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Jan21

What Did President Obama’s SOTU Address Have to Offer Manufacturers?

BY CHRIS GUY

President ObamaIn his sixth State of the Union address, President Obama pointed out the nearly 800,000 jobs that have been added in the manufacturing sector since 2010. “Some of our bedrock sectors, like our auto industry, are booming,” he noted. Obama also stressed the importance of U.S. exports by reminding us that “95% of the world’s customers live outside our borders.”

National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) president and CEO Jay Timmons was critical of the new tax plan offered up by President Obama, which would raise rates for top income-earners. “We need more policies that encourage investment, entrepreneurship and success, not less. Punitive tax increases on investment and small businesses, coupled with increased government spending, are no way to unleash economic growth,” said Timmons.

In contrast, Timmons found common ground with the President on other proposals, namely the advancement of trade agreements, addressing the skills gap and investment in infrastructure.

In fact, Fortune magazine argued that the speech was notable for its pro-business trade agenda. That’s because proposals Democrats wanted to hear, such as a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave, have virtually no chance of getting through the new Republican congress. However, there is increasing agreement between GOP leaders and the President on not only the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but a pending European Union free trade agreement waiting in the wings.

When speaking about infrastructure, President Obama took an opportunity to criticize the Keystone XL pipeline, saying, “21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure — modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet,” he added “Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.”

If Obama does ultimately reject the Keystone pipeline, the next step for the GOP leaders in Congress will be finding enough Democrats to get the two thirds majority necessary to override a veto.

Chris Guy is assistant editor of VALVE Magazine and enjoys following—and writing about—the U.S. political scene. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Jan06

How to Win Friends When Fracking

BY KATE KUNKEL

fracking protestIn November, two California counties, San Benito and Mendocino, added themselves to a growing list of local bans on hydraulic fracturing and in December, New York became the first to ban hydraulic fracturing throughout the entire state.

Commenting on this trend, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell agreed that the public is justifiably concerned about fracking, but, noted, “These local and regional bans on fracking are taking regulation of oil and gas recovery in the wrong direction. I think it’s going to be very difficult for industry to figure out what the rules are if different counties have different rules,” she said.

Certainly industry representatives agree with Jewell that the variety and complexity of requirements across constituencies make it difficult to do business, but many people, including some industry insiders, believe that the problems are of their own making. Early attempts to force drillers to disclose the composition of fracking fluids were met with resistance by companies like Halliburton who claimed proprietary concerns, and reports of increased seismic activity in normally quiet locales like Ohio were met with silence from drillers who said there could be no causal effect. But these tactics were considered evasive by residents and environmentalists, leading them to rally support which resulted in limits, increased regulation and/or total bans on hydraulic fracturing in many locales, with more being presented almost weekly.

Officials in Monterey County, California, are considering placing a fracking ban on the ballot in 2015 and the Los Angeles city attorney is drafting a moratorium for consideration by the city council.

All of this has spurred oil and gas executives to change the way they’re dealing with the controversy. Speakers at a recent North American Prospect Expo (NAPE) conference suggested the way was to rebalance the conversation on development of unconventional resources of oil and gas. One of the presenters, Charles Davidson, chairman of Noble Energy, said, “"We were slow to pick up on the public's concern about safety. There is a continually growing environmental challenge to development of unconventional oil & gas reserves. Left unmet, those challenges could have a significant long-term impact on unconventional energy development.

"What we found in Colorado is that you have to start by educating people," he continued. "Even though Colorado has a long history of significant energy production, there were relatively few people who knew we could operate without hurting the environment.”

Davidson told attendees at the conference that it’s important for companies and the exploration and drilling industry to ramp up spending on advertising and outreach. He cautioned that going silent means that the people begin filling in the blanks in ways that work against fracking.

Another speaker at NAPE, Steve Trippett, asset director for PDC Energy, told attendees his company was trying to be more proactive. "In Colorado and across the nation, we as an industry need to do a much better job educating the public,” he said. “What's not going to work is regularly facing ballot initiatives governing our ability to do business."

Drillers across the country have begun doing a better job of reaching out to the general public, but it is going to take time to gain its trust. It’s not just about advertising campaigns or town hall meetings; it’s about being up front and honest when engaging with all stakeholders. This is one of the most emotional environmental issues currently being dealt with across the U.S., and clouding the conversation with threats is counterproductive. Case in point: New York State Petroleum Council Executive Director Karen Moreau who said, "Today's action by Governor Cuomo shows that New York families, teachers, roads and good-paying jobs have lost out to political gamesmanship.”

Economic threats and political posturing are not effective tools in these emotionally charged situations. If the producers are serious about being perceived not as bullies but as partners in responsible development of national resources, they might also want to send a memo to some of their spokespeople to put a cap on the rhetoric.

Kate Kunkel is senior editor of VALVE Magazine. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sep29

The [Ridiculous] State of U.S. Politics

BY CHRIS GUY

David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report spoke at VMA’s 76th Annual Meeting where he entertained and informed members, spouses and guests. Wasserman not only gave a preview of this year’s upcoming midterm elections, but also a good synopsis of the state of politics in general.

