Robert (Bob) Cunningham, P.E. is a water treatment consultant providing advice and advanced problem solving skills for clients of Water Treatment Consulting Arthur Freedman Associates. Bob brings 55 years of domestic and international field service and troubleshooting experience with several large national water treatment companies.  Bob is one of four Principal Consultants currently with AFA, and is an invaluable resource available to our clients in the water treatment industry.

Bob brings a unique perspective to AFA, rounding out the company’s long-standing reputation for providing quality expert services. We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Bob to pick his brain. We asked him about his past qualifications, his role with AFA and why companies need to hire consultants like him.

Q: Where does your experience lie?

A: I have more than a half-century of experience working with several major national water treatment companies. I have worked in all related areas such as boiler and cooling water; chemical cleaning; wastewater treatment; process chemical treatment; paper chemicals treatment; oil production chemicals; and municipal water preparation.

Q: What are the advantages of hiring outside consultants?

A: Industrial clients like oil refineries used to have their own water treatment experts on staff. Over time, companies trimmed down their workforce due to increasing competitor pressures and efforts to cut overhead costs. Fast forward to the 1990s and early 2000s, and these plants and companies no longer had their own experts on staff. They started to rely more and more on water treatment vendors as their experts to help them find solutions to problems after the fact. The problem with exclusively using the vendor as a source of technical information and problem solving is that some could be biased toward their own products and services. They may not be inclined in all cases to tell clients, for example, that a problem may be due to their product, or to misapplication of the product.

Independent consultants on the other hand have no hidden agenda, and bring their experience to the table from working with a wide range of different client in many different environments. They are not there to sell a product, but are familiar with all areas of technology related to the problem. As a result, they’re only interested in coming up with the best solution to the problem in order to address that particular client’s needs.

Q: What’s another important area a consultant should know about?

A: A consultant must know about metallurgy and material science. Within a client’s facility, there are cooling tower systems attached to heat transfer devices, with the associated piping, vessels, fittings and valves that are all subject to problems that go on in a typical cooling system. The consultant must know how these systems are constructed and of what materials, whether mild steel, stainless steel, brass, or copper, and how they interact with each other and the fluids that flow through the system.

Q: What types of facilities hire consulting companies like AFA?

A: Any facility that deals with boilers, wastewater, cooling towers and water preparation should all make use of companies like AFA that provide independent consulting services. This includes anything from petrochemical plants, to aluminum processing, to food processing and many other similar plant operations. On the commercial side, you have large office buildings and high rise buildings, schools, hospitals, libraries and government buildings. Any company that operates cooling towers, steam boilers, and even wastewater treatment equipment will benefit from consulting companies like AFA. They have the same problems that industrial companies run into, except for process contamination.

There are two areas of knowledge a consultant must have in order to be effective in helping customers. First, they must thoroughly understand the technology, and have a broad background with the various involved devices. Second, they must have a solid appreciation of what goes on in that particular facility. This means they should have knowledge of the customer’s facilities and operations, technology, and workflows, as well as the problems and issues with particular equipment.

Q: What is your role with AFA?

A: I have heavy experience in five areas of water chemistry. My background lies in cooling water chemistry, both commercial and industrial, in open and closed systems, as well as in boiler water chemistry. I work with boilers across the entire pressure range. I also have experience with wastewater, industrial and municipal, as well as municipal drinking water and process water chemistry.

Q: Can you give us a brief history of your career?

A: Right out of college I joined Calgon in Pittsburgh, then went through a three-month water treatment class conducted by engineers at the company. I was then assigned to work in Pittsburgh for Ray Baum as an Assistant Product Manager, Boiler Chemicals, for six months. For those that may not be aware, Ray Baum was one of the founders of The Association of Water Technologies (AWT), and namesake of the prestigious Ray Baum Memorial Water Technologist of the Year Award. I then switched to the Cooling Water Dept., working for Jerry Schwietzer as Assistant Product Manager, and then later as Product Manager, in Cooling Water Chemicals. Around 1970, Merck Pharmaceutical acquired Calgon and Baltimore Aircoil (BAC), a prominent manufacturer of package cooling towers. I was transferred from Calgon to BAC, as Marketing Manager of Water Treatment Chemicals.

After some time there, I was hired by Zimmite Corporation in Cleveland, Ohio.  Zimmite had previously patented polyacrylamide for use as a mud remover that was used to fluidize and remove mud from the ballast tanks of Great Lakes shipping vessels. I was hired by Paul Puckorius, Executive Vice President at the time, who was developing the water treatment chemicals business for Zimmite. After Zimmite I worked briefly for Olin Water Services on the West Coast, then quickly moved to Betz Laboratories in Southern California. Eventually, I left there and started my own water treatment chemicals firm, Chemisis, Inc.  In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, an old friend, Art Freedman, founder of Arthur Freedman Associates, Inc., asked me to also help him with his consulting services. I currently live in San Diego, and work with AFA clients across the U.S. and internationally.

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In closing, since 1981 AFA has offered clients technical consulting services with decades of water treatment expertise, using the latest systems and tools to protect client investments. Services range from audit and inspection services for commercial and industrial clients, to helping with water treatment chemical formulations, along with analyzing failures, making forward-thinking recommendations, and providing expert witness services.

If you would like to get in touch with an experienced independent water treatment consultant for a free consultation, contact Arthur Freedman Associates at 630-364-3965, or email us at