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Plant engineers are saddled with an important task: outfitting their plants with the most reliable, high quality and cost-effective valves for their applications within their allotted budgets. But choosing the right valve is a complex process that has a major impact on plant operations as well as revenue.
If a valve fails in a process application, end users lose valuable time and money to replace or repair the valve. In some cases, entire areas of a plant may need to shut down for the fix, and unexpected downtime is costly. That’s why many plants choose valves based on history, performance, specification, quality and cost. When making purchasing decisions, plant engineers, maintenance and purchasing personnel must be able to evaluate available options for their facilities and consider both short- and long-term impact.
These decisions will only get harder given the growth of the industry. Forecasts by VMA and other groups predict that demand for industrial valves in the U.S. will increase significantly over the next half decade. This uptick means plant engineers will be even busier making major buying decisions.
The two most basic factors in the valve purchase-making process are functionality and price point. However, both internal and external factors often have an effect on and can muddy the waters and complicate decision making. Examples include:The economy. Even when industries experience economic slow-down, plants must continue to operate at optimal levels with minimal downtime. To do so sometimes requires replacing aging infrastructure or completing major renovations despite the lagging economy.
Recently, the declining prices of crude oil have put the oil and gas industry under pressure. While consumers enjoy lower prices at the pump, U.S. oil companies are tightening purse strings and operating on smaller budgets to remain competitive. Despite this major economic factor, oil and gas plant engineers and maintenance personnel still must ensure their plants operate at maximum efficiency and adhere to safety and environmental standards, and they do so under pressure from tighter capital budgets.
Product selection. Plant engineers and maintenance personnel commonly work with valve manufacturer representatives and distributors that assist with proper selection of valves and actuators. Key factors include selecting the proper valve body and trim materials based on pressure, temperature and media. Many manufacturers offer customers and distributors a chemical resistance guide to aid in selecting the correct body and trim materials. Many of these chemical resistance guides provide a rating for standard valve materials used in common applications, ratings that also are often found in the manufacturer’s printed literature or website. This information allows customers to choose the best option for their particular applications. For instance, some chemicals work well with certain valve body materials, but only up to a specific temperature. In some cases, several valve body or seat materials may receive an acceptable rating, then customers might choose the lowest cost option based on product compatibility. In a nutshell, most applications may have several different material options so plants often determine the best solution for long-term needs. This is because specifying the right product is critical for long-term performance, and misapplied valve products may cause unexpected downtime.