Avoid valve line-up error to prevent product contamination

Jon Lawson

It takes years to build a good reputation and only one incident of product contamination to destroy it, explains Frank Gielissen

The survival of a business hinges on its reputation. The trust and confidence of the customer has a direct and profound impact on a company’s bottom line. It’s daunting to think that only one incident can destroy a company’s reputation that has been years, even decades, in the making. Sadly though, this is the reality.

Within the tank and storage industry, when product contamination occurs the impact can be huge. The error, often the mistake of an incorrect valve line-up, threatens the running of a facility.  

There are a number of costs that a company could face when valves are wrongly aligned and product contamination occurs. Direct costs involve product loss, clean-up, and operational downtime is to be expected. In addition, when product transfer occurs the mistake can devalue the product, meaning it must be sold at a discounted price.
That’s if it doesn’t need to be discarded altogether. Operators may also be forced to pay customers for the mistake. It is a public relations disaster, with endless man hours to repair reputation and reassure customers.

Reputational damage is a serious threat to operators as their competitive advantage is critically linked to their reputation. News of incidents spreads rapidly through the media and social networks, which could cause customers to switch to a different supplier. The loss of even one customer can lead to a serious loss of revenue and potentially even put a terminal out of business.

To avoid such a catastrophe, it’s important for terminal operators and management to implement smart solutions that can protect against valve line-up error that can consequently lead to product contamination and a potentially bruised reputation.
There are a number of solutions to help build a more efficient system that can help to improve operational risks and offer a competitive advantage against other plants in the market that have neglected to take action and protect themselves against some major cost implications, should a spill occur.

Smart solutions can work with existing manual valve installations that enable various levels of sophistication and integration of manual valves into the terminal’s control system. The solutions offer feedback on the manual valve positions and can manage the operation of those valves, without the need for advanced automation systems:

Real-time manual valve position indication

Valve position indicators (VPI) are devices that are mounted on top of a plant’s existing valves detecting the position, which through either a wired or a wireless connection transmits the position of the valve (open or closed) to the control room. This direct connection between the VPI and the terminal’s control room gives operators real-time feedback on the position and indicates when it is safe to commence product transfer.

Manual valve line-up system

The second solution provides a further layer of control. Mechanical interlocks offer real-time feedback on valves and prevents unauthorised operation in the field. Manual valve interlocks are mounted onto the plant’s existing valves and require a key, unique to the individual valve, to both open and close the valve. The keys are housed in the key management system, which detects the presence of the keys, allowing complete visibility of manual valve operation.

This ensures correct valve alignment and that they are not operated accidently. This can be fully integrated into an existing plant.

Right first time manual valve operations

The third solution incorporates an advanced level of control and improved human factor design. The distributed control system (DCS) determines the manual valve operation required and communicates to the key management system which keys need to be released. The key management system manages the release of a key to an authorised operator. No key can be taken from the cabinet unless this has been authorised by the DCS for the specified valve operation. After operating the valves, the operator returns the keys to the key management system. Only when the valves are in the right position and keys are returned to the cabinet will transfer commence. This allows for no inadvertent operation in the field.

Understanding that there are solutions that offer the benefits of an automated process, without needing to fundamentally change plant infrastructure, is vital. Implementing smart solutions will help to prevent errors leading to spills and contamination. Not only will this protect against direct costs, such as product loss or clean-up, but also indirect-costs of reputational damage. Repairing reputation and rebuilding customer trust is no easy feat. It’s best to not leave it to chance and invest in a smarter, automated process before an incident occurs and threatens the very running of the plant. Sofis provides smart integrated valve operations solutions that help bridge the gap between manual valve operations and full valve automation.



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