August 22, 2012
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№ 1 (January 2010)

Future Belongs to Smart Valves

   Modern global trends in development of automatic process control devices for measurement systems, such as flow measurement, pressure and temperature gauges, require further improvement of actuators, the key tool of any such system.

By Mikhail Zilonov

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   This issue is the driving force behind the development of smart valves – the biggest prospect in manufacturing control valves and shutoff valves, required by the modern automatic process control systems. The use of smart valves (i.e. the use of valves with a wide range of electronic control and diagnostics functions) will ensure extensive application of the valves and allow processing units to run in different modes. Over the past three years, virtually all large foreign producers have been investing in design and development of different types of smart valves.

   The search for new conceptual solutions makes it possible to manufacture and employ self-testing valves, valves with electronic sensors and other devices with enhanced capabilities.

   The main principle of smart valves’ operation is the use of electronic control systems which enable precise evaluation of the valves’ performance or allows obtaining additional information based on the valves’ indirect operating data. These data are evaluated and measured depending on the type of electronic controls used at minor levels of valve activity, without little impact on the overall process control. Electronic control including additional data ensures the use of valves as a separate tool for sustaining or changing certain technological parameters.

Turnkey Solutions
   LG Automatics is practically Russia’s sole serial manufacturer of control valves produced on the basis of smart technology and used also in local control systems. LG Automatics, created in 1993 under a military industry conversion program, today represents a full-cycle production chain ranging from in-house design to manufacturing. Recently, the company designed and launched production of a broad range of control and shutoff valves, gaining a competitive edge over renown foreign manufacturers. One of the company’s specializations is design and production of smart valves. Its control and shutoff valves can run virtually non-stop, and their repair is required based on performance assessment. Since the mid-2009 the majority of pneumatic valves have been produced with the self-test option by default.

Growth Deterrents
   At the same time, a number of negative factors thwart development of Russia’s smart valves manufacturing industry. They include “the blinders” that many domestic companies’ managers seem to be wearing – from the outset these companies are oriented towards buying foreign products. Such situation is further aggravated by the lack of government support, which could provide at least information support to domestic producers. On many reconstruction projects, technology suppliers or designers tend to pick foreign products, which are often required by the tender terms, such as demands for relevant international guarantees, provision of financial conditions, requirements for compliance with foreign regulations and standards. All this creates insurmountable problems for domestic players. The current lukewarm attitude toward local producers does not improve the general  climate for development and application of domestically-created modern valve designs. That is why the outlook for Russia’s valve industry is dim despite significant successes in designing and manufacturing products of due quality. One could even talk about a gradual squeeze of Russian producers out of the market, regardless of the quality, cost and competitiveness of foreign manufacturers who have a far greater level of support and bigger capabilities in promoting their products in Russia.

   It is possible to improve the situation through development of locally designed technologies while the government would take a more active part in providing information support (access to industry exhibitions and conferences, publication of specialized literature, staff training, etc). Today, participation in industry shows requires significant funds, there are no specialized publications, staff training has been fully commercialized and college graduates often fail to confirm their designated qualifications.

   How to overcome such difficulties? Our company, for instance, provides staff training on an ongoing basis and we try to establish our own scientific and technical library as well, but this is the effort of a single moderate-size company. If the support of domestic manufacturing remains at the current level, Russian producers will not be able to change the current market trend in development and application of smart valves, which means that their serial manufacturing will become practically impossible.
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