David WassermanDavid Wasserman, Cook Political ReportStop if you’ve already heard this question: “Why are politics today so polarized?” Gerrymandering has been around for as long as Americans have held open elections. But now, according to Wasserman, it’s getting ridiculous. When politicians choose their own voters, the party that controls a congressional or legislative seat is usually a foregone conclusion. For example: In 2012, Democratic candidates for the House in Pennsylvania won 83,468 more votes than their Republican counterparts. The end result was Democrats won only five of those 18 seats. All that mattered to those 18 winning candidates was appealing to primary voters to win their party’s nomination, and less than 15% of voters participate in those elections.

Culture is now as big a divider between the two parties as the actual issues, Wasserman says. Democrats are becoming more and more urban, Republicans more and more rural. It used to be that Dems went to Starbucks and GOPers to Wal-Mart, but those two businesses are everywhere nowadays. Today the best indicator of how you vote is your proximity to either a Whole Foods or a Cracker Barrel—Wasserman actually has the statistics to prove it! In 2012, Obama won 77% of Whole Foods counties while Romney won 71% of Cracker Barrel counties. This cultural barometer has existed for the past several elections, but the gap is getting wider and wider.

So what are the stakes this November? We know, thanks to our old friend gerrymandering, that the GOP is pretty much a lock to hold onto the House of Representatives. In 2012, Democrats actually won more total votes in House races, but the GOP easily held on to their majority. Midterm elections always have lower participation, in large part due to young voters who are unwilling to turn out. GOP voters have been trending older, Dems younger. Republicans currently have a 234-201 majority in the House and the Cook Political Report predicts them adding between two to 12 seats to that total.

There are several competitive governors’ races across the U.S. this year and incumbents from both parties are in danger. Right now 29 of 50 governors are Republicans. The Cook Political Report predicts a Dem pickup of one or two seats in 2014.

The U.S. Senate, on the other hand, is a complete tossup. Here’s the situation, according to David Wasserman: Republicans hold 45 seats in the chamber so they would need a net gain of six this November for a majority. There are seven competitive Senate races this year just in states Romney won in 2012. Three Dem retirements are expected to flip the states of West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. That means the GOP needs to flip at least three of the other four in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.

Democrats also have to defend a few seats that went Obama’s way in 2012, albeit narrowly, in Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire. Republican-held seats that could flip are Georgia and Kentucky, with Kansas being the wildcard. There, an Independent, instead of a Democrat, is challenging the incumbent. With a win, he could caucus with Dems in the Senate, but who knows?

If the Democrats do lose the Senate this year the silver lining for them is that the Republican majority could be short lived. The map for Democrats in 2016 is much more favorable, and they could win back control a mere two years later.

Wasserman explained just why Senate control is so important with this great example: Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices are currently over the age of 75, and it’s the Senate’s job to confirm new members to the courts. Incentive enough for you?

Chris Guy is assistant editor of VALVE Magazine and enjoys following—and writing about—the U.S. political scene. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Sep15

A Case for Comparative Product Analysis

BY SUE KALAIN

comparative analysisWith one click of the mouse your customer can order a product from the other side of the world and have it in days. The sources of your competition can come from just about anywhere in the world so you will need all the tools at your disposal to participate successfully in this highly competitive environment.

One of those tools is comparative product testing. With the increase in competition and customer interest in the comparative quality and performance of products, it is essential for manufacturers to do comparative testing.

If you have never done comparative testing or it has been several years or even decades, consider doing so now. Even though your product(s) may be distinctive, several alternative products with similar quality and price to satisfy customer needs likely are available.

Why will someone buy from you unless you’re offering some benefit?

Comparative product testing is of great importance because in today’s highly competitive marketplace, just saying you’re the best won’t cut it. However, giving your sales and marketing team a leg up by being able to prove it enables you to single out your products as superior to your competitor. This type of data will provide valuable information for your product marketing strategies.

How exactly do you market your product above all the rest?

A thorough competitive product analysis will help you obtain important baseline information necessary to evaluate your position within the industry, for example:

  • Are you meeting the expectations of service?
  • Are you compliant with current specifications?
  • Does your product meet the required quality standards?
  • Is product performance as advertised?
  • How does your product perform against similar competitor products?
  • It can identify any issues in product design, quality control and performance.

To be able to identify strengths and weaknesses in your product(s) or in the competition relative to those of your own product will give you the edge in obtaining customer confidence. You will have the valuable verifiable data to place your product above the rest. There is no substitute for being able to back up your claims with recent hard testing data. The time to get this information is not after you have lost a customer to your competitors.

