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Training Technicians in the Valve and Controls Industry

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.  


3D Printing for Under $300: A Game Changer for Manufacturing?

Kate Kunkel

3D printing 1It wasn’t that long ago that the only way a manufacturer could build one single product, either as a prototype or an operational unit, was through expensive engineering and casting or molding processes. Soon, however, building a prototype could be as inexpensive and simple as pushing the “print” button on your computer.

Thanks to funding made possible by Kickstarter, a Web-based funding platform for creative projects, two University of Maryland graduates have raised more than $3 million to produce The Micro, a consumer-friendly, sub-$300 3D printer. For anyone who has been hiding in a cave for the last decade and is not familiar with the process, 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a computer-generated digital model.

Until recently, 3D printers were bulky and exorbitantly expensive, but, as we have seen with so much technology since the advent of the computer chip, the 3D printing process is maturing. "A 3D printer is a magical box that creates things," said Michael, co-founder of M3D, the company he launched with David Jones. "It's that simple. There is nothing on your desk one second, and the next you have it."

3D printing 2Weighing just two pounds, medium watermelon-sized and box-shaped, The Micro can be used to create anything from custom jewelry, cookie cutters, everyday objects around the house, and even real engineering and artistic prototypes, according to the company. Much like a paper printer, The Micro attaches to a computer, through which users download or create models using M3D's software, which company officials say is as interactive and enjoyable as playing a game. Once a model is selected, users hit print and the object is made. It promises to help change the way people build, innovate and create."

For valve and actuator manufacturers and their suppliers, the possibilities seem endless. While prototypes of seals, gaskets, valves and actuators are certainly possible, would it eventually make sense to use 3D printing to construct one-off specialty valves?

And what about plants and processes? In this image we see 3D printed models of buildings. Could a whole power plant be designed this way? Certainly models of factories and the machines in them could be created, allowing designers to move the equipment about like furniture in a doll house. Would this permit more creative uses of space and floor plans?

It’s a brave new world, this offered by 3D printing. I’d love to hear from any of our readers about how they’re using this incredible technology.


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.



Replacing the Boomers


retirementsignA common concern voiced by many valve manufacturers with whom I speak is the perceived upcoming shortage of skilled labor. With many baby-boomers (including me) setting their sights on days spent on the beach, golf course or playing with grandchildren, they are taking with them the benefit of decades of experience and lessons learned the old-fashioned way – by putting in the time and sometimes, making mistakes.

The fear is that the generations left behind to run the show do not have the skills, mind-set or experience to keep things running. This is not unique to the valve industry. We’ve heard from end users in all manufacturing, power and processing industries who have the same concerns. While this is a real concern, it is not one that cannot be remedied.

Yes, it takes planning and commitment on the part of management, but by developing and nurturing a strong training culture within a company, the so-called skilled labor gap can be filled. It does take money, though, and time, and while many companies look to trade schools and universities churning out engineers to populate their workforce, bottom line is – you have to train within. And you need to do it before the boomers give their notice.

Andrea W. Johnson, a client development manager at FlashPoint, wrote in an article, “Modern work environments require good communication skills, the ability to work in a team, time-management skills, the ability to adapt to change, and to work with people from diverse cultures.”

One of the most important ways of developing these skills is what she called “Transfer of organizational knowledge”. According to Johnson, by 2015, nearly 20% of the nation’s workers will be 55 years old or older, up from 13%. She urged businesses to utilize job audits and other collection methods to document the tacit knowledge of employees who have been with the organization for years, and train those longtime employees to share their knowledge with others.

It is now 2014. If you haven’t started actively collecting the knowledge of these long-time staffers and sharing it with newer recruits, do not delay. Now is the time to start. With that transfer of knowledge comes the need to have continuous training opportunities for that newer workforce. One thing younger workers stress time and again whenever they are surveyed is that they need to feel that they are growing professionally. To make the most of your investment in any individual, it’s wise to insure that that individual has ongoing access to continuing education and training.

Certainly many larger organizations retain in-house training staff, but many outsource to professionals. Whether it’s paying for employees to attend a class like the Valve Basics program run by VMA or courses run by any of the piping, power generation or manufacturing associations, the ongoing education of your workforce is a wise investment.

Are you ready for your boomers to ride, fly or dive into the sunset?

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. .


