It’s a fact of life that no matter how well we plot and plan, something can happen to upset those plans. From small events, such as equipment or power failures or leaks and spills to bigger events such as strikes from Mother Nature—there is no way to predict when a catastrophe might occur. However, there are many ways to recover, and part of that recovery process involves finding, evaluating and either repairing or replacing valves.
This article looks at what happens to valves and their actuators during a flood. For information on what happens during a fire or explosion, catch the Winter 2010 issue of Valve Magazine.
The amount of damage valves and actuators sustain in a flood depends on water depth and how long equipment is submerged. However, flooding almost always results in sediment issues, says Jack Roubik, sales manager, Wal-Tech Valve, Inc.
With fresh water “you’ve got sediment that forms around the connectors,” and if it’s salt water, “you have corrosion over time,” he says. And while salt water is the more corrosive medium, “you’d be surprised even in river water the amount of damage that can be caused from standing water,” he says.
While it’s unlikely the inside of the valve would receive major damage in a flood, corrosion to the outside could be a major problem, says Calvin Bohannon, business development manager, services group, Crane Energy Flow Solutions. “On the exterior, you’d have to address things like the B7 bolting, the H2 nuts and things like that are probably going to corrode pretty rapidly while you’re shut down,” he explains.
The actuators, rather than the valves themselves, usually receive the most extensive flood damage. Even for a manual valve, “water is going to eat away at the areas that require lubricant; the lubricant is going to float on top of the water, causing lots of problems internally, in the gear boxes, in the drive nuts,” says Bohanna. While it may be possible to salvage and repair pneumatic positioners, any electric or electronic components will have to be replaced, he adds. If they are not, “you run the risk of putting it all back together and at some point having a failure—so it’s wholesale changes for the most part,” he adds.
One could make a pretty good argument that a flood is worse, economically, than an explosion or fire. While less likely to cause injuries or death, floods generally affect an entire region, which means wider competition for people to repair the damage. And a flood is likely to affect an entire plant, not just the parts under water.
What’s more, “If it catches [plant operators] by surprise,” says Bohannon, “then they’re going to have issues other than the stuff that’s been exposed to rising water—they’re going to have upsets in their process, relief valves that are blowing, flares that are flaring. They’re going to be trying to get [the plant] shut down in a safe manner without blowing the whole facility up.
One of the biggest problems with any large-scale disaster is shortage of information, parts and people. For example, in many disasters, the plant’s engineering and other documents are lost, which is exacerbated in older plants where the information was already insufficient because valves weren’t tagged or the companies that made the valves and actuators have gone out of business or been acquired.
And sometimes, even with a more current valve, it may be impossible to get needed information, says McCoy. “You have … manufacturers that will have India manufacture [the part] this year and then have China manufacture it the next year,” he says, as well as companies that simply keep inadequate records, which causes specifications that are off.
On the other hand, suggests Bohannon, many manually-operated valves can be salvaged even with no OEM parts available, especially manual gate globes and checks, and some quarter-turn plugs, he says. As far as older control valves are concerned, “you have soft goods and parts that may not be supported any longer, but usually those are on a list for replacement,” he says.
As far as deciding whether to repair or replace a valve, there are simple ways to determine what’s best. Roubik says that if the cost to repair a valve or actuator exceeds 50% of its replacement cost, it’s better to “give the customer the option of replacing it or getting it repaired.” The decision usually depends on both timing and budget, he adds.
Words of Advice
When asked how to prepare for any disaster, many believe the best method is good recordkeeping. By keeping careful records of serial numbers and spare parts, and by stamping serial numbers into the bodies of all valves, “it helps when you fix the valve, because just a tag alone doesn’t work,” McCoy says, since it can be destroyed easily.
Roubik suggests valve companies also remember their relationship with customers is “a complete process from the sale, the construction of the plant to the sale of new product to the repair.” He notes that following hurricane Katrina, there were some valve companies that went beyond the call of duty—as they saw the disaster occurring, they had products and people in place to help.
Preparation extends to the ability to get the repair facilities operating—from running temporary power lines to bringing in people and parts from other locations, he adds.
Still, these steps benefit the valve company as well as the customer, Roubik says. This is because when a brand is affected by a major disruption, the effects down the line “spread like wildfire,” often coming back on the OEM.
In the end, says Roubik, disaster preparation and response is about good partnerships and not about trying to sell valves.