^ Plant operators need actuators that can perform reliably in severe

Article By Andrew Trill, Flowserve Corporation

Operational data enables plant operators to determine if they’re going to face equipment problems. That helps them to take corrective actions beforehand, so they don’t face plant downtime and incur production losses and repair costs. Smart actuators and diagnostic systems enable operators to understand process applications better and determine what’s running correctly (and what’s not) with specific equipment.

In this article, you will learn more about how advanced actuators can:

  • Improve the reliability of equipment and processes
  • Simplify maintenance
  • Accelerate commissioning, setup and operation
  • Expand data collection and analyses of equipment condition and performance
  • Predict when mai
Improve the reliability of equipment and processes

Both the reliability of valves and the integrity of the data collected by advanced actuators depend on better survivability built into the actuator. Long communication and power cables in refineries treatment plants, and mid-stream terminals act as antennas, picking up noise from neighboring equipment or the natural environment. Micro-controllers and other core circuitry can be very vulnerable in these extreme environments. So, when specifying and purchasing advanced actuators, consider equipment engineered to protect their internal components. Outside electrical interference, vibration and extreme temperatures found in harsh conditions all can threaten reliability and integrity. Choose a rugged design that incorporates high-quality materials which:
  • Support accurate data collection and retrieval
  • Extend actuator service life
  • Expand thermal operating ranges
Simplify maintenance

When developing the business case for investment in advanced actuators, consider the total cost of ownership, including expected maintenance expense. Plant operators and maintenance technicians can remove the guesswork and save time because the actuators simplify maintenance by tracking usage and providing real-time and historical feedback of the collected data. That makes it possible to schedule maintenance for valves and the actuators themselves when it’s truly needed, instead of by guesses or interval-led procedures.
For example, a smart actuator should be able to measure torque, speed, voltage, temperature and vibration and track the dataover time to help operators determine whether there’s any changes through each stroke of the valve.

Comparing the new data against the initial data collected during commissioning can indicate potential valve issues such as worn seats or seals, debris in the pipeline and cavitation at the valve. Maintenance technicians can respond by physically check the valve to determine whether lubrication is needed or whether components should be repaired or replaced before they fail.

The design of smart actuators also can speed up maintenance. Look for easy- to- use, sturdy and durable brackets and hold-downs for circuit boards and components. This also ensures robust connectivity throughout the rated seismic and vibration envelope.
Actuator capabilities can enable maintenance to be scheduled based on the actual condition of equipment, so plant owners are not arbitrarily sending out labor to check things when they don’t need to. They’re not going to have to routinely send out a service technician four times a year. Smart actuators are evolving to let service techs know when an actuator or valve needs attention.

Accelerate commissioning, setup and operation

For actuators, sensors, and data collection and analysis capabilities to perform reliably, plant operators will need equipment that can be commissioned and installed correctly by their in-house technicians. Otherwise, operators will become dependent upon the availability of experts from the equipment manufacturer or supplier.
Instead, consider actuators equipped with a simplified menu that enables maintenance technicians to set up the equipment quickly though an interface that guides users through an error-free process without the need of handheld tools and manuals. It ensures that all of the data captured by the smart actuator is correct and meets the application requirements.
Plant operators report faster commissioning and setup times with actuators that utilize an easy-to-follow, intuitive menu structure. Users of any skill level can configure the actuator through a variety of pre-set or customization options. Look for actuators that offer a large LCD with a built-in ambient light sensor that enables consistent viewing in all environmental conditions. The larger size and high resolution of these displays should allow viewing distances up to 9 m (30 ft).
Expand data collection and analysis 
Over the past 35 years, the semiconductor industry has attempted to follow Moore’s law with the goal of doubling the density of chips every two years. The explosion in memory availability and increased processing speeds at lower costs are evidence of their efforts.
Smart actuators that take advantage of these advancements by incorporating next-generation diagnostics and analytics capabilities help operators monitor and track equipment performance and quickly respond to detected instances outside specified ranges. Look for large memory capacity to enable more data capture and storage for higher degrees of process monitoring, data logging and information feedback to plant operators and business decision-makers.

When evaluating which actuators to purchase, be sure to consider whether the models feature:

  • A real-time clock that enables data logs to be time-stamped to support asset management functions and lifecycle analysis
  • A microcontroller to track sensors and provide wired control networks with access to data; e.g., valve position vs. torque
  • Digital relays and switches that can be monitored remotely to alert operators to equipment conditions
  • Easy retrieval of data for display and analysis on tablets and other mobile devices as well as on office computers by operations and business teams
Transforming industries
The adoption of smart actuators is transforming industries with remote extraction locations as well as transportation, refining and processing with stringent temperature and pressure requirements. In large-scale facilities for oil and gas, commercial power, and water production and distribution, advanced actuators can improve critical operations significantly. 
Temperature, humidity, voltage and vibration all can be monitored in realtime. When any of these conditions falls outside specific operating ranges, the useful life of valves can be shortened, leading to equipment failure that disrupts processing.
As a first step to avoid downtime, consider investing in actuators designed with smart technologies that record and report operating conditions. This enables maintenance technicians to track; for example, the number of turns a unit has experienced so they can determine accurately when lubricating oil might need to be changed.
Predictive maintenance and repairs
Companies can reduce unexpected costs and extend the timespan between equipment failures. Smart actuators also should be able to provide a path to add predictive analytics capabilities as actuator manufacturers develop the technology. When these systems are deployed, plant operators and their business teams outside the production loop will be able to digest real-time machine data and forecast downtime for specific maintenance. 
Enhanced visualization of analytics with graphs, logs and trend data will enable business decision-makers to understand better when and how they might need to repair or replace equipment. By doing so, they can avoid the costs and production delays caused by unseen equipment failures.

About the Author

Andrew Trill, product manager at Flowserve, earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Pennsylvania State University and an MBA from the University of Lynchburg. At Flowserve, he previously worked as an applications engineer managing the firmware and hardware for the MX and QX lines of non-intrusive, multi-turn actuators.

Andrew Trill

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