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Home / Issue Archive / 2010 / January #1 / Taking a Shortcut. Valve actuator manufacturers are more often entering the Russian market directly

№ 1 (January 2010)

Taking a Shortcut. Valve actuator manufacturers are more often entering the Russian market directly

   Russia’s electric actuators market has been greatly influenced by the post-Soviet change of the economic system and conversion programs in some industries. However, the key contributor to creating the new market was the dismantling of the design-production-standardization chain and  industrial equipment control.

By Irina Druzina

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   Today, the market features several large producers of actuators and supplementary devices, such as Tulaelektroprivod, ABS ZEiM Avtomatizatsiya, which are essentially shards of the command economy era. Also featuring are several defense industry plants such as the Ufa Instrument-making Industrial Association and the Kursk-based Pribor company. These plants boast powerful industrial and engineering infrastructure which helped them launch production of new types of electric valve actuators and offer the market a rage of new, unique products. Recent years have also seen the emergence of a few newcomers such us TEK and EleSi who put the stress on aggressive marketing and brand-new solutions.
   And yet even the units developed and produced today are largely influenced by the former Soviet system of design, production and standardization. Thus, the earlier division of the industry into design bureaus and production plants whose manufacturing programs relied on those bureaus’ designs brought about the situation where many large players in the valves and actuators market today lack the skills and mechanisms (rather then designers) to develop the know-how for new products. On the other hand, highly skilled specialists at design bureaus, who develop interesting solutions that could potentially be in high demand, are not able to set up serial manufacturing and launch these products in the market.

Smart Actuators Are the New Trend

   Currently, the actuators market is far more interesting than the valves market. Traditionally, actuators have always been secondary devices – an appendage to valves, while the major importance has been attached to specifications and the tasks solved by process engineers who selected the valves. As a rule, a production train would be designed first and the electric actuator was just a device putting it in motion, without any significant importance. Such a model puts actuator manufacturers in a disadvantageous position, placing a screen between them and the end user. Ultimately, actuator manufacturers sold their products to either valve producers or assembly companies. Today, this situation is radically changing.

   New designs for capital construction of state-of-the-art facilities envisage the installation of automatic process control systems first, starting with the end-level controller and ending with field devices. Actuators link the production train with the upper level and selecting its parameters today is a lot more critical than before. This issue is subtly treated by all foreign producers and only by some domestic firms. Hence so many issues with protocols, interfaces, data flow rate and, crucially, compatibility of protocols and software used in field devices with end-level controllers.

   Elsewhere, the situation differs. In important, major processes, where everything depends on a single, expensive multi-channel controller, a ‘smart’ actuator will be installed. In a sewerage system it is definitely not necessary. Over time a clearly defined boundary is likely to be drawn between the processes of high-level responsibility, elementary local-loop regulators and simple ‘open-shut’ operations. This, in turn, changes the sales strategy making the engineering companies the chief selling target of actuator producers. It also provides them with access to another key group of influence – designers.

   Now a few words about ‘smart’ actuators. This is not a unit that features – as many in Russia believe – a thyristor starter, but a programmable microchip, and it can perform internal self-testing and valve testing. A smart actuator alerts the operator when exactly the valve it’s fitted on needs to be repaired or replaced. Performing field device diagnostics without dismantling is a dream for any metrologist, process engineer or chief engineer whose schedules are divided between planned maintenance activities and examination shutdowns.

Segmenting the Market

   Various estimates put Russia’s actuators market in 2007 (the last pre-crisis year) at $110-115 million. Performance results in 2009 have yet to be assessed, but we expect a 30-percent fall of output and a 40- to 45-percent drop in monetary terms (the difference is due to the ruble going weaker against the Euro).

Actuators market breakdown by rotator type:
quarter-turn – 32 percent (3/1 – flanged/lever-type);
direct-type – 11 percent;
multi-turn – 57 percent.
The valve actuators market can be broken down by type of operation – rotary (butterfly gate and ball valves), direct-type (saddle valve, piston valve) and multi-turn type (shatters and valves of some fittings producers), as well as lever-type devices.

