Precision Irrigation Solutions from the Heart of Switzerland
With academic origins at an alpine university and now headquartered in the wine and ski region of Valais, Aqua4D is Swiss through and through. But it goes much deeper than just the red and white flag. This part of the world is renowned for clockwork precision, so it’s no surprise that this same attention to detail and quality is a natural part of everything the company does.
Here we take a rare behind the scenes look at each step of the Valais company’s production, R&D and quality control.
Having come originally out of an academic environment, it’s no surprise that Aqua4D keeps close contact with universities, both in scientific validation studies and Research & Development. As CTO, this is Charles-Henri Faure’s area. “Everybody is now looking for alternative solutions to replace chemicals. Aqua4D is in a very good position to be recognized as a major partner to universities and its customer recognition means that we are more and more often called to participate in Applied R&D projects around the world,” he says.
One such new project includes a new innovation for pivot irrigation of large crops, and ongoing experiments such as this measuring Aqua4D impact at a greenhouse in the local area:
Production & Assembly
With installations in 40+ countries in all kinds of environment, the choice of material is hugely important. Weather resistance is paramount – this means the system must be UV-resistant and water resistant. Furthermore, both electronic boxes and cables have maximum fire resistance (this is an important part of the CB certification, which Aqua4D obtained in 2018).
Currently around 100 Treatment Units and 30 Command Units are produced each month, but this is expected to increase over the next year to keep up with demand.
Testing is done on 100% of the production, and each and every Treatment Unit (TU).
Every function of the controller is thoroughly checked and the system is also tested for high voltage isolation (1500 Volts). The Treatment Units (TUs) are quality controlled in three steps:
- Electrical components: verification of coil resistivity and to be sure that the signal coming out of the TU is the signal we want.
- Water Pressure (16 bars for 2 minutes): to see if nothing goes out, high pressured air is injected inside the Treatment Units. If no air comes out of the TU, this means that there won’t be any water leaks when the TU is installed.
- Air pressure: to be sure it is all well protected from rain and water impacts. Air is injected into the TU where the sensitive electrical parts are. If no air comes out, it means that no water can come in.
Whereas many companies conduct randomized quality checks, all these tests are done on every single unit. “This means that we can be sure that all TUs leaving the factory will work correctly,” says Masserey. “We can be sure there won’t be any water leaks, and water will not enter inside our TUs.”
Left : Scanning serial number of the TU, to enter it in the quality system
Right : Testing the electrical components of the TU
In 2018, after a two-year process of application and thorough testing, Aqua4D’s proprietary technology was granted CB certification by the IECEE (The IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components). CB Test Certificates provide evidence that representative samples of the product have successfully passed tests to show compliance with the requirements of the relevant IEC International Standards.
Clean technology: Cleantech
Aqua4D is a proud member of Cleantech Alps, whose Secretary General, Eric Plan, visited Aqua4D’s recent 15th anniversary events. He comments that more than just hitting SDGs (of which Aqua4D covers 11 out of 17), Cleantech-certified companies also excel in the “utilisation of innovative technologies that safeguard natural resources” while reflecting an “attitude, practice and a way of life which inspires individuals and companies in all sectors to act in a way that conserves natural resources.”
About Aqua4D specifically, Eric Plan adds: “Aqua4D can clearly be defined as a pioneer in the cleantech field and represent the forefront of the new generation of agritech coming to the market.”
As a grower in Argentina recently commented, this is not a product which is simply a one-off sale. On the contrary, there is ongoing specialist consultancy between growers and Aqua4D agronomists, as well as an ever-present after-sales service.
Julien Froidevaux is in charge of after-sales. He says proudly: “We never close a customer service case unless we have a feedback from the client telling us that everything is in order and that he’s satisfied with the solution we found to his problem.” This means developing ongoing relationships, and making sure the grower is getting the most out of their system, to maximize water savings and other benefits.
“Some companies just close a case as soon as they think they solved the issue. We don’t do that. We always try to keep in touch with the client or the distributor to see if our system is working correctly,” adds Froidevaux. This interaction will reach new levels in the near future with the development of a new web app which will immediately communicate information and any faults to the grower and to Aqua4D back in Switzerland.
And as if to underline these strong customer relationships, Froidevaux says this development came directly out of client communication: “We asked them what they really want our new system to do. We went through all these ideas to see what was technically and financially relevant for our new product.”
New headquarters, big opportunities
The brand new HQ, opened in Spring 2019, consolidates all of the above processes, putting research, design, manufacturing and QC firmly under one roof at the company’s base in Valais, Switzerland. Exciting times, and with a range of advantages:
- Aqua4D’s team of engineers and agronomists are consolidated together, further strengthening the free flow of knowledge and constant improvement;
- The quality of every single aspect is guaranteed upon leaving the factory;
- Production can be perfectly adapted to sales to fit the growing demand.
“With assembly and Quality Control right here in Switzerland, this means that we have the final control of everything that’s delivered to our customers,” says Charles-Henri Faure.
Aqua4D profiled on Switzerland’s Channel 9 “Aqua4D Water Solutions: active worldwide, the Valais cleantech has gone from being a start-up to an SME”, Spring 2019
Location of Aqua4D within Switzerland.
Technical Team, FAT testing new systems, July 2019