Pumps and Valves - Benefits flow from new technology06 June 2005

The combination of innovative technology with radical changes in manufacturing processes is a key factor in improving the total cost of ownership of pumps and valves. Cost-conscious buyers are looking for solutions that are not overengineered, fit for purpose, efficient and able to deliver operational, as well as capital cost, savings.

Irrespective of the industry in which the pumps and valves are used - petrochemical, utilities or nuclear - many suppliers are focusing on delivering a customised service, so the customer is almost an integral part of the manufacturing process.

One emerging trend is combining the elements of existing valve and pump technology in new ways to meet application needs better, or to deliver a fully bespoke solution. The priority is to improve the process of taking the customer's requirements and turning them into a finished solution.

In certain industries, nuclear in particular, obsolescence is an issue. So NW Pump and Valve has devised a solution to replace obsolete, conventional valves - not only is the solution bespoke, but the new valve is smaller and no longer requires the top-mounted actuator assembly. The unit has already been trialled and shown to reduce maintenance and capital costs in a design that combines existing functions, using the same materials, but in a different, highly innovative way.

This type of approach is becoming more commonplace, as cutting back on the amount of space occupied by a pump or valve assembly, and often at a premium, can reduce operating costs.

Developers of the new Uniglide split casing pump from Weir Group, which has been designed for the water industry, were tasked with finding ways to reduce 'through-life' cost and maintenance time, cut energy costs and improve overall performance. In a departure from the traditional design, the removal of the impeller key eliminates the potential for fretting and fatigue failures. Similarly, cartridge mechanical seals and 'cartridgised' bearing units can be replaced without dismantling the pump. This new design incorporated stainless steel impellers and shafts, with an internal coating on the casing that improves the pump's efficiency. Yet it is not just the physical design changes that make the pump revolutionary: the re-engineered manufacturing and supply chain processes also increase efficiency. By linking a 3D CAD system direct to the shopfloor, a cross-functional project team found ways to reduce dramatically development times and manufacturing costs.

For pump and valve technology, the subsea operating environment of the petrochemical industry is among the most hazardous in the world. In the North Sea, the Ormen Lange gas field is located 120km off the north-west coast of Norway and boasts wellhead equipment at a depth of 1,100km, where sea temperatures can fall to -2degC. Deep sea developments are growing in number and the viability of exploiting these resources is due to technology developments. A critical issue for these developments is that the gas contains 'entrained water', which can result in the formation of ice-like hydrates on the wellhead equipment.

To overcome this, the equipment would normally have to be brought to the surface to allow the ice to melt - an extremely costly exercise. Now, a newly designed dosing valve can deliver controlled quantities of anti-freeze (Mono- Ethylene-Glycol, or MEG). This approach eliminates the need to bring the equipment to the surface to remove the hydrates and, by injecting MEG on the sea bed, no divers are needed and the hydrates can be dissolved where they are formed.

The valve was originally designed to isolate flow and is unaffected by the formation of cavities that could be blocked by hydrates. Performance is much better than that gained from a conventional approach and, while it is truly application specific, elements such as the actuators and controls use currently available technology. The CANbus control systems that provide remote operation and monitoring can also download configuration changes, or alter the valve position remotely.

Many product developments these days follow the mantra of modular design and manufacture - but this is rarely the case with pumps and valves, which tend to remain focused on particular applications and solutions. For the power generation sector, the Weir Roto-Jet VSR pump incorporates a switched reluctance motor and a soft starter control system to give variable speed capability. The use of such motors is not new, but incorporating this into a pump unit is highly innovative - indeed, the design won the British Pump Manufacturers' Association award for technical innovation last year. In the UK, AES Drax Power Station installed this new pump as a replacement for an existing highpressure triplex piston model. For the customer, the use of a variable speed drive, in combination with other features, allows the performance of the pump to exactly match the application needs. This design is also being used across other industries, with the potential to achieve energy savings of up to 40%, with a footprint almost 60% less than a standard gearbox unit. The new design eliminates many elements from the traditional assembly, including motor coupling, gear box, pump coupling, bearing housing, pump base and guards.

Traditionally, once the customer places an order, the design is then produced by the pump or valve manufacturer, and negotiations ensue between customer and supplier until the final design is complete. All this is performed in a typical production line environment, with testing, quality and inspection processes being undertaken and witnessed off line.

These days, learning the lessons from the automotive sector, pump and valve manufacturers are enhancing investment in e-business, CAD systems, and in line quality checking and testing. For the customer, the payback is reduced time to complete the product and, with automated testing processes delivering real-time, instant read-outs from witnessed tests, the customer is even more closely connected to the solution. Pump and valve manufacturers are taking the opportunity to reengineer the supply chain, applying best practice principles and techniques. For customers, this delivers major benefits and for suppliers lower costs and improved efficiency across the supply chain.

Whether for pumps or valves, the latest designs are aimed at delivering efficiencies and cost savings in maintenance practices, design and production, testing, installation, working life and total cost of ownership. And the benefits go full circle: the manufacturers, too, are gaining from applying better processes and techniques, reducing overall manufacturing time and costs, so enabling a good deal of thinking 'outside the box' to deliver the right solution back to the customer.


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