Last updateWed, 12 Aug 2020 9pm

Pneumatic Valves: New Technology for a Digital Transformation

Principles built around the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have guided the automation industry’s rapid adoption and mainstreaming of many production systems. These systems are aligned with the concepts for digital transformation—including intelligent, networked production systems and components that leverage smarter information and communications technology.

Beauty or a Beast? Using NDE on Valve Components

When it comes to valves, “beauty is only skin-deep” is often a true statement. Since Superman and his X-ray eyes don’t really exist, there is no way to verify the quality of a valve or valve component by just looking at it. To discover defects we can’t see with the naked eye, we have to use principles of physics and chemistry to delve deeper into component quality. To do that, we often call upon the techniques of nondestructive examination (NDE).

Recommended Practices (RP) Changing Engineering and Supplying of Assemblies

Engineering actuated on/off valve assemblies (AVs) has always carried challenges. One of the most acute of those challenges is the discipline gap between the valve and the actuation parts of the assembly when the valve is part of the piping package while instrumentation provides the automation. The issue is that assemblies are not currently treated as “engineered” items; they are often produced by slapping the actuator on the old (or new) valve specified by the piping requirements without much understanding of the specifics of the interactions between valve and actuator connections through the drive train (coupling). A similar challenge in control valve engineering was addressed several decades ago through the evolution of responsibilities, practices and vendor participation. It will be some time before the world knows if something similar will happen with assemblies.

AVs remain challenging today because of several factors, namely:

  • Multiple different disciplines and parties are involved in all processes with varying terminologies and definitions and often shifting responsibilities in design and procurement practices;
  • AV sizing data sheets lack standardization when addressing application requirements;
  • A wide variety of definitions of the valve torque data exists, which influences factors and coefficients, creating ambiguous and confusing models;
  • Quality valve torque data including application-specific correction factors is often missing;
  • The lack of a standard approach in matching valve torque data to actuator selection contributes to under- or oversizing of the actuator;
  • An underdeveloped functional safety model and certification exist that take into consideration all components of the assembly.

The WIB Actuated Valve Assembly Recommended Practice (AVRP) for part-turn automated on-off valves (S 2812-X-19) was released on June 1, 2019, and has recently taken on new importance. Results of this multi-year effort, which was led by Kees Meliefste (Dow Chemicals) and Henk Hinssen (formerly with ExxonMobil) with broad industry support has now been approved by the International Organization for Standards (ISO) Technical Committee 153. ISO/TC 153 derives an international AV assembly standard using WIB AVRP as seed material. This ensures continuous interest from all the parties traditionally involved in AV assemblies. This article seeks to address the impact of the future standard on certain existing work practices of owners/operators, engineering and manufacturing contractors and suppliers without trying to explain or analyze the technical content of the AVRP.


While actuated valves are widely used in the process industry, the AVRP focuses more practically on critical emergency shut-down valves (ESDV) or blow-down valves (BDV) because they are the most challenging, safety-critical and costly segment. Safety-related applications where these valves are most commonly used are particularly challenging when the valves are in long, stand-still mode, lying dormant for years between turnarounds but required to react and operate within seconds. Commonly used as safety instrumented system (SIS) final elements, ESDVs/BDVs require significant resources during project design and often represent a challenge in project startup as well as continued operation. This, in part, is because of the attention of the licensing bodies, which require proof of sound design and robust implementation.

From the very beginning, owners or process designers need to consider, define and clearly communicate application parameters for the valve assembly being designed. This will have a smaller impact on new capital projects where the assembly will be part of the process and control management. A more significant challenge occurs for operating facilities for which process parameters and the operational envelope for installed equipment (as well as vendor certified data) are harder to obtain. In some cases it won’t be possible at all to get these parameters or data if valve vendors did not provide certified torque data for that equipment in the past or the torque definitions vary from those in the RP. For these reasons, it’s likely the application of the RP on new projects will be seen first and then a gradual adaptation will occur for existing operating facilities during turnarounds and reliability assessment or improvement programs.

