VMA and VALVE Magazine staff were on hand for the recently completed Valve World Americas Expo & Conference, June 20-21. Of the 200+ exhibitors, 45 were members of the Valve Manufacturers Association and representatives from a dozen members also gave presentations during the conference.
Fourteen workshops and seven plenary sessions in the conference covered valve design, cryogenic applications, fugitive emissions and partial stroke testing, staffing and much more.
Firing up the Workforce
In the plenary sessions, Bill Patrick of the Dow Chemical Company discussed the challenges of intergenerational workforces and noted there is a huge gap between those workers who have 25-plus years of experience and those that are just beginning in the field. “How is the age and experience gap going to be resolved?” he asked.
Patrick compared the differences in work styles of millennials to older workers who are set to retire. “They are family-centric, which is a bit different than older generations. While we had cared for our families, we didn’t expect our employers to adapt the work situation around our family needs. Large companies are doing a fair job of adapting to this, but it is difficult for smaller organizations.” He also said millennials are more likely to work in teams to solve problems, unlike baby boomers, who are much more likely to work at something alone, and just get things done. According to Patrick, millennials also want recognition and praise and advancements much more quickly than older workers, and are prone to job-hopping to get what they need.
All of this means that employers today must adapt their strategies to hire and keep the younger generation, and that includes mentorship. “Give your time, tell stories, share with them. We have to share our knowledge to supplement the experience they are getting on the job.”
Patrick’s address was complemented by Greg Johnson of United Valve, who spoke on “Becoming a Valve Expert.” Johnson reminded the assemblage that becoming an expert is a journey, not a destination and that, while there is plenty of good information on the internet, not everything you need to know is online. Johnson recommended VMA’s Valve Basics program as a high-quality source of information for those just entering the field. He also strongly recommended that everyone share their experience. “If you learn something, share with your colleagues,” he said. “And if you learn enough, present a paper or share an article. Expand the knowledge base for everyone!” Greg is sharing his knowledge about this topic in the Summer 2017 edition of VALVE Magazine, so be sure to read more when it is released.
Another important topic covered at the conference was fugitive emissions, with two workshops and a plenary address covering the subject. Bronson Pate of A.W. Chesterton told attendees in his plenary presentation how the newer consent decrees from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have made it increasingly important to have documentation for every valve. “The ultimate goal is to reduce environmental harm,” he said, “but there is a gap between the EPA, environmental groups and the manufacturers, and only a few OEMs are actually responding to the new regulations.” Pate also outlined technology upgrades now required for any newly installed component in the Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) program.
Pate’s colleague, Beau Stander, pointed out in his presentation that end users are facing additional challenges with the newer consent decrees, particularly regarding the required certified low-emission technology upgrades for new and leaking valves in the LDAR programs. He warned, “Even if you’re not required to use these upgrades now, you should implement them. Not only will it combat future attempts to mandate their use, these programs can better align with your business’s long-term safety, environmental, reliability and financial targets.”
Dan DeVine of the Dow Chemical Company also discussed consent decrees from the end-user perspective, and defined precisely what constitutes a leak for valves, equipment and connectors, as well as what must be done after a valve is installed with respect to reporting and documentation.
Emissions were addressed from the valve manufacturer’s perspective by Michael Kitchens and Stan Allen of Bray International. They pointed out that the enhanced LDAR consent decrees have valve manufacturers and their stem packing and gasket suppliers hard at work developing new and innovative valve and sealing technologies. The changes are so rapid,” said Allen, “that whatever was written a year ago on this subject is already out of date.”
Efficiency in Operations
As is generally the case when valve experts and end users get together, the issue of profitability and efficiency in operations was of major concern and led to lively discussions.
David Plum of Emerson Automation Solutions was the first plenary speaker to discuss the issue, pointing out that each year, more than $1 trillion is lost from low performance. “Everyone is trying to do best practices,” he said. “But it’s not always working. The industry needs to reset and use technology to drive capital efficiency.”
Plum cited the many ways automation—which he called transformational technology—can help reduce costs in a capital project, including eliminating certain piping to save space and the number of valves and controls needed to manage a process. By using technology intelligently, unnecessary work can be eliminated, and data can be used to good purpose not only in design and construction, but also in startup and maintenance.
Supply Chain Challenges
There are several issues challenging the status quo of the valve supply chain, not the least of which are recent Executive Orders about steel content in pipes, valves and fittings. “It’s hard to get all parts made in America,” said Jim Owsey of Distribution Now. “And it’s also difficult to know what happens to a product as it goes through the supply chain.”
He stressed how important it was for purchasers to know the channel and the suppliers they are dealing with. Are the manufacturers on your approved manufacturer list (AML)? Audits and inspections are important. “Do random checks. Be proactive with your quality. Let the manufacturer know if you see any problems so they can fix them!”
Ron Merrick of Fluor also addressed the supply chain issue in his plenary speech, pointing out that the more documentation you ask for, the more likely it is that errors will occur. Suppliers, manufacturers and distributors are all points of contact, and information can be lost not just along the manufacturing and shipping channels, but also from users who may authorize changes in something but do not document those changes in an amended purchase order. Additionally, tagging issues are very common on valves, with incorrect markings on the tag, flow directions not being marked or being incorrect or incomplete tags or project specifications.
Merrick suggested that paper documentation is no longer good practice and that all documentation transfer should happen electronically.
Innovation Drives Success
Brindesh Dhruva of Bray International stressed the importance of innovation in his plenary speech. “Light bulbs weren’t invented by someone trying to make a better candle,” he observed. Innovation comes in terms of process innovation, like LEAN and Six Sigma. It can also manifest in technological or customer experience improvements.
While innovation may sometimes come in small, slow increments, it can also be radical and disruptive to the current model. “Take for example horizontal drilling and fracturing for oil and gas. Those were complete game-changers,” he said. “And more are coming now, like stemless valves. You torque them through magnetic conduction.”
Dhruva also pointed to the incredible possibilities with 3D printing. “You can have a prototype in days rather than months. It infuses innovation into the design process, because you can try things right away.”
When asked how he was such a successful player, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky said, “Some people skate to the puck. I skate to where the puck is going to be.” Dhruva advised valve manufacturers and engineers to take Gretzky’s advice to heart when innovating. “Look where we’re going, not where we’ve been.”
Several other speakers offered equally important information, so be sure to check VALVEMagazine.com soon for further highlights from articles presented at the conference.