Improving Terminal Reliability with Quality Isolation Valves

by , | Nov 8, 2021 | Downstream Hydrocarbons, Valves, Actuators & Regulators | 0 comments

An InTech magazine article highlighted the statistic that only 28% of a valve’s lifecycle cost is the initial cost. This means that the majority of your total costs for valves are going towards maintenance and repair, energy consumption, asset disposal, and other costs.

In this Storage Terminal Reliability podcast, Emerson’s David Leavitt discusses the challenges that you can face in the Tanks and Terminals industry that increase your total cost of ownership He also provides suggestions to better solutions that can give you more control and reduce costs around unplanned maintenances.

Avoid unplanned maintenance by:

  • Consulting experts, education and investing in the equipment that is right for your operation
  • Understanding how to service your current equipment
  • Preventing leaks by investing in valve equipment designed for wear-and-tear and better sealing

Visit the Storage Terminal Reliability and the Isolation and Shutoff Valves sections on for more on the technologies and solutions to help you drive safer, more reliable, and more efficient terminal operations.


Jim: Hi, everyone. I’m Jim Cahill with another “Emerson Automation Experts” podcast in our continuing series on Storage Terminal Reliability. Today, I’m joined by David Leavitt, and we’ll be discussing how to reduce isolation valve maintenance and lifecycle costs. Welcome, Dave.

David: Well, thanks for having me, Jim.

Jim: Well, it’s great that you’re here. Let’s start out by asking you to share your background and path to your current role here at Emerson for our listeners.

David: Yeah, sure. So I went to the United States Naval Academy. I’ve got an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. And then as I served in the Navy, I did nuclear power plants on aircraft carriers. So I’m very familiar with the steam cycle or the power world. And so that’s, when I got out of the service, is what drew me to Tyco Flow Control at the time. And I was doing sales for Tyco into all industries, and that was 2005. And so I was doing power, mining, oil and gas, water projects. And that company was purchased by Pentair and I continued to do this same job. I was promoted to a regional sales management position covering the Western United States. Then Emerson purchased the company in 2017. For Emerson, and I started doing business development for a product and I was in charge of the Vanessa triple offset valve for the United States, mainly focused in the west. And then with the reduction in business because of the global virus pandemic, and there were some layoffs. And I’ve now taken a role as a regional sales manager covering the west. So actually almost the exact same job I had back in 2010 to 2013 with Tyco and Pentair, doing that same kind of geography again in same industry. So it’s kind of come full circle for me, Jim.

Jim: Well, that’s a fascinating background, from nuclear, and the Naval Academy background, to all the way through and coming into the Emerson family through acquisition. So that’s great. Well, let’s get into it. Is there a statistic or interesting fact that you can provide that touches upon isolation valve maintenance, and creating a need for sustainability?

David: Yes, there was an industry article put out by “InTech Magazine,” which is an ISA product, and they looked at the lifecycle cost of valves. And they determined that only 28% of a valve’s lifecycle cost is the initial cost. So there’s an additional 72% of a valve’s costs that’s still to come over its lifecycle, ranging in things from maintenance, disposal, maybe energy, if it’s an automated valve. So there’s just a lot of costs that maybe aren’t taken into account if we just focus on that upfront initial cost. And so if the industry looks at, you know, a little broad, or long-term, or total cost of ownership, they can start to see that certain valve technologies are much more economic and provide them a sustainable future.

Jim: Well, that’s interesting. I guess, given that a lot of those lifecycle costs come after purchase and installation, I guess, what are some important considerations in annual budgeting, especially in our case, for tanks and terminal sites?

David: Yeah, Jim, the biggest thing is just that unplanned maintenance. If a valve is leaking to a point where it’s not going to make it to the next scheduled outage or planned maintenance, and you’ve got to now drain either a tank, drain some miles of pipe, do some maintenance that just requires that valve to come out and be replaced, it’s a very large undertaking. You know, we can’t have a leak. So if we have a leak, and that’s what’s driving this unplanned maintenance, whether that leak is to the environment, whether that leak is from a tank to a tank, if it’s to a tank, it could be caused for overflow, if they don’t budget or plan accordingly, they can really, I’ll just use the term blow their budget, because of that unplanned maintenance.

Jim: Wow. So it sounds like it’s those unexpected things that can get you. So having enough contingency to be able to do it, I guess, as you look across all the valves you have installed there, that’s something. So I guess what are challenges that industry professionals have in isolation valve selection? So I guess the front-end part. And how can we, as Emerson, help?

