^ The modular butterfly valve range enables a vast number of configurations with Neles™ Neldisc™ metal seat and

Jamesbury™ Wafer-Sphere™ soft seat.
Article by Lucien Joppen


Neles DNA

Antti Nelimarkka
Antti Nelimarkka

Recently, on July 1st, Neles celebrated its first anniversary. Last year, the company spun out of Metso. Needless to say, the Neles-brand goes a long way (see box text Neles DNA). In fact, Neles was born in the 1950’s, when Antti Nelimarkka and Eino Santasalo established Neles Oy in Helsinki, Finland. Soon after its inception, the company specializes in valves under the brand name Neles.

Fast forward six decades, and Neles – formerly known as Metso Flow Control – has become an “industry-leading trade name”, the company states, with a portfolio ranging from reliable valves to also include expert services and intelligent valve controller solutions.
As this article is written, there might be already changes on the horizon. Just one day after its anniversary, Neles and fellow Finnish company Valmet announced that they have agreed a merger that will provide “enhanced growth opportunities and benefit from broader revenue and cost synergies”. Whereas Valmet is focused on technologies, automation systems and services for the pulp, paper and energy industries, Neles offers flow-control products such as valves used in all process industries.

Recently, Neles signed an asset purchase agreement to acquire the valve and pump businesses of the Finland-based technology company Flowrox. The acquisition will complement Neles’ offering and exposure to the mining and metals industry.

Reinventing reliability

In this article, we’ll focus on Neles. In a previous Valve World-interview with NelesCEO Olli Isotalo in 2020, the ambitions of the ‘new’ company became clear. “Neles has a clear ambition going forward: we envision to become a leading diversified valve and valve automation company, reinventing reliability in flow control. Our mission is to provide market-leading expertise, products and services to add the most value to customers.

In some way, our strategy can be described as an evolution rather than revolution, with a redefined focus on innovation and leveraging our service capabilities. We’ll continue broadening our offering and reach, developing our multi-channel service and MRO-business supported by digitalization, and further develop our valve controls and actuators business.

Coming back to our customer promise, reinventing reliability, our credo. In practice this would mean that we continuously develop more reliable, higher quality products and also in our services and expertise.”


Jukka Borgman: “Increasingly, sustainability has developed as a very strong incentive for our R&D and product development”
Jukka Borgman: “Increasingly, sustainability has developedas a very strong incentive for our R&D and product development”

Reliability is a strong driver for R&D and new product development within Neles. However, it is not the only aspect that drives endusers, Jukka Borgman, Director Technology Development, says. “Increasingly, sustainability has developed as a very strong incentive for our R&D and product development.

End-users are asking for more sustainable products in terms of CO2-footprint, recyclability, energy consumption, leakage rates. In fact, most end-users are measured against how they can improve their business on the above parameters.

To develop these products, Neles employs annual ‘innovation challenges’, an international competition centered around a certain customer challenge that ideally is representative for an entire sector.

The company also collaborates with a selective group of end-users to develop product solutions on a bilateral level.

“We also engage in R&D with universities”, Mr. Borgman says. “In these programs, we are focusing on technologies or concepts that are not tied directly to our products but that could have implications for our business on the longer term.”

Game changer

Kalle Suurpää: “Lead times for NPD and existing products have become shorter. If we can provide better solutions faster, we are basically in the driver’s seat.”
Kalle Suurpää: “Lead times for NPD and existing products have become shorter. If we can provide  better solutions faster, we are basically in the driver’s seat.”

Additive manufacturing is such a technology that could have a serious impact on the valve and actuator supply chain. “Over the last decades, AM has matured rapidly”, Mr. Borgman says. “From a technology mostly employed in non-industrial applications, AM has entered the industrial era.

Year by year, not only the technologies behind AM have become more reliable, but also the supply chain has matured alongside to create an AM-eco system. Various players in the industry – end-users, flow control companies such as Neles, AM-experts – are also working towards guidelines and standardization that are aimed to provide quality assurance to end-users.
They should have the same expectations of an AM-machines part as of a conventionally machined equivalent.”

Flexible approach

So, what could be the implications for the valve itself from AM? Mr. Suurpää adds that the technology is not likely to dramatically change the exterior of the valve as “standardization limits the freedom of design.”

Noise attenuation trim

“However, there are more opportunities for specific parts that are less standardized, for example the trim. We have developed a noise attenuation trim that is manufactured via AM, which allows a more complex flow path inside trim with better results”, Mr. Borgman states. “In other words, we can manufacture a better performing product with also a longer life span and a more reliable performance. Admittedly, we could produce this AM-trim with conventional machining techniques but it would be so much more complicated and expensive than a 3D production route.”
Switching over to more demanding applications, AM has made its way into pressureretaining parts. Neles has been among the first valve companies in the world to develop and manufacture an entire valve body.