Currently, an instrument specification datasheet, based on the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) or International Society of Automation (ISA) standard forms, is the common medium communicating application parameters, manufacturer’s data or materials and components. This datasheet is clearly not capable today of handling all of the information on torque and other data necessary for application solutions; there is no place on the sheet to hold the necessary information elements. Even a simple visual comparison of the control valve specification and on/off valve specification forms will show that the control valve contains more information relative to the actuated valve.


The RP proposes an on/off valve assembly sizing data sheet (Figure 1) with the necessary level of the detailed torque and correction factors, such as maximum allowed torque drive train (MAST) or sizing safety factor (SSF), but also has some overlap with the specification datasheet. Certainly, both owners and engineering, procurement, construction firms (EPCs) will initially struggle with the introduction of another critical engineering and design document. However, balance will eventually be found by adopting the sizing datasheet suggested in the RP or its variations, and using the data as part of the valve assembly documentation package, similar to how control valve sizing calculation sheets are often accompanying control valve specification datasheets.

20 spr RP Fig1

One aspect of this RP adoption will be that substantial amounts of new torque and other assembly information will need to be handled for selected systems. Most owner/operators and EPCs are using one of the commercial off-the-shelf instrument design and documentation systems (IDDS). Without a doubt, their preference will be to adjust and expand the use of these systems to cover new technical data. However, this will drive a need to add valve manufacturers or assembly integrators to the pool of users, complicating an already tangled communication and information technology (IT) connectivity structure for the typical project or plant IT networks. Because of the slow pace of evolution for the popular IDDS, this may mean standalone dedicated applications are more likely to be successfully deployed for early adoption. Figures used in this article are taken from a prototype of a dedicated AV assembly sizing and selection tool created in support of the RP development.

Misuse and overuse of the AV assembly sizing safety factors have plagued the process for a long time. Introducing a method to derive an on-demand correction factor (ODCF) from objective application parameters allows tightening of the operating envelope while simplifying assembly and often reducing the actuator size and weight (Figure 2). This results in cost savings with a better understanding of the safety factors.

20 spr RP Fig2

In addition, combined graphical representation of various torques applicable to the assembly, as defined in the AVRP, will allow a focused analysis of operational cases. An example of this is shown in Figure 3, with air torque (AT, Atmax), MAST, valve opening (VTO) and allowable flange (FLANGE) clearly relating to each other.

20 spr RP Fig3

Another aspect of the on/off valve assembly sizing datasheet that should be closely considered in the adoption of the RP is the ownership or responsibility for the data. This assembly sizing datasheet clearly identifies where—in addition to traditional owner and process designer/EPC-provided data—different component vendors and assembly contractors’ input is necessary. Owners, EPCs and even major equipment or package vendors and suppliers are familiar with the process of using centrally managed projects or facility IDDS, but this could be a major step for assembly integrators/contractors. They will need to join the IDDS multi-discipline user environment or feed the necessary information to the general engineering contractor responsible for entering the data into the IDDS and issuing the sizing datasheet. Both practices are likely to be adopted and their use will depend on the project contractual engineering and supply responsibilities.


Safety certification has been a norm and a standard of the day affecting all equipment and component supply chains for some time, but industry and certification bodies have struggled with the relationship between the components of the actuated valve assembly. In part, this is because, unlike typically single-sourced control valves, actuated on/off valve assembly components are usually supplied by different vendors. Individual assessment and certification of the components (valve, actuator or coupling/mounting) are not sufficient because they do not take into consideration assembly integration. A likely effect of the RP adoption will be a shift of the certification focus from the component manufacturers to the integrators, based on the manufacturer-certified data. This may result in time and cost savings by applying certification to the final engineering product.

Industry adoption of the RP is likely to have a direct business impact on the supply chain for the actuated valve assemblies. Existing integration contractors—specialized independent firms, valve or actuator manufacturers asked to provide complete packages or small specialized providers—will universally benefit from easily available standardized valve torque data. This will allow them to offer faster design, more flexibility and a wider choice of components for the assembly. However, openly and easily available certified valve torque data also will lower the entry barriers for new players into the area of integration, which will increase competition and give owners/operators a wider choice of assembly suppliers.

