Pumps and valves play crucial roles in plant safety, green compliance


It may sound ironical but the truth remains that while end users in the process industries began to digitise their plants decades ago through the introduction of “smart/intelligent”, digitally integrated process transmitters and final control devices, pumps and valves have usually been last on the priority list. The capacity of smart valves and pumps to enhance the process performance, condition assessment and maintenance effectiveness is significant. Moreover, advanced diagnostics and bidirectional communications can also improve environmental compliance and plant safety. We expect that in the post-COVID world, this trend will accelerate, as maintenance managers in manufacturing plants may have to operate under lockdown and service engineers may experience difficulties while undertaking regular visits to client premises.

Nowadays, on any smart factory shop floor, pumps are required to supply real-time operating data so that their performance can be monitored and adjusted. One of the key performance indicators is torque: a noticeable increase in pump torque may point to the increasing flow to compensate for growing leakage; a sudden increase in torque may also indicate a hinderance downstream of the pump, while a sudden reduction in torque may be due to an upstream blockage.

However, the problem with torque sensors is how does one connects it to equipment such as pumps, mixers and conveyors. Wiring up a machine using a delicate slip ring is quite possible, but in a highly automated factory it may have hundreds or thousands, so the task becomes unviable. Another feasible approach can be to use a non-contact radio frequency detector. Incidentally, Sensor Technology’s new Bluetooth module is a totally wireless approach to torque measurement. The gadget called, TorqSense, is a wireless sensor that replaces physical wiring and slip rings with radio wave communications. It can be used with virtually all pump-based systems, from micro-dosing of active ingredients in pharmaceutical production. Fitting a TorqSense typically takes about one-fifth the time required for a conventional hard-wired transducer.

Based on the criticality and the application of the gadgets, established maintenance schedule can vary from daily monitoring to less-frequent inspections and repairs. In order to make sure that the valves meet the requisite operational standards it is necessary that detailed records and skilled talent to oversee the repair are maintained.

To help plant operators rush to emergencies, a company called Emerson has launched a Remote Assistance Service which has augmented reality (AR) to facilitate real-time repair. By using a mobile device, plant personnel can safely share their field of view through the AR software, enabling Emerson’s valve engineers to troubleshoot and solve the problem. A very handy user manual with step-by-step instructions are overlaid is available to support installation, calibration or repair actions.

Another critical role is played by the Peristaltic pumps in the bioreactors working to manufacture a range of vaccines in sufficient volume to overcome the pandemic. For instance, in one of the applications, the pump has an internal tubing that separates media from the pump components and offers a sanitised method to supply the bioreactor with various fluids to grow cell cultures while developing new medicines. In this process the stepper motors drive the pump head, compressing and releasing the pump tubing to move media into the bioreactor chamber.

Despite the fact that there is no concrete evidence of the novel coronavirus getting transmitted via food, transmission via surfaces recently contaminated with viruses is, nonetheless, believed possible through smear infections.

Incidentally, Sparc Systems has recently designed the Iris pipeline X-ray system for detecting contaminants in vacuum filled and pumped meat, poultry and dairy products.

Additionally, Iris will also be able to identify various physical hazards, including bones, teeth, metal, glass, ceramics, and high-density plastic in muscle meats, slurries, semi solids, and fluids. The cutting-edge X-ray sensor in the machine can detect foreign materials with down to 0.4mm.

If a product is shown to contain contaminant is on a display screen, it is immediately rejected from the system before it is transferred downstream.

Moreover, the Iris also has a three-way electric valve that allows test pieces to be placed in the product flow to provide an accurate performance assessment. To help set up the machine swiftly and ease of use across mixed product lines, it can be integrated easily into an existing rigid or flexible piping system or placed behind a vacuum filling machine.

The most common problems tend to fit into the following categories: Quality problems: High defect rate, high return rate and poor quality. Issues with output: Delayed lead time, erratic production schedule, high inventory rate, supply chain interruption. Issues with cost: Low efficiency, idle people or machines.

If one looks at all the different sectors and he or she will find that all the talk is about an increased focus on offsite, or modular, construction. School buildings, hospital renovations and particularly new housing projects, all have recently received a push in this direction from the government in support of its ‘Construction 2025’ strategy. Irrespective of the fact if it’s an order to use as much MMC (Modern Methods of Construction) on a build as possible or seed funding for an MMC taskforce, there’s no dodging the point that it’s a manufacturing and assembly methodology that is going to grow exponentially. Only a few years ago, M and E contractors would do the ‘traditional versus modular’ build calculation. However, these days many go straight to modular.

The plus points of a packaged plant over on-site construction have already been well established. Faster speed, repeatability, better health and safety, a controlled environment, and cutting down in labour costs are some of the key ones. Moreover, advances in the systems and materials used mean, in many cases, the adoption of packaged solutions allows a bigger contribution to be made towards sustainability objectives. However, in the HVAC industry, new technologies and new product ranges have increased the opportunity substantially to participate in this burgeoning sector.

Article by Arijit Nag
Arijit Nag is a freelance journalist who writes on various aspects of the economy and current affairs.
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