Luke Chou is no stranger to the world of valves and fugitive emission control. In just ten years, Chou progressed through the ranks of a leading valve manufacturer, from engineer to Technical Team Lead, to Assistant Plant Director. Still an active member of the API Standards Committee, Chou recently joined the Sunbelt Supply team as the Quality Assurance Manager.
^ Luke Chou: “Interchangeability of packing is a big topic we are tackling right now. What should you do if you want to change packing models or suppliers?”.
Article by Stephanie Matas ___
With Luke Chou joining Sunbelt, he made a move from a manufacturer to a distributor which has been interesting and enlightening. “I believe that this opportunity will allow me to work with many more manufacturers and allow me to better understand the full spectrum of quality and production control within the valve industry.”
Sunbelt is a global flow control products distributor with locations in the key downstream industrial centers of North America, Europe and China. With 18 locations providing valve automation services, Sunbelt has increased its offering over the last 40 years from manual valves to include valve automation and instrumentation. Chou highlights the headquarters in Pasadena, Texas which is a key hub offering custom products to support the demanding applications of its key chemical and refining clients. “Sunbelt continues to grow its value-added services to include more design and assembly of products which requires robust quality management systems aligned with manufacturers to supplement Sunbelt’s distribution focused management systems that have been in place for decades.”
Chou says customers, particularly in the U.S., are increasingly leaning on their distributors to help them manage suppliers. “Companies like Sunbelt are increasingly being brought on to aid in the selection, auditing, and evaluating to maintain Approved Manufacturers Lists (AMLs). This was one of the main reasons I was brought on, to help manage and vet the suppliers,” said Chou.
The potential end goal is for customers to utilize Sunbelt for our supply quality management ability and technical mastery regarding high-quality valves and their manufactures. “You need well-informed people who know the ins-and-outs of a valve manufacturer to properly conduct good audits, so hopefully I can help satisfy that need.”
With his previous experience working at a manufacturing facility, Chou highlighted some of the key aspects to quality control for valves. “The production control at a manufacturer as large as Neway – one that handles so many different projects for low emission – really comes down to careful manufacturing process control, packing selection and method of verification testing dictated by the project. Often, projects require 10 per cent of the valves to be production tested for ISO 5848-2, which contributes to the overall internal quality sampling system to ensure stable manufacturing process is in place.”
Key API updates
As a member of the API Standards Committee, Chou mentions a few key updates the industry should know of concerning low emission standards. Revisions are underway for API 624 for multi-turn valves, API 641 for quarter-turn valves; API 622 for packings was recently released, but the committee is now focused on the interchangeability of packings and high temperature testing.
“Interchangeability of packing is a big topic we are tackling right now. What should you do if you want to change packing models or suppliers? We are planning on allowing it with a much-reduced retest requirement. Additionally, we are also working on a procedure for high-temperature testing,” Chou explains. “From experience and data, the current low emission packing which performs beautifully at ambient to 650°F (343° Celsius) may start to fail once the temperature of the packing gland climbs above 650°F. With valves supposedly rated to 1,000°F (538° Celsius) according to API 600, this can cause real life emission issues.”
Currently, a workgroup from API is experimenting with testing procedure for temperatures up to 750°F (399° Celsius). “The expectation is an optional test that the end user can specify but is not required for API 624 or 641. However, we do expect the tougher end-users would likely make it a mandatory part of supplier acceptance.”
Quantifying the bubble test
Chou speaks about his effort in creating a practical method of verifying low-emission product during manufacturing. “When I worked for Neway, we produced thousands of valves per day. There is no way any manufacturer is capable of sniffing that many valves to verify their emissions performance. Combine that fact with the required usage and related emission of methane or helium to conduct those testing, it is easy to conclude that even with a paying customer, it is unwise to conduct production emission tests using the normal industry techniques. My testing is an attempt to create a soft comparison of bubble test appearance to a sniffed number from a detector, similar to how MSS-SP 55 have comparison pictures for detect type,” Chou explains. “If we can use a standardized leak detection fluid to verity stem seal installation, this could go a long way in reducing emission across the board for everyone and reduce issues in the field.”
The intention of the project is to publish images and videos so the public can get a sense of the correlation, which has never been done before. “Right now, using snoop for emission testing seems like voodoo magic,” Chou laughs. He aims to ‘burst open’ the bubble test. Using a donated old non-low-emission valve from Beric Valve and working with United Valve, the testing has confirmed that it is possible to visually differentiate leakages at 2,000ppm, 1,000ppm, 500ppm, 100ppm, and less than 50ppm. This means that production verification can be conducted cheaply, effectively, and with a high degree of confidence and coverage.
“The industry is so close-knit, especially in the United States, and we all play a big part. It is our responsibility to educate the next generation.
A lack of valve education is a common concern among new, up and coming engineers. To help aid in this effort, Chou recently launched the website www.valvehax.com.
“Currently, in terms of valve information, there is not a good, centralized location for that knowledge. Most information is stuck in people’s heads or within an individual company’s older, retiring population.”
Chou adds that the valve industry is often invested in expensive one- or two-day training sessions for new employees to gain certifications on the subject, but the information is often lost soon after. Chou hopes to help bridge the knowledge gap between traditional education methods for existing and new engineers just entering the industry by providing a more accessible online resource. “I believe this type of web resource is the future.”
With a new crop of valve engineers eager to learn and consume information, Chou is ahead of game by recognizing the need for free or low cost, centralized valve data for public consumption. Engineers are trying to learn standards, but standards can be extremely difficult to read. “Online courses and lectures are definitely the future,” Chou said.
“With more well-informed people in the industry, a lot of time can be saved by reducing the need to re-explain basic information as avoid unnecessary misunderstandings during day to day business dealings.”
When asked what keeps him going in the valve industry, Chou reflects on the tightknit valve community and influential mentors that paved his way to success.
“I was lucky enough to be accepted by senior experts in this industry at 25 and participate in the creation of standards. Ten years later, I cannot just bury the torch of wisdom and knowledge I have been given by those retiring. I have to pay it forward.
I owe it to their mentorship to continue in this industry, which is why I have remained an active part in standards committees.”
The late Stan Allen of Bray was one of Chou’s first mentors. “He was one of the first to take me under his wing and guided me in API. I have very good memories of Stan and I was quite sad to hear he has left us. He will be missed.”
Chou concludes the interview by saying this sense of community is less evident in high turnaround jobs, and he is happy to have found his niche. “The industry is so closeknit, especially in the United States, and we all play a big part. It is our responsibility to educate the next generation.”
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