For practical reasons, the initial RP scope was limited to the pneumatically actuated, part-turn valves. However, industry interest and support may drive continued expansion with the working group to look into electrical actuators to be added to the RP in the next 12 months. Also, further expansion of the RP is likely for hydraulic actuation, especially in the areas of testing, ODCF testing and certification.

Past experience with the adoption of the new engineering and technology practices shows that it likely will take several years to see if the RP will be successfully adopted by the industry or if the search for a perfect solution will continue. In the first year or two, there’s likely to initially be an in-depth internal analysis and review by the major owner/operators, which will need to adopt and require their contractors to apply the RP. At the same time, valve vendors will be looking at availability and quality of the torque data based on the RP definitions and testing and collecting this information where it’s not available. A capital project of medium size is likely to be used by an owner as a proving ground for the RP use followed by the “lessons learned” for which the benefits and costs of the RP application will be assessed. Project start-up experience as well as assessed impact on the reliability of the delivered facility will be major considerations along with the added project costs. Still, the benefits of improved safety and reliability are likely to outweigh the costs, which should not be high, anyway, since these improvements are applied early in the engineering and design phase of the lifecycle.

It is still early to see what twists and turns the road to the industry adoption of the automated valve RP will take, but it is sure to be an interesting path.

ALEX KOIFMAN, instrument information management and business process consultant, has been involved in instrument data management systems since 1995 in a variety of positions for engineering and software companies. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. HENK HINSSEN, instrumentation engineering associate, has been in the process industry more than 40 years, half of which was for a major petrochemical company. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. F.I.R.S.T. GMBH (www.firstgmbh.de) is an engineering software and services company.



Maintaining Hygienic Diaphragm Valves

The biopharmaceutical industry relies on hygienic diaphragm valves for its demanding process applications because of the unique needs for cleaning and draining and for pressure and temperature capabilities. Over the last 40 years, the basic design of these valves has remained the same: body, diaphragm, topworks and four fasteners (Figure 1). Properly installing and maintaining the valves requires experienced personnel and stringent maintenance practices to assure consistent and reliable valve performance.

The Needs of Today’s Up and Coming Engineers

What’s it like to be a young engineer given responsibility for parts of a multi-million-dollar plant full of potentially hazardous fluids linked together by pipe, fittings and valves that, for a newcomer, are shrouded in a semi-transparent veil of mystery? The answer is a combination of self-confidence, fear and a strong desire to succeed, all bound together with a thousand questions.

Having taught valve training courses for more than 10 years, I have seen and heard all the varied stories these up and coming young men and women have. These mostly millennial engineers and technicians are now the professionals running our plants as the working life of their greying superiors approaches an end. Virtually all the newbies come from engineering or technical school with just enough valve knowledge to be a little confused and the potential to make a wrong decision when it comes to valve issues.


Most large oil and chemical companies provide some valve training for new hires. Often this consists of shadowing an experienced hand or working for a short while as an assistant, which hopefully means learning by osmosis and some well-placed questions. Some larger companies have a valve manual or a set of valve selection documents to learn from or to reference. These two channels have been the crash course that on-the-job-training for valves has become.

It wasn’t always this way, especially for some of the major refiners and chemical producers. In decades past, Humble (later Exxon) used to provide a well-rounded training regimen for its new engineers. When a new engineer was hired, he or she spent a short period becoming quickly acclimated to plant life and its surroundings. The young prodigy-to-be then was assigned to the procurement department’s inspection group for a hands-on course in plant equipment, including valves. The new hires served a period of months as source inspectors for new equipment, which involved reviewing purchase orders and specifications and comparing those against the finished products ready for shipment to the refinery.

As for the valve aspect of this training, there were meetings with vendors to review documents and lots of time spent witnessing assembly and testing of specially engineered or critical valves. Along with this technical inspection training came collateral experience gained in how to deal with a variety of problems and a multitude of personality types.