Proof of the pudding

Valve with 3D-printed body. The grey part of the Neles series ball valve has been manufactured via 3D-printing.
Valve with 3D-printed body. The grey part of the Neles series ball valve has been manufactured via 3D-printing.

”3D-printing a valve body is definitely a step up”, Mr. Borgman states. “It is a pressure-retaining component, therefore its material properties need to be wellknown through extensive testing. We have tested the material in our in-house facilities on tensile strength and impact resistance to make sure it is safe and reliable in the process. Needless to say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

In May of this year, we delivered the first AM-valve – a standard T5-series ball valve made of stainless steel – to Teollisuuden Voima’s power plant in Finland. This field test will provide a lot of valuable information on the feasibility of using 3D-printing to produce pressure-retaining parts with significantly quicker delivery times. These tests will also provide valuable information to our NPD-colleagues. We are constantly looking for new ways to improve our customer’s and our own business in terms of reliability, performance, and material efficiency.”

Continuous improvement

In line with developments such as faster delivery times and sustainability, Neles will optimize its production operations at its valve factory in Vantaa, Finland. The new unit is scheduled to start operations in early 2022.
In line with developments such as faster delivery times and sustainability, Neles will optimize its production operations at its valve factory in Vantaa, Finland. The new unit is scheduled to start operations in early 2022.

Whereas additive manufacturing could be labelled as a radical innovation, having an impact on various industrial sectors, most innovations can be categorized as incremental.

“There is nothing wrong with continuous improvement, one step at a time”, Mr. Borgman states. “Apart from the more visionary, long-term R&D-projects, there are current challenges among end-users that we need to address here and now.”
Recently, Neles launched its versatile butterfly valve range – a tried and tested concept – to offer ‘superior process performance with a minimized environmental footprint.’
With the range, Neles has combined ease-of-use (see box text Modular design) with a higher degree of sustainability, the company states. ‘With its proven technology and state-of-the-art functionality, the product range offers superior process efficiency with a minimized environmental footprint. As Taija Hämäläinen, Vice President of Butterfly Valves at Neles, put it: “We wanted to make valve selection as easy as possible for our customers. With this range, customers can easily pick the features, functionalities, and materials they need to create a robust and reliable butterfly valve that meets their exact requirements.”

Metal matrix composite materials

Going back to reliability, material science lies at base. Recently, Valve World interviewed Jussi Hellman, within Neles responsible for Materials Engineering. One of the exciting new developments within material science is the advance of metal matrix composite materials (MMC). These hybrid materials combine the superior hardness of ceramics and the toughness of metals to offer the best possible reliability and performance to end-users.
“In MMC, the ceramic addition is embedded into metal, and contributes especially the wear resistance, while the metal carries the mechanical load and improves impact resistance. We have built up expertise in technologies, such as advanced powder metallurgy, that are needed to integrate metal matrix composite (MMC) materials into products. These MMC’s are then used as an inner layer in multi-material constructions where the outer layer is a standardized construction material. This combination is necessary because valves are pressured equipment, and pressure retaining parts must be ductile to meet PED-requirements.

Tried and tested

Neles has implemented various MMCbased solutions in the field for more than ten years. One example of very successful implementation was at a Fluid Catalytic Cracking unit at an oil refinery. The original CrMo-material used for handling catalytic fines (at above 200 degrees C.) failed in between one and three months in operation.
The MMC-solution of Neles – in this case, a 5-15 mm MMC armoring onto wear intensive surfaces – has extended the lifetime from three to 25 months. “An inspection after six months showed that the MMC did not experience any changes in dimensions”, Hellman says. “Furthermore, maintenance and HSE-activities were reduced by 90 percent. In other words, MMC’s should be rated in terms of TCO as the investment cost is only one side of the medal.”

Green hydrogen

When asked about emerging markets for Neles, both Borgman and Suurpää agree on renewable energy, in particular (green) hydrogen on the European continent. “Many countries within Europe are planning to invest billions into green hydrogen development, either powered by wind or solar. Finland is also active in this field and has established a public-private hydrogen cluster that we have joined”, Mr. Borgman says.
“Safety is one of our focus areas within the cluster as hydrogen and oxygen are both volatile gases. Therefore, there are stringent demands on issues such as leakages, also from an efficiency standpoint. From what I understand, scaling up green hydrogen production needs to be more economical in all stages of the production process. Material science will also come into play as the liquefaction stage demands extremely low temperatures (-253 degrees Celsius). These temperatures will require specific testing conditions that go beyond the current ‘treshold’ of minus 196 degrees Celsius.”
Suurpää adds: “We are and will be well-positioned with our current portfolio to serve this market, now and the near future. The same accounts for other renewable energy applications, such as biofuels. In short, we are looking forward with confidence to the new opportunities for reinventing reliability together with our customers.”

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