Five tips for prioritizing process valve safety in manufacturing facilities

Discover five best practices for achieving optimal process valve performance in manufacturing, providing essential guidance for process engineers and maintenance technicians.

By Gilbert Welsford Jr. May 26, 2023
Courtesy: Brett Sayles

Process valve insights

  • Proper process valve maintenance in a manufacturing facility can help companies prevent serious damage and injury.
  • Companies can improve safety by streamlining valve and investment, adhering to valve standards and perform regular maintenance.

Valves contribute to the safety of industrial processes by controlling fluid flow through pipelines and improving the precision of different operations. Valves, like other industrial components, fail — the consequences of valve failures can be catastrophic, which is why process engineers should prioritize valve safety as they strive to streamline industrial processes. Valve failures and improper operation can result in human injuries, severe industrial accidents and extensive environmental damage.

The Texas City Disaster of 2005 was an accident caused by a defective safety valve design and organizational deficiencies.

Improving the safety of industrial processes demands implementing best practices throughout the useful lives of valves. It involves proper design, sizing and installation of valves, frequent inspection and maintenance, and implementing best operation practices and advanced technologies to improve the performance and monitoring of various process valves. Implementing these measures reduces the risk of valve-related accidents in facilities, ensuring the optimal safety of employees, equipment and the environment.

Facilities can implement the following measures to maximize the safety of process valves.

1. Streamline valve selection processes

As the first step to ensure the safety of industrial processes, facilities should conduct due diligence when selecting various valves to meet their operational needs. The valve choices should accommodate changes in fluid pressure, temperature and flow rates and be chemically compatible with service media. Improper valve selection or sizing increases its susceptibility to failure due to mechanical strain, media corrosion and erosion, and excess vibrations during operation. Valve sizing and material compatibility errors cause media leakages, low valve responsiveness to changes in flow conditions and inconsistent flow rates, increasing process safety risks.

When designing processes, engineers should define the physical and chemical properties of the service fluid and the impacts of varying system pressure and temperature on these properties. The properties of various service fluids significantly impact the performance of industrial valves. For instance, pipelines conveying chemical media require valves made from corrosion-resistant materials to maximize long-term performance.

Choosing the correct industrial valve looks beyond flow rates and the cross-sectional sizes of adjacent pipelines. The selection process explores how fluid properties like viscosity affect valve performance, acceptable valve leakages, valve maintenance frequency, valve cycling requirements and the desired fail-safe mechanisms. Companies should understand the fail positions of different valves when power is lost and the impacts of their failures on processes to ensure the correct flow control devices are selected for each industrial system.

Engineers can also evaluate the complexity of the process to decide on the possibility of automating process valves and the additional resources required. This ensures the selected process valves provide the appropriate fluid control and the automation resources do not interfere with pipeline orientations or increase safety risks within a facility.

2. Invest in automated process valves

Manual valve operation is prone to errors due to human intervention. Industrial processes relying on manual valves may lack the accuracy associated with automated valves. Incorrect valve operations, caused by delayed opening or closing by human operators, can increase safety risks in facilities. One way to eliminate safety risks due to human error is automating valves. Valve automation improves the accuracy of industrial processes by minimizing human interventions during operations and enhancing remote operation and monitoring. Valve actuators enhance system efficiencies while improving the accuracy of process valves, freeing technical teams within the facility to utilize their efforts in safety improvement programs and remote valve performance monitoring.

Facilities can automate valves using different actuators depending on the desired valve operation force, system supply pressure and usage conditions. These include media compatibility, temperature limits and hazard levels, valve cycling requirements and the safety design of the actuator. Automated valves minimize human interventions, reducing errors that could result in fatal industrial accidents. The actuators allow operators to gain more precise control and consistent valve responsiveness to changes in flow conditions. Thus valves can open or close faster without upsetting the system and increasing safety risks in a facility.

Automating valves promotes remote process control, reducing the need for technicians and operators working close to the valves or working in hazardous environments. This reduces work-related illnesses and injuries. Automated process valves can even have diagnostic capabilities allowing facilities to monitor the real-time performance of different valves. The diagnostic data can provide insights into potential valve failures, ensuring facilities rectify them before they fail and cause accidents.

3. Observe valve installation and handling standards

Some process safety issues arise due to poor installation and mishandling of valves. Mishandling valves before installation can cause damage to internal and external valve components, affecting their tightness and responsiveness post-installation. Facilities observe different valve installation standards depending on the nature of the service fluid. Facilities should follow the recommended valve handling and installation standards to avoid violating statutory regulations and minimize safety risks. Valve manufacturers specify ideal conditions for storing process valves to ensure they are in good condition before installation. The valves should be kept in a clean and dry place to protect internal and external components.