Bullying and the State of Keystone XL


Harper and ObamaLast year, three Nebraska landowners challenged the law that amended state pipeline laws to grant the power of eminent domain to Gov. Heineman, a law they claimed was corrupt and was passed in order to pave the way for Keystone XL. Last week, the Lancaster County District Court in Lincoln, NE found that the law was unconstitutional and void. Included in the ruling was an injunction preventing any further action under that law, by Gov. Heineman and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, which would authorize or advance Keystone XL.

Plaintiff and landowner Randy Thompson summed up the frustration and anger of many residents when he summarized the actions of TransCanada. “They came out here like a bunch of bullies and tried to force it down our throats,” he said. “They told us there was nothing we could do to stop it.”

This is not the first time that the word “bully” has been associated with this project. The drive to forward Keystone XL has resulted in other allegations of bullying on the part of the company behind it.

In 2012, Transcanada brought against several environmental groups and 19 individual protesters what is known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). According to a press release from one of the groups, Tar Sands Blockade, the people involved "were threatened with losing their homes and life’s savings if the lawsuit went forward.” The suit was settled in 2013, inspiring headlines like “David vs. Goliath: Keystone XL Multinational Bullies Pipeline Protestors into Settlement”.

With tactics like this, it’s no wonder that a good project is getting such bad press. But Trans Canada is not the only villain accused of bullying in the fight against Keystone XL. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is accused at home of running roughshod over his own (Conservative) party members and stifling dissent anywhere in Canada and his particularly aggressive style is not helping matters when it comes to Keystone XL.

Harper has been accused of attempting to pressure President Obama on this matter, and his government’s appearance of being anti-environment has even caused a former Canadian Prime Minister to speak out on the matter. Joe Clark says the Harper government has taken a divisive approach to international climate discussions and contends that the government that has seen Canada become a perennial favorite for the tongue-in-cheek Fossil Award may have also made selling Canadian crude abroad. By extension, it has made it more difficult to get approval for Keystone XL approval .

TransCanada and Stephen Harper are not doing a good project any favors with their adversarial stance. People like to see bullies get their comeuppance. Hopefully President Obama will not let that color his decision to okay the pipeline.

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. .


Fracking: A Cracking Success or Much Ado About Nothing?

Guest Blogger

Fracking guest blogFracking not only proves to be a boon for the U.S. economy, but also for the valve industry. Some EU states, however, are stalling.

Fracking is giving the U.S. a lot of hope. Utilizing this extraction method of unconventional gas deposits, the transatlantic superpower could become the world's largest gas producer. Nonetheless several European states remain skeptical and warn of the environmental risks of fracking. Is this much ado about nothing? Valve manufacturers would resent it, as hydrofacturing rock formations require numerous valves for the downstream process.

Loud Drilling

Fracking is disruptive. A mix of water, quartz sand or ceramic balls and various chemicals are pumped into rock layers. This brute force process creates fissures. “The chemicals in hydraulic fracturing fluid are used to reduce friction and protect the rock formation, thereby making the hydraulic fracturing process safer and more efficient,” explains Exxon Mobil.

Valves are of great value: the right amount of gas, chemicals and sand need to be pumped into the drill hole, before the gas can be extracted in a controlled manner at the top of the well. Demanding technology allows manufacturers to extract gas from otherwise unreachable rock layers 3,280 to 16,400 feet beneath the ground.

New pipelines utilizing new valves convey the shale gas. U.S. company Quanta Services made record profits in 2012, reported German magazine Boerse Online, due to pipeline construction and maintenance. General Electric supplies gas turbines and compressors for the pipelines. Fracking is proving to be a lucrative business.

Fracking Creates U.S. Jobs

In the end, the shale gas makes its way to power plants. Should fracking become successful in the EU the way it did in the U.S., then additional, new power plants would have to be constructed – with a high amount of valves. An impressive supply chain for this component. The U.S. has calculated the effect of fracking for the economy. “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,” stated President Barack Obama, adding that fracking will create 600,000 new jobs.

The U.S. is currently producing more natural gas than ever before. Obama also sees a golden future for oil exploration: “After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future.” His administration will speed up permits. The International Energy Association is also certain of a “golden age” for natural gas. For Obama, fracking is a transitory technology, until wind and solar power achieve higher output.

The prices for natural gas have been falling over the past 5 years, after the fracking boom began. However, the U.S. is currently experiencing an increase in natural gas prices. Natural gas is 60% cheaper in the U.S. than in Europe. In turn, the lower prices drive the domestic economy. Energy-intensive sectors and households profit especially from the development.