David: Well, I think they need to have a big picture, right? What’s going on within their company? Are they reducing manpower? Are they switching more to automation? Are they, I’m just going to use the term, “We’re just going to build this, and we’re going to sell the asset, so we don’t want to invest too much money.” So it’s, you know, what is this producer or this operator’s, you know, philosophy? There’s always something cheaper in any industry that you can always fill a hole in a pipe with. But is that the right answer, right? Is it worth saving, I’m going to say 10%, 20%, 30%, whatever that number is on that upfront cost, but yet within the first five years, you’ve already spent two or three times the amount on maintenance or even replacement of product? So the challenge is really either education because they don’t know certain technologies exist.

And I can tell you that the technology we’re talking about today has been around for 50 years, but there are customers that maybe use a certain product, they have, and they feel that it’s worked acceptable for them for the past, and so they want to continue that way, or they say, “Well, we’ve got comfort with it, and our maintenance crew has comfort with the old technology. So we don’t want to look at this,” I’m going to call it new technology, but it’s not new by any means. So there’s just a lot of competing factors with regard to, do we spend the money now and get a product that we’ve heard about, maybe we have no experience with, but, you know, do we spend that money take that risk, or do they just go with something they know is less cost upfront? There are thousands of them in the market in terms of, if I did need to replace one, but boy, there’s just so many other costs that go with it.

Because if I just have to take a valve out, it’s not that simple. I’ve got lost, I’ll just say production, but, you know, throughput of your plant capacity. You might have to take a bigger part of the plant down than planned because they can’t get isolation to do the valve change out. So there’s just a lot of things to consider. How do we help? I really think through education, pouring at customer, maybe getting them the references or the contacts that have been using this product. North America, in particular, has been using this product quite extensively. Since about 2006 was really when our big push, our big focus in the market, but also the market was expanding and a lot of tanks and terminals were being built, as crude oil demand and production were both on the increase through fracking. And so there just was a lot of storage requirements, so, you know, a lot of infrastructure being built.

And so the timing was good on our part and the industry’s part to take a look at new valve technologies to that industry and evaluate the cost savings on the front end. Because there are additional cost savings, as opposed to just the valve, that can be identified from a weight, a space, no need for platforms, smaller actuations. There are some other costs that they can start to identify. So that’s really what I think that Emerson can bring, is just a comfort level of trying a product and then putting them in contact with, I’ll just say, peers in the industry that have been using the technology for now going on 15-plus years.

Jim: Well, that sounds like education is really a big part of it. Now, I know in when you were introducing yourself a little bit, and you had mentioned the Vanessa valves, and they have the triple offset technology. Can you share some of the advantages of this triple offset technology found in these valves?

David: Yeah, so, you know, the best way to understand the technology, Jim, is to see it, right, get your hands on it. But hopefully, I can paint you a picture with my words. So we’ve got a product that is rotary, that means it rotates 90 degrees. So like a ball valve, like a traditional butterfly valve, like a plug valve. But all those other designs, through that 90 degrees, you have components in contact, therefore rubbing over the entire 90 degrees, right? If it’s a butterfly, you’ve got a disc edge and a seat that are rubbing. If you’ve got a ball valve, you’ve got the seats and the ball that are always in contact and rubbing, whether those seats are soft, like nylon, Teflon, or they could even be metal. And then in a plug, well, you could have Teflon line type plugs, or you could have lubricated plugs that are rotating metal on metal with a lot of grease.

So the design we tried to eliminate, or that was the task, right? We want to eliminate completely the contact of sealing element and seat through the 90-degree rotation. And so in 1972, when Vanessa started manufacturing this product, they were able to accomplish this through triple offset valve technology. And so they offset the relationship of the stem and the sealing elements. So in a traditional ball or butterfly, everything’s concentric. The shaft comes right into the center of the ball, or the shaft goes right through the center of a disk. And it could rotate 360 degrees if you wanted it to. But we had to engineer in by putting the shaft behind the disc or the sealing element, we had to offset the shaft in the center of the flow left to right, so it’s offset, it’s not right in the center.

And then last, we had to offset the, use the term cone and sealing. So the cone is not right in the center of the flow, it’s offset to the pipe wall. But by introducing these three offsets, we now can manufacture a rotary product, so 90-degree rotation product that can go through the entire stroke of 90 degrees and not touch, or rub, or wear the sealing component and the seat component. And we manufacture this as metal to metal, everything is metal in the construction. And by doing that, you now get a product, because it doesn’t touch or rub in theory, it should not wear. And so the big difference, though, is in the very last principle, which is a ball valve is position seated, a butterfly valve is position seated, meaning you just rotate at 90 degrees and you let go of the lever or the gear, and it just sits there.

