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The [Ridiculous] State of U.S. Politics


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. .


A Case for Comparative Product Analysis


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. .


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. .

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• Market Outlook 2015
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