Energy-Intensive Sectors Profit

One such sector is the paper industry. If paper manufacturers are doing well, then they are lucrative customers for valve manufacturers. Low energy costs, however, are a basic prerequisite. Numerous valves are needed, as the paper and pulp production consists of various phases. The necessary range covers ball segment valves, check valves, gate valves and ball valves for manual on/off valves. Here, high-quality components are especially needed: “fluids, other than water, conveyed through hose lines are seldom harmless for the paper industry,” emphasizes Dr. Jens Reppenhagen, CEO of RS Roman Seliger Armaturenfabrik.

The chemical industry also requires a lot of energy for its processes. As such, the sector is prone to higher energy costs, to the detriment of valve manufacturers. A thriving chemical sector is good for orders – and demand is rising in the U.S.. Production is increasingly being relocated overseas.

Robust Valves

Valves have to do their part to contribute to low emissions, high plant safety and pollution control in chemical plants – and they must do it all in a demanding environment. Often enough, poisonous, corrosive and highly dangerous fluids are used to produce chemicals. Gate valves, valve blocks, pipeline components, gaskets, screws and flushing rings are required to withstand them. Materials “in all possible variations” are needed, explains Project Manager Björn Bofinger of AS-Schneider. Demands are also required for valves in fracking. The chemically enriched water pumped downward requires robust valves.

Plug valves, gate valves and dart-style check valves are needed for the pumps at the well site. On the pump suction side for mixing the fracking media are butterfly valves and swing check valves.

Constructing LNG Facilities

According to experts, the fracking boom will see the U.S. turn from a gas importer to a gas exporter. One problem, however, is the lack of necessary infrastructure. A greater number of pipelines for instance should lead to the coast. In addition, harbors also lack Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities for storing and converting gas for transport to Europe and Asia. The U.S. is set to invest several billion dollars in expanding and retrofitting their infrastructure. Valve manufacturers are also set to profit from this development, as valves control the flow of gas at gate terminals, liquefaction and vaporization installations and storage tanks. LNG tankers also need to be fitted with valves: shut-off valves allow steam to escape from tanks in order to maintain the required temperature and pressure levels inside the tank.

EU Cracks on Fracking

Fracking will not only offer the U.S. enormous amounts of shale gas, the reserves of which are estimated to more than 24 trillion cubic meters. China has the greatest deposits with 36 trillion cubic meters. Argentina is third in shale gas with reserves of 21 trillion cubic meters, followed by Mexico with 19 trillion and South Africa with 13 trillion cubic meters. As for Western Europe, reserves are estimated to be 14 trillion cubic meters.

Opinions of individual EU member states are divided on fracking. EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger sees fracking as positive, because of “security reasons and to lower gas prices.” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, however, has identified problems, as the situation in Europe can't be compared to the U.S., in view of geology and environmental regulation. From a scientific point of view, shale gas seems to be non-hazardous, according to Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Advisor of EU commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. While Poland and Great Britain argue in favor of fracking, France and Bulgaria argue against it. Both countries are considering a ban.

Environmental Impact Disputed

There are various reasons for this skepticism. Next to earth movements, objectors fear damage to the environment and contamination of groundwater – and thus also of drinking water through the chemicals pumped into rock layers. Large amounts of water are flushed upwards at the well. Objectors refer to incidents in the Pennsylvania and Wyoming. U.S. environmental group Riverkeeper declares groundwater was contaminated through fracking.

Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), however, doesn't see any danger through fracking, “as long as the legal provisions are adhered to, the required technical measures are provided and location based pilot surveys are undertaken.” “From the geoscientific view, an environmentally safe use of this technology is possible. Fracking and protection of drinking water supplies are possible,” states the BGR. In addition, the EU has stricter environmental regulations than the U.S.

Considering Advantages and Disadvantages

One major problem is the wastewater that is flushed to the surface. This needs to be disposed of and recycled, in order to prevent incidents such as those in the U.S., where wastewater flowed into the environment. Valves play an important role in the purification process. In order to purify wastewater, it needs to be disposed in wastewater shafts and later transported to treatment plants. Against all odds, there is one major argument for fracking and all the gas plants that need to be constructed – namely that old coal power stations can be shut down. In the U.S., the level of CO2 emissions sank by nearly 10% in a six-year period.

Fracking: yes or no? Governments have to consider the advantages and disadvantages and come to a decision. Some are looking at economic benefits – in times of crisis, low costs of energy are seen as a driver for economic growth. One thing is certain: states need to make sure shale gas is environmentally safe. Otherwise fracking will not be accepted by the general public, and will thus have no future.

Guest Blog is courtesy Messe Dusseldorf.  

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