Proper valve handling reduces contamination which can jeopardize the integrity of industrial processes. Poor handling may expose the valve to corrosive elements that could damage the valve seat or disc, making it ineffective for controlling the service media. During installation, companies should pay attention to issues like the following:

  • Recommended valve orientation and mounting. Install the valves in the correct orientation — do not interchange valves designed for horizontal pipelines with those designed for vertical installation. Mount the valves to prevent vibrations and leakages that lower safety standards in a facility.

  • Torque requirements. Tighten the valves to recommended levels to prevent misalignment and poor connections, which may be a source of leakages and fugitive emissions that can cause fire accidents or employee exposure to harmful gasses.

  • Use designated eye bolts or lifting lugs on heavy valves to lift and align valves before installation. This is to prevent surface damage that reduces the structural integrity of the valve, increasing its susceptibility to failure in service. Protect the actuators when transporting or handling valves. Damaged actuators can be a source of fugitive emissions in a facility.

Facilities can reinforce valve handling and transportation requirements by establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs), outlining how to handle valves and building consistency among technicians to fool-proof installation and maintenance procedures.

4. Perform regular valve inspection and maintenance

Regular valve inspection and maintenance increase the reliability, durability and safety of processes and equipment. Companies can identify underlying valve performance issues and surface defects that may lower safety standards. Each valve has unique maintenance requirements, and facilities should categorize and prioritize valve maintenance needs.

Developing and sustaining a valve maintenance program can be daunting if the company has dozens or hundreds of valves spread across the facility. These challenges increase if the facility relies on a corrective maintenance strategy instead of a proactive valve maintenance program. Any company can streamline its maintenance program by establishing a digitized asset management system containing detailed information on the model, age, maintenance frequency and spare parts requirements for each valve in the facility. The company can reinforce these maintenance measures by investing in remote valve monitoring systems to track individual valve performance in real time and collecting valuable data for improving maintenance standards.

Regular valve inspections allow technicians to identify surface defects, leakages or faulty instrumentation, which may indicate existing or potential valve failure. Facilities can invest in advanced inspection tools like ultrasonic flaw detectors to evaluate the health of valves. Where such technologies are untenable, facilities can streamline operations in other areas such as the following:

  • Cleaning

  • Checking torque on valve fasteners

  • Valve lubrication and exercising less-cycled valves

  • Replacing damaged seals

  • Inspecting valve actuators.

Maintenance prevents premature valve failures and ensures they operate optimally, minimizing system upsets like choked or reverse fluid flow which may instigate safety issues in facilities. Engage a valve specialist when developing valve maintenance schedules and programs to ensure they address every valve in the facility for extended valve life and increased process safety.

5. Establish relevant training programs

Facilities should invest in safety training programs to ensure operators and maintenance technicians understand how their practices contribute to process safety. The training should cover routine valve operations, standard operating procedures when installing and maintaining valves and risk assessment measures to identify, report and rectify underlying valve defects.

Training reduces safety risks by ensuring employees understand the risks associated with valve operations, delayed valve maintenance and improper operations like over-pressurization, exceeding recommended flow rates or delayed on-off operation. The training can also cover aspects of valve labeling and how incorrect valve labels can compromise safety in facilities.

Training reinforces valve safety standards by providing a platform to communicate changes in standard operating procedures, updates to lock-out tag-out measures and modifications to hazard reporting templates. Technicians and operators can learn how to leverage various digital tools to maximize the performance of valves and reduce safety risks in facilities. Safety training is a long-term program, and facilities should update training needs based on risk assessment results and expanding asset sizes.

Process valve standard benefits

Facilities can enjoy predictable workflows and safe working environments by optimizing the safety standards of process valves. Slight valve defects can cause irreversible equipment damage, accidents and environmental pollution. Safeguarding valves means selecting the right type and size of process valves, handling and installing valves, adhering to recommended valve operating limits and conducting timely, accurate and regular valve maintenance.

Companies can enhance the safety of valves by working with experts to select and install valves and leveraging digital technology to monitor valve performance, conduct a risk assessment and develop policies and maintenance schedules.

ValveMan is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Author Bio: Gilbert Welsford Jr. is a distinguished figure in the valve industry, recognized for his engineering acumen and vast expertise. He is the third-generation proprietor of the FS Welsford Company, which also encompasses In 2011, Gilbert launched, an online hub dedicated to valves and related items. This platform, under Gilbert's stewardship, has become a reliable source for valve engineers and purchasers, boasting a comprehensive selection of premium valves and stellar customer support. Gilbert's deep grasp of fluid dynamics and precision engineering has enabled him to contribute significantly to the creation and application of various valve types. His proficiency spans across control valves, ball valves, and more, allowing him to craft bespoke solutions for varied industrial requirements. Gilbert's collaborative nature and superior communication aptitude have solidified robust ties with clients from sectors like oil and gas, petrochemicals, and manufacturing. Committed to innovation and quality, Gilbert consistently stays updated with industry advancements, ensuring the delivery of avant-garde valve solutions.