Direct-Type Actuators

   Most often valves are used as regulators, thus a valve actuator is subject to Russia’s GOST standards for regulating equipment. Such valves are used in chemical and petrochemical facilities, as well as for regulating water and steam levels in heat supply systems. Petrochemical and chemical industries avoid using 220/380 power cables, so the actuators usually operate on pneumatic cables, so-called diaphragm actuators.

   Explosion-proof actuators with valves are used on oil skimming units and units for primary distillation of heavy crude. There are also other fields of application but this segment is the largest. Other applications include the use of direct-type actuators in the heat power industry, different types of small-size boiler rooms, modular heat distribution stations, or in steam and hot water supply to process units in the metals industry, and very seldom in the petrochemical industry, since it requires 100-percent explosion-proof environment regardless of the actual site of installation.

Multi-Turn Actuators

   This is the biggest segment of the actuators market. According to experts, gate valves account for about 50-55 percent of the entire valves market. The leading spot in this niche is traditionally occupied by Tulaelektroprivod, the company which had been founded as a dedicated actuators producer in the era of planned economy. Recently, the market has seen a powerful breakthrough by one of international leaders, Germany’s AUMA. On the global scene the Müllheim-based firm is trailing behind the U.K.-based ROTORK, however in Russia it’s the unchallenged leader among the foreign players.

   In concluding remarks let me point out some of the tendencies for the development of actuators  and the market as a whole:
Anticipated demand growth for the climate-modified units (UHL1) due to the oil production shifting to northern regions.

   Demand growth for equipment adapted to natural gas. This is primarily linked to prospects of natural gas exports to Europe. Another demand driver could be the use of satellite fields to supply gas to neighboring regions, and the growing share of natural gas consumption in the power-generating sector.

   Growing presence of foreign manufacturers, including those from Asia (primarily China and South Korea). Recently, such companies as EIM Controls, Schiebel, ZPA Pečky and others have stepped up activity at exhibitions and trade shows. Rep offices are being opened, marketing channels set up via distributors promoting foreign actuators sales in the local market.

   The change of actuator control system – a built-in starter and a control box for the analogue signal (positioner) are becoming a necessity rather than a luxury.
Production of smart actuators aims to enhance protection for process parameters of valves and actuators, unify positioning and process regulation functions (PID, PPD and others), provide testing interface for actuators and valves.
   Change of control and adjustment methods: automatic, manual, remote and local flow control.
   Improved operational control of actuators, valves and processes by operational and other alerts (position, state and device parameters, as well as measurement and control of electromechanical and thermal parameters of the actuator), parameter archiving.

   Improvement of equipment protection functions, including both the actuator and the production train.
   Introduction of smart lowest-level sensors and actuating units for subsequent development of automation systems in various branches of industry and their ultimate decentralization. This provides for technical capability to solve the key task of individual testing and forecasting the state of each part of the local control loop, including actuators and valves.

   Rapid growth of the rotary actuators’ share in the market on the backdrop of the multi-turn actuators’ drop as the valves market dynamically changes, shifting the focus from from shutters to ball valves and butterfly gates.

   Development of the “nuclear energy topic” in compliance with the Russian government’s pledge to build new nuclear power stations and shortage of energy resources. This is where local producers are traditionally strong whereas imported actuators are rather expensive. That is why foreign manufacturers are trying to gain the foothold by promoting functionality and new-generation control systems. The Russian market has a high entry barrier, but it also offers a generous reward in terms of profit. Compared to the explosion-proof market it is more sluggish – longer product launch periods, rather strict standard requirements, lengthy paperwork approval cycles and high “membership costs” (the rules for company accreditation include a mandatory performance assessment of the manufacturer’s top managers grading their knowledge of nuclear industry rules and regulations.

   Overall, Russia’s actuators market is developing rapidly. This is largely owed to the growing automation, upgraded principles and technologies of industrial manufacturing, installation of new power stations in the energy sector, modernization of the existing fields and development of the new ones, growing attention to the issue of higher conversion rates in oil refining, erection of LNG plants, construction of new and modernization of existing pipelines.
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