Nicolo Accordino is an analyst with The Freedonia Group (www.freedoniagroup.com) and the author of a new study World Industrial Valves. This week, Mr. Accordino fields some questions from Flow Control magazine about trends in valve technology. To reach Mr. Accordino, contact Corinne Gangloff at 440 684-9600 or pr@freedoniagroup.com.

Q: How has valve technology changed over the past 10-15 years? What are some of the key new technologies/capabilities in the valve market?

A: Typically, advances in industrial valve technology occur at a slower, more evolutionary pace than in more technology-intensive industries. Because of this, valve producers usually alter minor parameters, such as changing the materials of construction (for example, using plastics instead of metals) or tweaking the design (developing, for instance, high performance butterfly valves with better features than standard butterfly valves). Utilizing different materials and altering valve design can help prevent unwanted conditions, such as valve corrosion or freezing (in the case of metal valves, or those that house very low-temperature liquids and gases).

Overall, there have been very few revolutionary technological enhancements to industrial valves throughout the past 10-15 years.

Q: In terms of technology types, are there any specify valve types that are showing significant increase and/or decrease in uptake?

A: If by uptake, you mean demand, then between conventional (standard multi-turn valves and quarter-turn valves, like ball, globe, and butterfly) and automatic valve types, demand for automatic valve types has been accelerating at a quicker pace in recent years.

Typically utilized in applications that require continuous and precise control, automatic valve products “throttle” or adjust the amount that the valve is opened or closed via remote signals emanating from an external control center or valve-mounted device. This leads to changes in one or more of several variables, including pressure, temperature, flowrate, among others. Valves performing such functions are categorized as control valves (including solenoid valves, which are a specialized type of control valve product) and regulators. Automated valves are generally selected over standard types to assure safety and reduce operating costs. Additionally, automatic valves are preferred for inaccessible and remote locations where manual operation is impractical.

Q: For what types of applications are valves currently generating a particularly high level of user interest? Are there any applications where valve uptake is dwindling?

A: The two biggest applications of industrial valves are undoubtedly the processing of energy and water throughout the world. Valve demand for both of these applications will only increase as rapidly developing countries, such as China and India, generate a greater demand for energy and clean water supplies in their respective nations. To my knowledge, there are no particular applications where valve demand is dwindling.

The majority of applications for industrial valves are derived either directly or indirectly from the supply of and demand for primary energy within a particular country. Aside from crude oil production and energy generation itself, large amounts of energy are utilized in most valve-using process manufacturing operations. Furthermore, energy consumption relative to aggregate economic activity and fixed capital investment in a country directly correlates to that country’s level of economic development, which is a major indicator of a country’s ability to serve as a growth market for energy-related capital equipment items, such as industrial valves.

Q: What role do you see diagnostics and “smart” technology playing in the valve space going forward? How receptive have users been to diagnostics specifically in terms of valve systems?

A: Diagnostics and “smart” technology will be increasingly important in the industrial valve industry. The uses of smart valves are numerous, and their benefits even more so. In general, smart valves not only monitor a wide range of process variables such as upstream and downstream pressure, temperature, stem position and flowrate, but also enable the instantaneous transfer of information such as diagnostics, control instructions, and documentation between the valve and control room. Again, the benefits of smart valves are numerous. They allow producers to more accurately pinpoint maintenance problems via the information remotely transferred by the valve, limit the amount of labor needed to document process information and reduce process variability in general. Furthermore, because sensors are directly installed on the valves, process systems with smart valves are less likely to leak than process systems that contain separate valves and sensors, a significant feature in applications where controlling emissions is crucial.

So diagnostics and smart valve technology will enable valve end-users to process substances with higher precision and accuracy, while cutting labor and maintenance costs at the same time.

Q: How do you see wireless capability figuring in valve applications going forward? What is your opinion of the impact of the recent release of the HART 7 protocol with WirelessHART, specifically in regard to the functionality it brings to valve applications?

A: One of the technological developments discussed within my study is that of wireless actuators – essentially “smart” valves without wires. While still in its infancy, the main advantage for this innovation is that it effectively eliminates wires and costs associated with installing and maintaining a vast network of wiring in a modern factory setting. The HART 7 protocol and the advantages that it presents are in line with those of other “smart” valve devices, with WirelessHART allowing the system to be controlled from an even more remote location.

Q: In terms of new capability, what can users look forward to in the area of valve technology going forward? How can/will valve technology get better?

A: I must reiterate that valve technology tends to develop on an evolutionary basis instead of a revolutionary one. Although I would expect even greater developments in terms of “smart” valve technology and wireless actuators, the majority of technological developments for valves will be in terms of construction and design. Thus, more durable, long-lasting valves that are easy to operate (and manufacture) will become prevalent in the valve market, especially from rapidly developing areas such as China, India, and Southeast Asia.

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