First dialogue, then diagnostics!
2019.08.28 From: David Sear, SAMSON
SAMSON REGELTECHNIEK recently initiated a series of pilots with customers in the Netherlands. The pilots were not needed to evaluate the latest technology, but more to ensure that clients could make the best possible use of currently available diagnostics features, explains Sales Manager Jos Geers.
Picture the scene: it's Friday afternoon, you and your colleagues are anticipating a relaxing weekend and then the phone rings. It’s a good client operating a process facility with a tale of contamination in a batch product which, he feels, might in some way have been caused by a control valve. The valve in question is fitted with a range of sensors. Plenty of data is available, but the customer cannot properly interpret the information at hand. So what would you do? Well, when exactly such a phone call was received last year at SAMSON REGELTECHNIEK in the Netherlands, Mr. Geers and his colleagues gave it absolute priority of course. A team went straight to the client, looked at the valve and helped to sort out the problem. Later, all colleagues convened back in the office to reflect on what had happened and to determine how it could be prevented in the future.
"This event reinforced some important lessons," says Mr. Geers. "Firstly, if the client says he needs a severe service valve it can be straightforward enough to find a technically satisfactory solution but we need to keep asking more questions until we are satisfied we fully understand why the client considers the application to be critical. For example, could an external leakage release a potentially hazardous substance? Or might a valve failure cause product contamination? Or could a malfunction trip the entire facility? Or perhaps the application is seen as severe for a combination of reasons. It is clearly important to determine this in advance as such information can have a bearing on the valve specification process."
However, the need for enhanced dialogue does not stop there, notes Mr. Geers. "Modern control valves are packed with sensors and diagnostics features, but the more information that is available, the harder it can actually become to understand what is happening inside the valve. That's because you don't see the wood for the trees. In the case history mentioned above, the key issue for the client was accuracy. So what was needed was for a clear alarm to be given as soon as the valve became inaccurate – all other alarms should have been secondary. Based on this observation we now specifically ask clients what information they need to have available and how it should be presented in the event of a valve problem."
A final conclusion drawn by Mr. Geers and his colleagues is that many clients tend to forget about valves once installed. "If the valve is working perfectly then it is almost invisible, as it were. It is only when something goes amiss that people are interested in data. But, of course, it is much easier to understand data before you are faced with an emergency."
This minor incident, then, was to trigger a whole series of pilots. "Working with numerous good clients we looked at their valves and their information needs. These pilots revealed a lot of things that people didn’t know or had simply forgotten or that one party wrongly assumed the other was aware of. The key lesson I think we have all taken away with us is the need for proper ongoing communication, as a way to addressing issues before they can become problems. So as far as I am concerned, if a client wants to buy a valve with all the latest diagnostics features, then the first thing I tell him is that we need to talk!"
The value of diagnostics
The financial benefit of diagnostics tools becomes all too clear when considering a plant shutdown. The traditional approach would be to simply take out the 200 or so valves known to be 'worst actors' and send them to a repair facility. Whether those valves need maintenance or not. However, at a rough estimate of EUR 10,000 per valve (which includes erecting scaffolding, cleaning the valve, assessing the quote from the repair company, the cost of spare parts, etc.) then the total bill can be astronomical. No wonder that many companies simply replace standard valves 3" and under!
Investing in diagnostics capabilities can save end users a lot of time, trouble and expense, indicates Mr. Geers. "With a decent positioner to enable preventive maintenance you could reduce the number of valves that actually need to be removed to say thirty. And if you step up to predictive maintenance that number could drop to just twenty. So clearly there are major savings to be made!
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