“Overcoming challenges opens doors”

Mr Venkatesh: “We see a tremendous opportunity for growth in the Americas leveraging our high acceptance rate as well as our facility in Houston”

With three decades of experience in the international valve arena, Mr Venkatesh is quite accustomed to responding to global events and changes in customer expectations. During a recent interview, Mr Venkatesh shared thoughts and observations on trends in the valve industry.

By David Sear

That Mr Venkatesh has amassed a vast experience goes without saying. Since graduating in 1993, he has gone on to work for Audco India Ltd, Larsen & Toubro Ltd, A E Valves, Emerson Process Management and since May 2022 Larsen & Toubro again, where he is currently Global Head of Sales, L&T Valves based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

He is, as he himself states, determined to use all his insights to help drive L&T Valves to even greater heights. “We are traditionally strong in the oil and gas sector as well as power but of course it is important to keep an eye out for new opportunities. That is why we are actively looking at the renewables industries. For example, hydrogen and wind. So as we speak we are rolling out plans and expansion activities to take our company to the next level.”

When looking to develop new markets, Mr Venkatesh is an advocate of slow and steady growth as opposed to a quantum jump. “To my mind it is better to avoid biting off more than what you can chew. Instead, develop slowly and steadily based on your core strengths. If you can develop a portfolio of standard valves of consistent quality, you will catch the eye of the international oil and gas majors as well as the EPCs. That is how we were able to expand into higher applications and engineered solutions.” Whilst discussing valve manufacture, Mr Venkatesh indicates that investing in strong and proactive design and engineering teams pays dividends. “As a manufacturer you must remain alert to emerging technologies which could be applicable to your specific business. For example, we were early adopters of 3D modelling which has since become a mainstream design tool for modern valve OEMs.”

Challenges galore

To outsiders, the valve sector might appear fairly static. After all, designs like the gate valve have been in use in refineries for over a century. Mr Venkatesh, however, notes that manufacturers like L&T Valves are constantly looking to solve new challenges. “For example, recent activity includes helping to address fugitive emissions concerns as well as becoming involved in standardisation work. And lately we have been responding to increasing customer calls for assistance as regards automation and digitalisation. Progress is the name of the game and can simplify life for customers. Take our valve tracking software for example which enables valve data to be easily downloaded simply by scanning the QR Code.”

In many countries, local value addition is emerging as a major consideration. Mr Venkatesh: “As a manufacturer we have therefore built a factory in Saudi Arabia. This full-fledged facility with the latest machinery operates on a par with our production lines in India. We have achieved this by bringing in experienced staff from India as well as upskilling local employees.”

A local presence such as a factory or a distribution warehouse can do much to boost customer confidence, notes Mr Venkatesh. “Our warehouse in Houston, Texas, has also expedited organic growth and helped us to move up the value chain to provide advanced flow control solutions for critical applications and severe service.” Nevertheless, attention to the basics remains essential, he states. “Casting quality remains a key topic amongst end users. Manufacturers must therefore keep a tight grip on their supply chains to ensure they receive quality castings. Working closely with the foundries is the way to achieve this.”

Mr Venkatesh: “it is incumbent on us all to show youngsters that the valve sector is an industry where they can make their mark and have a positive global impact.” Image shows a 56 inch Class 300 triple-offset butterfly valve.

Combining data streams

Whilst discussing data, Mr Koti stresses the need to consider all data flows in a process facility. “Typically, we distinguish two types of data. First there’s the process data and secondly smart data. Process data is usually directed to the process operators, whilst smart data is delivered via protocols to the maintenance or reliability engineers. This approach may sound logical but misses a huge opportunity, namely leveraging the advantages of combining both data sets.”

Summing up, Mr Koti says that a successful IIoT strategy is based on three elements: digital tools, expert services (from both the customer and vendor sides) and finally incorporating best practices. “IIoT may sound intimidating but the steps required are straightforward enough. If required, my colleagues and I are on hand to offer consulting services for each KPI that customers may have. For example, we can provide services such as digital tools for process optimisation, asset management, predictive maintenance, and prescriptive analysis on valves. Moreover, our team can provide long-term monitoring of data on behalf of clients. That is especially valuable for plants that are more complex or have a larger installed base of valves and actuators.”

But the first step to benefit from the IIoT is always simple and clear, emphasizes Mr Koti. “Whether you are a maintenance engineer, a plant owner or a process operator looking to implement IIoT, just call up colleagues from various disciplines, set up a team discussion and establish your goals!”

Welcoming uniformity

The valve sector is continuously evolving, says Mr Venkatesh. “Take the drive to zero emissions for example. Even today sixty per cent of emissions at process plants can be traced back to valves. This is therefore an area we are keen to help customers address. We are therefore working closely with gland packing manufacturers to improve valve performance and to reduce emission levels as far as we can.”

“We are constantly reviewing and improving our manufacturing processes, to eliminate waste and lower costs,” says Mr Venkatesh. Image shows a 20 inch class 3500 high pressure gate valve.

Developing and manufacturing top-end valves to achieve the highest performance standards will not necessarily drive up purchase prices. “We remain sensitive to plant owner’s needs to keep a tight grip on their capex. That is why we are constantly reviewing and improving our manufacturing processes, to eliminate waste and lower costs,” says Mr Venkatesh.

Mr Venkatesh also believes significant cost savings during the manufacturing stage can be realised by implementing more standardisation. “We support all initiatives being taken by the industry in this respect, such as via the IOGP. Standardisation is a complex process which brings a number of challenges for OEMs. However, we are more than willing to take all necessary steps as standardisation will ultimately help us all.”

The next generation

At the end of our interview, Mr Venkatesh addressed some of the latest challenges facing the valve manufacturing sector.

“It has to be said that, despite recent mergers, valve manufacturing remains a highly fragmented industry. Going forward, I can therefore see that consolidation will continue. This will likely be exacerbated by the need for advanced products as well as the implementation of new standards. Both factors will be expensive, making it harder and harder for the smaller players to remain independent. As an aside, consolidation will also help to reduce so-called brand labelling.”

Another major issue for valve manufacturers is the increasing challenge in attracting young people to the industry. “It is incumbent on us all to show youngsters that the valve sector is an industry where they can make their mark and have a positive global impact.” The requirement to bring in the next generation of technicians and engineers is being heightened by the erosion of experience throughout the valve sector. “As experts retire there is a danger that product and applications knowledge will be lost.

At L&T Valves, we are therefore actively engaging with youngsters, bringing them to our factories to show them product development, visiting colleges, getting active in campus recruitment, etc. We have also set up our own valve school to help train the next generation. In fact, we also train our clients and customers as we want to increase awareness about valves to a wider range of people. With better knowledge they can make more informed choices about which valves are most suited for their applications.”

Did you know…

That Mr Venkatesh relaxes by playing badminton at weekends and also enjoys watching movies from India and Hollywood. That he is an advocate of stand-up desks. That during a four-year stint in China, Mr Venkatesh helping Larsen & Toubro to gain approvals from Chinese oil and gas majors ahead of local competitors.

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This Featured Story is an article from our Valve World Magazine, December 2023 issue. To read other featured stories and many more articles, subscribe to our print magazine. Available in both print and digital formats. DIGITAL MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONS ARE NOW FREE.

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