Within the cryogenic valve industry there are two important considerations - quality and safety. Without one the valve may never effectively do what it was bought to do, but without the other the effect can be disastrous.
Looking first to quality, it is important to fully consider the application in which the valve is to be used. Products can be made from bronze, brass or steel or a combination of any of these, and are uniquely engineered to meet the demands of ultra low-temperature applications. Safety is just as important, and it is clear from experience that staff training is vital, as is investing in the right tool for the right job.
It is these issues that we are to focus on, as problems arising from negligence or cutting corners not only incur substantial costs for gas companies, it's as serious as putting the lives of staff at stake. With the sage advice of our industry expert in hand we look at some major incidents of operator abuse, incorrect maintenance and the wrong selection of valves in recent years that have had major implications to our industry globally.
The first incident we look at occurred in Europe, the victim - a major industrial gas producer. A bulk vessel was over-pressurised causing an explosion that killed a member of staff and created major plant damage. The investigation into the incident found that the incorrect safety devices had been used, and during the filling process the low-pressure bulk vessels were not protected against the higher pressure pumping discharge from trailers.
As a result the industrial gas company involved had to work with the authorities to identify the reason for the incident, work to put short, medium and long term solutions in place and implement these throughout Europe, and subsequently, globally. The cost for the incident, including the scrapping of some pressure vessels, was exceptionally high and a similar incident today could put many companies out of business. An expert's estimate of the cost of this single incident today would be a staggering $150m!
So, how could the costs here, both human and financial, be avoided? This is a question of ensuring the right equipment is in place for your business. Bulk vessels should have the appropriate safety equipment to discharge or restrict the pumping flow from the trailer, and avoid such unnecessary incidents. Today in Germany every vessel has to have a safety device installed on bulk vessels, even if the vessel pressure is higher than the current maximum pumping pressure. The reason for this is that it is expected that in the future the pump manufacturers will increase flow rates and pressures in the hope of reducing fill times and therefore it is imperative that adequate protection is provided to avoid all vessels becoming $quot;suspect$quot;.
To America now for our next example, here a serious spillage from a bulk vessel damaged plant and equipment at a customer's premises. The problem here relates to the installation of a safety valve that was refurbished by a third party but not set at the correct pressure. When the vessel was left without withdrawal the pressure increased above the set pressure of the safety valve and liquid discharged around the tank. The problem here stems from cost cutting and human error and could have been avoided.
It was not the use of second hand products, expert opinion is that there is no problem in using refurbished valves, which remain cheaper than buying the item new. However, the important factor is that whether the valve is new or refurbished it must be correctly installed.
For the company involved in this situation the accident left considerable uncertainty over what valves were installed in the field. As a result a planned change out of all safety valves began. This involved the replacement of over 6,000 units, with an estimated cost of $4m.
How to deal with this health and safety nightmare? The experts say that a company must always ensure the correct valve is selected, and properly installed - which should be taken as good advice across the board. It is also worth giving thought to whether the use of refurbished valves over new equipment is the correct choice. In a nutshell, purchasers should always make the correct choice and source their products from a reliable company.
Our focus now moves to Australasia, where a company discovered their vessel safety valves were not protecting bulk vessels. Changeover valves that had been wrongly maintained had been installed on vessels restricting the flow to the safety valves, making the vessels suspect during filling. To resolve the situation over 1,800 vessels had to be taken off line to check the safety systems, and where appropriate be replaced. The cost here lies around $1.2m, and all for a problem that could have been avoided.
The solution to this high-pressure problem? Experts say this could have been avoided by something as simple as the correct selection of valves. They also advise to consider whether it is appropriate to include refurbishing of safety products as part of your procedures.
Fit for purpose?
Asia is emerging as a major player in the valve industry, as both a purchaser and producer of low temperature products. Our example from this market emerges from a major fire that occurred when a plant could not be shut down during a spill. The problem that emerged was that valves used were not fire safe and not certified for the shutdown of plant in an emergency.
This incident turned out to have bigger consequences than simply the evacuation of the residents and the cost to the operator. The impact of this accident has been felt across the world and there have now been changes to the rules for selection of the equipment used for critical applications.
The advice from our expert to companies hoping to avoid similar problems is to ensure the equipment selected for flammable plant applications is not only fit for purpose, but meets the full requirements for plant shut down. This will include the choice of fire certified products to ensure incidents are controlled and minimised.
Incidents such as these may be replicated globally today. In most instances these occur due to operator misuse or to cutting corners to meet schedules or simply to save money. It can be seen that globally we have had some nasty experiences over the last decade and the developing countries must attempt to minimise such issues at this time of rapid development.
As we have seen from the examples listed here many of these issues do not arise from manufacturing malfunctions, and there is no magic product that can solve these issues. Instead our expert advises companies to invest in people, both through training and procedures. What may be a few pennies saved on installation could cost a company millions in dealing with accidents, and the cost to reputation of a bad accident is incalculable.
So, how should companies approach the challenges of safe practice? In a final word from our expert, the advice is simple and to the point, companies should, $quot;select only approved products, only maintain products that are maintainable and most importantly ensure your demands on the workforce create a safe working environment for us all.$quot;
What's your purchasing strategy?
To illustrate the impact of a carefully thought out purchasing strategy, a major user in the UK has taken advice from the Health & Safety Executive, and is now increasing their safety valve installation life to a minimum of 6 years. This has given them a saving of over $200,000 per annum and they are currently working to a 10-year installation programme without maintenance.
Looking to the future
The valve manufacturers are working with companies to deal with their safety issues and looking to the future, new developments in the industry are likely with the leading companies working to produce safer and more reliable products than the already high spec ranges we see today. In terms of the way valves are used it is also feasible to speculate that companies will move to higher volume, higher pressure pumping speeds which will bring down filing times. The industry and valve makers must be ready to respond to this for it could make today's safety standards and some older range products and vessels obsolete.
No matter where your facilities are based there are also a number of more generalised issues which affect the safe use and product life of cryogenic products. There are several issues here, and this discussion is just a brief outline of their conception and consequences.
The first arises from pipe fractures, which are caused by staff hammering to remove couplings after an icing of connections during the filling process. This will not only damage the filling couplings but in addition some industrial gas companies have had personnel claims for serious employee injuries.
The answer here says our expert is a move to stainless valve and piping solutions that minimise these issues. This changeover could also extend equipment operating life and reduce the risk of serious injury.
The next issue facing cryogenic product users is the icing of valve systems that may occur when procedures are not followed during the filling process. Unless hoses and lines are checked to be free of water and condensation before filling begins valves can easily become iced up. When this happens drivers commonly use bars to close valves, subsequently damaging valves that are then suggested to be faulty. This damages equipment and incurs costs. This issue should be addressed with on the ground staff training. Instilling a thorough understanding of procedures amongst drivers will not only minimise the risk for both staff and equipment, but also keep maintenance costs down.
Our final concern in regards to the safe use and instillation of cryogenic valves puts us in a medical setting. The problem here relates to the introduction of contaminants in the piping system, and could prove the most deadly. One industrial gas company found that as a result of bad practice incorrect oxygen cleaning procedures resulted in harmful solutions being injected into healthcare systems. This is perhaps the most deadly of our examples thus far and resulted in multiple fatalities. For suppliers hoping to avoid such situations the advice from our expert is simple, ensure OEM suppliers have the appropriate procedures and that these are followed to the letter.No matter where your facilities are based there are also a number of more generalised issues which affect the safe use and product life of cryogenic products. There are several issues here, and this discussion is just a brief outline of their conception and consequences.