Essential requirement: procuring actuated valves

Paul Boughton

Gordon McNair explains the rigorous process involved in ensuring plants and assets get the right actuation package for the job

When the need arises to install or replace equipment in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, it is imperative that exacting requirements are met to avoid potentially disastrous safety or performance issues. Fulfilling these crucial but often time-intensive procurement needs on deadline can be tough, especially when it comes to obtaining actuation packages. For this reason, a third-party supplier is often invaluable in opening the door to the global supply chain and ensuring that the right combination of valve and actuator are obtained.

Due to the technical nature of procurement and the complexity involved, a good supplier must also have considerable engineering resource and strong project management capabilities to ensure the requirements are evaluated, understood and met and the order remains on track. To achieve this, all HSP clients are assigned a project manager to oversee the entire lifecycle of the order and provide a single point of contact.

In addition to technical specifications and quantities, when procuring actuation packages there are also detailed design expectations and safety parameters within which the actuators must open and close that must be taken into consideration.

One of the biggest challenges in procurement is that contractors and end-users often provide different equipment specifications. The first task for the supplier is therefore to establish the exact requirements by clarifying and resolving any inconsistencies in the specifications. Once this has happened, arranging a meeting between the client, valve and actuation manufacturers together to go through the requirements is invaluable to fine-tune the specifications and avoid unnecessary delays later on.

To make sure the unit has robust life, a good supplier will enhance the actuation package beyond the basic requirements. One common example of this is the additional specification to bolster connecting stems with the material INCONEL 718, which also helps guarantee that rigorous safety specifications are met.

Carrying out a full engineering review of components such as adapter plates, bolts, couplings and stem materials and procuring these items from the actuator manufacturer also ensures that the package will fit together correctly. Crucially, it can also prevent mistakes and ‘grey areas’ arising in the supply chain process when, for instance, the components have been sourced from different third-party suppliers – a common source of headaches and delays.

A full review of the control system should also be conducted – again using engineering disciplines to ensure the right components are assembled. In this and other aspects of the procurement, a good supplier will take the pressure away from the contract team and client by going beyond the basic intermediary role and proactively working as both a reliable technical partner and advisor.

On-track and on-time

Once the engineering issues are resolved, the project moves on to the manufacturing phase. Here, communication is key, which is why the supplier will ensure the valve and actuator manufacturers are clear on the specifications at an early stage and that all the necessary components fit together first time.

In addition, scheduling and submitting inspection and test plans ensures the manufacturer knows that formal inspection processes will take place and will maintain discipline and punctuality throughout the order. A pre-inspection meeting between the client, valve and actuation manufacturers again ensures the necessary tests and documentation are provided and that all expectations are met without disruption during the testing phase.

Often, global distributors use Valve Actuation Centres (VAC) to test the valve and the actuator in a workshop environment. Typically, however, these ‘VAC’ centres often do not have the depth of facilities found at manufacturers’ facilities.  For this reason, we believe a more effective approach for suppliers is to leverage strong relationships with manufacturers and schedule the testing phase at the manufacturer’s premises, ensuring access to a wider-range of valve types, lifting equipment and pressure and temperature testing capabilities.

Testing at the manufacturer’s facilities also removes the potential requirement for a re-test, in turn ensuring actuation package is certified and passed for delivery in the fastest possible time.

Comprehensive documentation

Documentation and certification is a fundamental part of the procurement process as it enables oil and gas assets in particular to trace components. Without the necessary documentation, the order cannot be finalised.

A further priority task for the supplier is to submit a general arrangement drawing that shows the valve and actuator together. When buying directly from a manufacturer or valve and actuation centre these essential drawings will typically not be provided quickly and yet these are often crucial documents for clients as they layout facilities.

For this reason, unlike many other suppliers, HSP guarantees the drawings are delivered within four-six weeks. This added service is extremely enabling for the client, as it allows engineering work to continue and ensures the programme stays on schedule.

No matter how many valve and actuator manufacturers are involved in the order, the documentation for actuation packages needs to be presented in a consistent format and in accordance with the client’s requirements. It should also include pre-approved inspection materials such as ATEX and SIL electrical design certification. To help ensure projects stay on track, we always ensure final delivery of dossiers within four weeks of the actuation package arriving at the plant or asset.

In all, in addition to strong engineering acumen and supply chain relationships, the most important quality a good actuation supplier needs to have is responsiveness. Specifically, this means orders should be adapted in accordance with engineering comments and changes need to be adhered to without issue – however late in the process. Notices for inspection should be on time and the inspector should always have access to the right people and the appropriate documentation.

Gordon McNair is Engineering Manager with H S Pipequipment, Newbury, Berkshire, UK.

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