A triple offset valve is torque seated. Our design is torque seated. That means that now we’ve rotated the disc through the 90 degrees, we’ve brought the seal ring or the sealing element in contact with the seat, and we apply torque. So we are trying to over-travel the shaft. We’re applying torque to the shaft through a gear. That torque is transmitted down the shaft to keys on the shaft that transmit it to the disc. And then on the edge of the disc, we’ve got a seal ring, a metal steel ring made of duplex stainless steel. And that seal ring is now in contact around the full 360 degrees. And the seat obviously is equal and opposite to that. And we get a non-rubbing, non-wearing metal-to-metal seat that is repeatable. Because we don’t touch, rub, or wear through the rotation, so the wear is not there. And so we give a very long life of giving zero leakage to the industry, which is what they’ve been looking for a long time. So it’s been a great product to introduce to the tank and terminal industry. And they’ve had a lot of success. You know, our success is really their success.

Jim: Well, I think that paints a really good picture. And I think you did a great job comparing and contrasting with the more concentric designs on the other valves. And I know if, in the listener’s mind, they didn’t quite get a clear picture of those three offsets, that there’s some really good videos that visually demonstrate that on there. So I encourage people listening here to, you know, google for those, find them, and check them out. I guess, from a financial side, given the fact that they can last longer without the maintenance by the way they’re constructed, how would you sum up the return on investment value created by having these more reliable isolation valve solutions?

David: There’s a few different places where we like to really focus on how the customer will get a return on investment. So let’s just start with, I made the comment, the valve is a zero-leakage valve. So let’s start there. The most common product in this industry is a gate valve. So I know I, I compare this product to a butterfly and a ball. That’s just because those are rotary-designed products. But the most common valve in this industry is a linear product, a wedge-gate valve. And that wedge-gate valve is allowed to leak when it leaves the factory. It’s a metal-to-metal seated product, it’s linear, and it is allowed to leak. So now, they’re more economic, I will just say that. They’re much more economic than a triple offset valve.

But the return of investment starts to show up when we look at the weight of a valve, so maybe now you need more pipe supports, the size of the valve. You know, this industry has a lot of 24-inch and larger valve. So a 24-inch gate valve quickly becomes 96 inches when you account for the valve, the bonnet, the yoke, the overhead clearance of a shaft coming out of the top of the yoke. So now with 24-inch valve, really envelopes starting to take up 96 inches vertically. With that, we now have to build a platform so that operations can get up there and do set up on an electric actuator or a platform just for an operator to be able to go up and manually stroke the valve. Then we talk about two big places that the rotary design eliminates. A linear product typically has… I’ll just use the term, it typically leaks from the packing. So the packing, that’s where we are isolating the movement of a shaft to the environment. And it’s a graphite packing typically top and bottom is braided graphite and then die-formed packing in the center.

And as that linear product goes up and down, up and down through that packing, it typically starts to leak. So we have now a potential leak path to the environment for, let’s just assume it’s crude oil. So if crude oil leaks now, if it is a certain amount, then it’s a reportable incident. Now we could have a fine. So we have that issue. Linear product also has issues with emissions. So volatile organic compounds, the LDAR programs, so leak detection and reporting and repair, whatever the R is. You know, the end-user has got to do that. That’s on them to report places where we have leaks to the environment of gasses. So gate valves are notorious for being a violator of, you know, having high emissions, higher than the limit.

A rotary product, like the triple offset valve, same packing arrangement, top and bottom braided graphite, die-formed packing in the middle. And because it’s just 90-degree rotation, we’re not going up and down through the packing stack and causing it to, I’ll just say, wear and degrade over time. In the rotary design, it just is rather easy duty, not as severe duty. And so long-term, they get very good emissions results so their LDAR program can be satisfied. So basically, if the industry standard is 100 PPM or less, you know, we’re in the single digits apart per million VOC. So we’re way, way below the limit that is put on us by the industry. So another place where, you know, you could be fined, you could have to replace your packing. You know, you’ve got to take down the plant so that you can replace the packing in a gate valve.

You know, all of that is just something that is going to be those additional costs that we talked about. You know, if the initial cost is only 28% of a lifecycle, well, now I can really start to address the long-term either maintenance or even fines, because you could have fines for crude oil leaks, you could have fines for having too high of emission. So there’s a few places there, but just being able… You know, an incalculable cost is probably, you know, the day, Jim, that you want to actually go do maintenance. “Today, I’m going to do maintenance on a pump, and I need to isolate the suction in the discharge.” Well, what if that suction in the discharge valve leak? Well, there’s a couple options, close more valves. There’s another option, you know, put in a blind flange, not do the maintenance, right? Ah, can’t get isolation, that’ll take too long, so we’ll just defer that maintenance.

