- Published on Monday, 18 June 2012 08:56
- Written by Gary Ostrowski
Not long ago, car owners often performed basic repairs and maintenance tasks themselves. Also not so many years ago, shoppers had to visit separate stores to purchase groceries, clothing, electronics, hardware and medicines. Neither of these scenarios applies to most of today’s consumers. The complexity of automobiles means even routine repairs and maintenance must be completed by trained mechanics using specialized equipment and computers. As far as shopping, the “super center” retailers offer the convenience of one-stop shopping for a vast array of products.
Similar shifts have taken place in the valve maintenance and repair industry. The driving factors behind those shifts include today’s fast-paced and highly competitive business environment, increasingly complex facilities, more stringent regulatory requirements, leaner in-house staffs, more advanced valve technologies and lessons learned during natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake and tsunami that damaged Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.
This article explores these trends, the forces behind them and how plant personnel can adapt to the changing landscape.
Discussions with end users reveal that the number one repair trend today relates to asset and repair documentation.
Thorough documentation of a facility’s valves—the types and locations of all valves in the plant, their specifications and their maintenance and repair histories—can aid personnel in planning maintenance activities, help technicians diagnose valve problems, streamline repairs, facilitate inventory management and help plant personnel fulfill reporting requirements.
Hurricane Katrina and Fukushima also illustrated to the world the importance of ensuring that valve data is protected offsite, available remotely in the event of an emergency. Hurricane Katrina waterlogged plant after plant along the Gulf Coast, destroying records or making them difficult to retrieve. At Fukushima, the records themselves were not destroyed but dangerous radiation levels made it impossible to retrieve them.
Having learned from these situations, a growing number of end users are looking for asset management systems that are accessible 24/7 via the Internet. Such systems mean that in the event of an emergency, personnel can easily order replacement valves and accessories, access repair records and reference valve specification information, such as temperatures and pressures.
These tools are becoming more widely available every day, and they are more powerful, user-friendly and adaptable than ever before. Service providers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can differentiate themselves by offering such tools—and the added-value service of developing and maintaining their customers’ databases. (For more information about asset management tools, see “Asset Management: A Plant Manager’s Best Friend” in the Fall 2011 issue of Valve Magazine.)
MANUFACTURER-AUTHORIZED SERVICE PROVIDERS
The second-most-often cited trend in the valve repair business is end users’ growing preference for working with manufacturer-authorized service providers. The complexity of today’s facilities requires well-trained technicians who can troubleshoot and solve a variety of valve problems. In the past, many facilities had this expertise in-house, but cost-cutting measures and the retirement of experienced personnel have made that situation increasingly rare.
In today’s litigious environment, working with a third-party provider that is not OEM-trained and is not certified to the appropriate regulatory standards, such as those from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), is inviting trouble. As a result, using OEM-authorized technicians to complete repairs and turnarounds continues to gain momentum.
RAPID VALVE REPLACEMENT PROGRAMS
Another often discussed issue is whether to repair a valve or replace it. There is no easy answer to this age-old question because too many situation-specific variables must be considered. Still, rapid valve replacement programs are making replacement a viable option in more cases.
A growing number of OEMs offer such programs, which substantially shorten turnaround times for simpler types of valves that are not critical or specialized. This is partly because participating OEM-authorized service providers have on-hand stock that can be quickly pulled from the shelf and configured to meet short delivery windows—sometimes same-day or even in as little as a few hours. Not all valves today have to be ordered through the factory; some valves can be replaced within a repair or outage cycle, giving the end user a brand new valve under full OEM warranty.