Digitizing Control Valves

SAMSON AG, a leading global control valve supplier, recently announced a strategic partnership to integrate 3DSignals’ artificial intelligence-based acoustic monitoring technology into the company’s flow control devices and systems.  This announcement adds SAMSON to the growing list of control valve suppliers leveraging IIoT technologies to create “new services such as adaptive predictive maintenance, and gain process control insights that are rapidly becoming a must in today’s digitized manufacturing environments”, according to Dr. Andreas Widl, CEO of SAMSON.    

For decades, process plants have been designed to be heavily automated to provide safe and stable operation.  In general, plant operators have a good understanding of how a process plant operates but, from the feedback we are receiving, it is clear that it’s impossible for end users to be experts in everything.  While operators and maintenance technicians have good basic knowledge and training in the control valves’ mechanical systems, this knowledge often does not extend to the intelligent electronics included in today’s digital positioners.

Today’s control valve positioners have morphed into digital controllers capable of recording a host of parameters that affect control valve operation (air supply, electrical supply, travel stroke, etc.).  Instrument or electrical teams rarely receive adequate training in these increasingly sophisticated and complex devices and are not typically experts in valve diagnostics.  Today’s digital positioners provide more raw valve health data than ever before, but end users are struggling with the sheer volume of valve health data available, making it challenging to obtain full value from the increased diagnostic capabilities available in their intelligent valve positioners.  They also struggle to get their arms around the new work processes needed to get the full value from intelligent valve positioners.

The end result is that, despite the availability of new, more effective approaches for reducing costly unplanned downtime, many end users admit to falling back on either reactive maintenance practices for control valves, with the resulting lost production; or on inefficient schedule-based maintenance practices.  The latter often results in technicians making trips out to the field to inspect control valves that are operating just fine or, even worse, lead to the technicians introducing problems while performing this unnecessary inspection.

As more end users begin to recognize the downsides of reactive and/or schedule-based maintenance methods, they are increasingly turning to control valve suppliers for valve maintenance services.  These services leverage the supplier’s valve expertise (supplemented with remote monitoring) to fill existing gaps in valve maintenance practices and provide more actionable information.  One of the key benefits of these services is that they often lead to an increase in the frequency of valve health analysis testing, and often provide insight into impending valve health deterioration.  This advanced warning of impending valve failures allows users to schedule remediation well before an operator alarm is triggered or a valve failure leads to unplanned downtime.  This advanced notice helps end users struggling with alarm overload by reducing the number of alarms triggered and helps them prioritize the corrective actions that should be taken to keep the plant running safely and efficiently.

ARC’s latest and greatest control valve market research discusses these and related trends in far more detail.