Family-run pressure and temperature measuring equipment manufacturer WIKA has been positioned at the forefront of industry for over 70 years. Its industrial applications are numerous; from machine building and automation and mobile working machines to refrigeration technology and industrial gases, the company supplies a range of precision-manufactured solutions.

To ensure adequate monitoring of packaged gases, WIKA provides gauges and sensors for valve manufacturers. As the sector continues to evolve, new and ever more innovative solutions need to be developed. Andrey Ruban, Global Segment Manager Industrial and Medical Gases at WIKA spoke to gasworld about its existing technology and solutions for the energy transition. 

Andrey Ruban, Global Segment Manager Industrial and Medical Gases at WIKA

Andrey Ruban, Global Segment Manager Industrial and Medical Gases at WIKA

What role do cylinder valves and regulators play in the industrial gas sector? 

AR: For decades WIKA has been an established supplier of gauges and sensors for the leading valve manufacturers, being a vital part of the packaged gases business.

Often valves and regulators are referred to as PRDs – pressure relief devices. Primary PRDs provide a safe and secure release of gas at the required flow and pressure requirements when released from high pressure cylinders. Primary PRDs often have a ’Mickey Mouse’ ears industrial regulator design. They are also available in a modular valve integrated design that includes either two mechanical pressure gauges for high and low pressure in different nominal sizes or a gauge and/or display. 

Secondary PRDs protect gas distribution systems and downstream equipment from overpressure conditions. 

Special needle and ball valves can also be used to isolate gas supply lines in gas control circuits, on cryogenic tanks, and in gas supply panels. 

Depending on the gas application – medical, corrosive UHP gases, hydrogen, etc. – the recommended materials of the valves and the associated components (such as gauges, sensors for instance) can differ. 

How important are they in the supply chain? 

AR: Extremely important. Without a PRD, you are unable to regulate the outlet pressure of a gas cylinder. Cylinder valves and regulators provide for the secure and correct usage of the involved industrial gases equipment. PRDs also help in optimizing the industrial gases supply chain. Traditionally the simplest “Mickey Mouse” type of regulator would have a low-pressure gauge and a high-pressure gauge (picture 1). The first one indicates the gas pressure in the gas usage line, the second one shows gas pressure in a high-pressure cylinder (container). Regulators/valves can have a handle to regulate the flow of gas for the user line, gas flow may be visually controlled by means of flowmeter mounted to the regulator. Once the gas content in cylinder drops, which is reflected on a high-pressure gauge, the cylinder should be replaced to secure continuity of the process. 

Industrial gases regulators equipped with bourdon tube gauges (left) or gauge modules (right)

Picture 1: Industrial gases regulators equipped with bourdon tube gauges (left) or gauge modules (right)

Source: © Wika

Any trends for applications of valves and regulators? 

AR: More and more customers are looking for simple, user friendly solutions. They ask for, robust and compact designs that make it easier to move and transport cylinders. They also ask for instruments with intuitive readings that make it simple for the user to understand the pressure of the gas cylinder and how to best use this information. The cylinder regulator should be robust enough to prevent a gas leak if the cylinder should drop or fall over. Placing a valve inside the guard can be a safety option for this scenario.

One of the latest trends is usage of a “pin” valve on a cylinder. This implies that the valve stays at the user site and can be mounted to a new cylinder during the cylinder exchange process. This is becoming more common in beverage applications. One of the leading international gas majors today also promotes this type of “pin” solution for IoT capable industrial applications.

The other trend is the modular design of valves, where the valve and its supporting products (gauges, for instance) look as an integral one-piece product (picture 2). 

Valve integrated pressure regulator (VIPR) utilizing: a/ digital display, sensor and electromechanical gauge on the left b/ two different mechanical pressure gauges on the right

Picture 2: Valve integrated pressure regulator (VIPR) utilizing: a/ digital display, sensor and electromechanical gauge on the left b/ two different mechanical pressure gauges on the right

Source: © Wika

Do you notice any change in market trends for cylinder valves as the energy transition advances?

AR: The automotive market has its own requirements with regards to valves for hydrogen cylinders being that is part of the on-board fuel systems. Hydrogen on-board valves and its components (such as WIKA’s MH-3-HY pressure sensor) may require EC79 certification or testing in line with EC79 regulation. EC79 certification should become invalid in July 2022. Hydrogen valves should have ports for temperature and pressure sensors. Companies that have proven experience within the on-board CNG valves segment, now expand their expertise into hydrogen driven vehicles.  

Are there any future technologies that you’re excited about? 

AR: Digitalisation has been a topic within the packaged gases industry for a while now. The challenge is to achieve the appropriate costing of a digitally capable regulator that allows gas companies to generate payback & profit for a gas package within the first gas supply agreement with a client. The other challenge is to have a 5-year battery lifetime for a digital VIPR – which will be sufficient till the cylinder retesting period.

WIKA works with all the major valves manufactures globally and has been part of such digitalisation discussions, promoting its measuring solutions for valves integration. Unless we are talking about customer engineered solutions, the most common WIKA products discussed are (picture 3): 

- PMM01 - mechanical pressure gauge module with scale ranges from 0 … 400 bar. It is a compact and cost-effective integration solution 

- PMT01 - electromechanical pressure gauge module, which is a Bourdon tube pressure gauge with an integrated sensor. The instrument offers the usual analogue display (scale ranges from 0 … 400 bar), which enables reading the process pressure on-site and in addition provides an output signal (e.g. DC 0.5 … 4.5 V) 

- TTF-1 - pressure transducer with a thin film sensor. The compact size of the pressure transducer TTF-1 allows its usage in applications where mounting space is very limited. Pressure ranges are from 0 … 10 bar to 0 … 1000 bar 

- MTF-1 - pressure sensor module with a digital I²C signal. The product has been launched end of last year. It is assigned for high pressures of up to 1000 bar. Device also has additional temperature indication for condition monitoring. The product is intended for battery operated applications. 

Medical and specialty gases for laboratory applications are of relevance for digital valves. The last three listed products can be combined with digital display on a cylinder valve in the case of appropriate demand. An example of a digital VIPR is shown on picture 2.

Due to recent COVID situation, such digitalisation discussions were less frequent.  

WIKA product portfolio for “smart” valve integrated solutions

WIKA product portfolio for “smart” valve integrated solutions

Source: © Wika

Are there any concerns around safety with new technology such as hydrogen becoming more commonplace?

AR: A manifested transition to the hydrogen economy will require solving the challenges of the H2 supply chain. Trailers, cylinder bundles, single cylinders (and their manifolds), as well as gas supply systems intended for hydrogen require primary and secondary regulators. 

Thus, there is the risk of embrittlement and selection of appropriate material for gauges and sensors (as valve components) stay a top priority with regards to this gas. For hydrogen usage, WIKA recommends using stainless steel gauges on valves. 

Hydrogen may also influence long-term stability of a sensor signal and cause sensor signal offset. With regards to WIKA’s TTF-1 pressure transducer for valve integrated solutions, it is important to highlight that appropriate sensor material for hydrogen is Elgiloy. 

In order for WIKA to make an appropriate technical offering, applications requiring hydrogen service should be known and expressed in advance.