Several examples of valve tests against competitors:

  • Ball or trunnion valve cycle torque and seal integrity testing while under pressures running from minimal up to full advertised pressures. Testing is conducted using nitrogen, air or water.
  • Hydrostatic proof and burst testing to test for design integrity.
  • Cycle testing, up to 10,000 cycles while under full advertised pressure using nitrogen or water.
  • CNG manifold testing for extended long term cycle testing up to 100,000 cycles at full advertised pressures using compressed air.
  • Needle valve or bellows valve cycle and closing torque measurements at internal pressures ranging from minimal up to full advertised pressures.
  • Needle valve or bellows valve extended cycle testing using Nitrogen, air or water at full advertised pressures.
  • High and low temperature various pressure cycle and leakage testing.
  • Comprehensive design analysis that contain detailed images and drawings of the significant individual components that explain the test results.
  • Comparison chemical analysis of materials of construction.

The auto industry learned some hard lessons back in the 1980s. They weren’t concerned about the foreign companies that were trying to break into the American market. Soon enough they learned their mistake and it took decades to recover --after manufacturers closed and millions were lost to the competition.

Be proactive. Make it a priority to know about your competitors, their products and how you measure up.

Sue Kalain is owner and president of Kalain Analytical. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

May21

Training Technicians in the Valve and Controls Industry

BY CHRIS WARNETT

Training Technicians in the Valve and Controls Industry 1When there is a boom in an industry, there generally follows that there will be an increased demand for skilled workers and technicians. If the demand cannot be satisfied locally, then workers come in from other regions or industries to fill the vacuum. If the demand is especially high, then new recruits are found and trained and the pay scales escalate. The current boom in commodities like unconventional gas and oil has resulted in a peak in demand for valve and control engineers in areas such as Australia, Texas and western Canada.

Additionally, nearly all industries are experiencing advances in technology. In our own valve and actuator industry, we have seen an increase in sophistication in control and automation. For example, the use of microprocessors in valve actuators is now commonplace.

This makes the maintenance and upkeep of site equipment an even more demanding task for new field technicians. The mechanical part of automated valve design may be fairly stable in terms of technology, but valve actuators have always been challenging devices for maintenance personnel. During my years as an apprentice in a power plant, nobody wanted to work on the MOVs and one senior technician was designated to work on the electric actuators on the plant.

For previous generations, when machines failed to operate, the first thing to do was take it apart to see what was wrong. But that was before actuators were “smart”. Now almost all instrumentation has developed to a point where the diagnostic process cannot be done by physical disassembly. The instrument now needs to be connected to a diagnostic tool or interrogated using a built in HMI (human machine interface) to determine where a problem may lie. This is because the problem could be a faulty PCB or a software issue and visual inspection reveals little.

No More Diagnosis by Disassembly

In fact, disassembly by untrained technicians or operators invariably exacerbates a problem. I have seen actuators disassembled and modified with iron bars welded onto output shafts to try to increase seating force, when a simple adjustment of the torque switch would have solved the problem.

Non-intrusive diagnostics are fine if the technician is familiar with the equipment, but with the variety of instruments and manufacturers in the market today, it’s near impossible to be an expert, or even familiar with, maintenance and diagnosis of every instrument. Sometimes, there is just too much information.

Training Technicians in the Valve and Controls Industry 2Imagine the situation of a maintenance technician sent to troubleshoot a problem at a remote site. There may be three or four brands of instrumentation and control equipment on site and a variety of instruments from each brand. Well trained and experienced technicians may be prepared with tools and documentation to enable a reasonable chance of resolving problems. However, new hires may find they are stuck a five hour drive from base with a vital tool or piece of information missing.

The good news is that if they have a cell phone connection they can either call back to base for support or download a manual from the internet or even view a “YouTube” video guide for fixing the problem. In remote areas, though, there may not even be a reliable cell signal.

The only real solution to the problem is to make the training for technical equipment as effective as possible, with easy to use support documentation that can be stored and accessed on portable devices. Retaining the information from training sessions seems to be best when delivered in a classroom environment combined with hands-on experience to consolidate knowledge.

Many manufactures have recognized this and have well-equipped training facilities to provide comprehensive training to users of their equipment. However, this type of training takes a commitment in time and money for both parties. Users have to take employees away from their duties for several days. Would they do this if they only had few pieces of one manufacturer’s equipment?

For technicians that are involved with valves and actuators, a good foundation of general knowledge on the subject is an important basis on which to build further specialist knowledge. There are many types of valves in use today and a fundamental knowledge of the various types, function and application of valves should be part of a technician’s training. Further, the available range of actuators for those valves, and the way in which they work, is important. Once a solid foundation is laid, then specialist knowledge can be gained from the training resources of individual manufacturers.

Users will decide on how best to train their technicians depending on the type and quantity of the equipment they are using. If an equipment manufacture’s in-house training cannot be justified, then there are alternatives. A tour of the chosen manufacturer’s web site will often uncover documentation, installation manuals, training videos and interactive “eLearning” modules that give training on the functions and maintenance of their equipment.

A wise trainer once told me that, “A trainee may remember a verbal description for about a week, a picture may be remembered for a month, but a hands-on session with real equipment will be remembered for years”.

Chris Warnett is the president of CPLloyd Consulting Inc., Rochester, NY, providing marketing and applications expertise for the valve and automation industry. Chris has over 38 years of engineering, sales and marketing experience in valves and automation. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 585.298.6239.  

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