suites, and to shut off water in a particular zone if required.

Moving into high tech

So, how did Bartman go from being a plumber to controls technology? And Yurman from audiovisual to plumbing? “We built a platform based on the same industrial internet of things (IoT), specifically to a very wide under-served space in the market, that I knew very well as a plumber in the field dealing with management companies and properties. The two really came together very nicely.”

The first version used off-the-shelf controllers mounted on a plywood board. From there, people around them helped raise money for the project. “That spun into enough money to get from concept into a fully commercialized product in 2019.”

The partners spent about two years in development, testing their prototypes in the field, determining how many inputs and outputs each unit needed and many other factors that could only be determined by field testing.

“Really, this all started because I had a bunch of customers with problems and I didn’t have anything to solve them with. Being my entrepreneurial spirited self, I thought, ‘I can do this,’” said Bartman.

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