Following the source inspection training, a new, semi-trained engineer was assigned to a specific unit in the plant. He or she would become familiar with all the fixed and rotating equipment found in the unit while also applying the practical hands-on inspection experience they gained. The not-quite-green-anymore engineer then rotated throughout the plant with stints in many of the other units. After all this training, a much-more-confident engineer or technician was now ready to be placed into a position of responsibility within the company. This whole process from hire to final placement could last two to three years, depending upon the specific needs of the plant.

Today, this process has been homogenized down to a matter of months from new hires to positions of importance. While billions of bytes of digital information are available to the young engineer through their office computer or smartphone, the aspect of having seen it in person and hands-on experience is lacking.


As part of the VMA’s ValveEd training team, I have been privileged to participate in training events for several end users at their facilities. The audience in all cases was predominately young engineers along with some mechanical technicians. In this small group (usually 20-25 people) environment, the fear of dumb questions is reduced and questions are more focused on individual process applications and questions. Although onsite teaching locations are limited to the samples carried in by instructors, the presence of some form of hands-on training helps to reinforce the two-dimensional aspect of the visuals on a screen.

The questions uttered in these small groups can be a bit shocking to some of our presenters who have decades of experience under their belt. But these basic questions reveal the need for continuing valve education such as that offered by VMA.

This past January, my company hosted 54 young ExxonMobil engineers for two, one-day valve and valve repair basics courses. As we went around the room, participants introduced themselves and stated how long they had been working at their job. On the first day, the first row of that class averaged just over one year’s job experience. For the total course, the average experience was about four years. (That four-year number was skewed a little by two veterans with 18 and 20 years who attended the class).

What we discovered was that all the attendees had a pocketful of valve-related questions, which in some cases were answered by the hands-on training they received that day.

A follow-up email survey asking about valve issues they faced in their day-to-day duties revealed a need for additional specific valve application training along with some “valves 201” (advanced and application-specific issues) curriculum. These will serve as program topics for future ValveEd training courses. Also recognized by those planning future basics courses was a need for a condensed valve basics course that could be offered in engineering schools.

20 spr edu 2


With today’s strong focus on the environment, as well as much internal corporate pressure to control fugitive emissions (FE), it should come as no surprise that FE is a topic on the minds of respondents. A popular request among those queried was for training in the proper method of repacking valves with fugitive emissions packing.

An interesting general request also came from the need to readily review the internal design of the various valve types and how they function. Amazingly enough, the request was for some form of a large-sized poster showing the cut-away views of the basic valve types. It seems that even for millennials, a bit of colored ink on a large sheet of coated paper can sometimes be more useful than an eight-square-inch view on a smartphone or a larger one on a computer display.

An analysis of other comments shows a need for experienced sales engineers to make calls on these engineers. Although the “hi, have a donut, how are you doing” approach to sales may elicit a response and the memory of a name, these young engineers could benefit tremendously from interfacing with technically savvy valve sales engineers who can answer their application and “valves 201”-type questions. Even though reaching this group of plant personnel is challenging, it’s clear that persistence in doing so would be worth the effort.

The biggest take-away from the hands-on training course we had was the effectiveness of the hands-on portion of the training. Although in this case “hands-on” is more of an “eyes-on” exercise, the ability to move around and view the components from all angles elevates some of the concepts from the visualization to reality stage. It also shows how effective a more-advanced hands-on valve and actuator assembly and disassembly program could be. Practical experience has shown many of us that during valve outages and turnarounds, when an engineer breaks away from the plant to see and touch a critical valve, the level of understanding increases tremendously.

Any one- or two-day valve basics courses may bring up as many questions among those in attendance as it answers, but that is not necessarily a bad thing as long as new questions are addressed and answered. As I referenced in a previous VALVE Magazine (Summer 2017), “The Road to Valve Knowledge,” valve expertise is not a destination but a career-long journey. As valve trainers, we need to be good listeners and provide training that makes the learning journey more productive and hopefully more enjoyable for these engineers.

Greg Johnson is president of United Valve (www.unitedvalve.com). He is a contributing editor to VALVE Magazine and a current Valve Repair Council board member. He also serves as chairman of the VMA Communications Committee, is a founding member of the VMA Education & Training Committee and is past president of the Manufacturers Standardization Society. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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