But, you know, you might have a crew there. You know, you had a service crews show up, either it’s third-party crew or it’s even your internal people. And they’re there to do pump maintenance that day and we can’t get it to isolate. So you’ve got a bunch of, you know, man-hours being spent and nothing’s happening. Or we’re just closing more valves. As we close more valves, possibly we’re taking more and more of the plant capacity out of service. And so it just continues to be additional costs on the producer, on the customer that is there. Why? Because they saved a few dollars on valve technology that leaks the day they get it. It’s never going to get better, right? So the valve isn’t going to leak last in time. You know, they can save a few dollars on the front end, but they quickly could pay for it on the back end, Jim.

Jim: Well, it sounds like with all the sustainability efforts underway and trying to reduce those emissions and operate more sustainably and everything, that alone is good. Not to mention, you know, the maintenance costs, the additional construction costs, put everything in and any fines or anything that happens from leaks and everything else. So yeah, that sounds like it can paint a pretty compelling ROI to more than offset any difference in initial purchase price. So I think that’s great. Well, let’s start winding things down. I always like to ask our subject matter experts, what didn’t I ask you about isolation valves that perhaps I should have?

David: You know, there’s another component of, I’ll just say costs, that could show up for a producer. Human error is listed. There was PHMSA, which is Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. So PHMSA has got a report out that the second leading cause of accidents, so let’s talk spills, over the last decade have been caused by human error, human error. So the problem with some older technology, so let’s just go to the traditional gate valve that is still 90% of this industry, two operators could go out and really physically strain to try and close one of these valves for, I’m going to use the term 15, 20 minutes. It’ll take them that long. Okay. Large diameter, wedge gate valve, a lot of torque through the entire stroke, a gear ratio, and a handwheel diameter of whatever it is. It’s going to take two operators 15 to 20 minutes to close that valve.

And there’ll be absolutely exhausted at the end. But when they leave that valve, they’re going to say to themselves that that valve’s closed. The shaft has gone all the way down. “We think it’s all the way down. The valves look closed, we don’t hear flow.” But that valve probably is still leaking to no part of there. You know, the operators didn’t think that they closed it, they did. But you know, your lines are still pressurized, probably. You’ve got a valve that you believe is closed. And if that valve is isolating a tank, it could just continue to fill and fill and fill. You know, is it bubbles per minute, is it gallons per minute? Well, don’t know. But it could be gallons per minute. It’s an older valve, and they just are exhausted, and it doesn’t seal anymore.

And so now you’ve got a tank that’s slowly going up, going up, and you see every now and then that, you know, human error because they just don’t have a good feel for that valve being closed. They can look at all the signs that they can think, right? The shaft is down and the gate. Or the shaft goes down in the gear. They don’t hear flow, they don’t think there’s any concern, and yet that can lead to overfill. And now you’ve got a reportable accident. So, you know, human error is a big piece of this. And so having valves that are pretty intuitive that they’re closed, they’re easy to close, so that’s a real positive for an operation standpoint. I’ve stroked very large valves. I’ve personally stroked the 48-inch 300 Vanessa. Takes a long time, but I’m not worn out by the end of it. And I know it’s closed. I know it’s going to be zero leakage. That’s how we shipped it, that’s how it will perform for a long, long time, provided that, you know, we don’t misapply it. There are certain, you know, abrasive applications we don’t want.

But in the crude industry, it’s a pretty easy service for this technology, all-metal construction rotary, and it just allows, or it eliminates that human error concern that, you know, 17% over the last decade of spills directly attributed to human error. Well, the error was either they did a valve lineup incorrectly or, you know, what they thought was closed, what they thought was open maybe was not. Really, it’s the valve technology that’s selected. So that’s something I would say is important, is just trying to eliminate that human error piece as well from the industry.

Jim: I’m really glad you brought up that personal or personnel safety standpoint because that really is an important consideration. And just the time spent in being in perhaps a hazardous area to do it. So that’s beyond all the economics that you mentioned that are advantages, that safety side is really important. Well, this has been a real enlightening discussion today. Where can our listeners go to learn more about storage terminal reliability from an isolation valve perspective?

David: Well, so the Emerson websites should have some different podcasts. We have PowerPoints. We’ve got the meet the experts, presentations that have been done in the last 12 months. I think, you know, the Emerson website should be a good starting place, Jim. Otherwise, they can come to me directly or do other regional peers to help support them.

Jim: Okay. That’s great. And I’ll add a link into the whole storage terminals area of the site so people can go and find more information in there. Well, Dave, I want to thank you so much for joining today and sharing some of your expertise with our listeners. So thank you so much.

David: Oh, it was my pleasure, Jim. And yeah, if you need any other support, please lemme know.

Jim: Will do.

-End of transcript-

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