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AUMA’s ‘Servitization’ Strategy for Electric Actuation of Valves

Added - 04.07.2019

A more sophisticated approach to supply deriving from TOTEX principles

As suppliers to the water industry will know, the success or failure of an important part of your business is tied to AMP cycles and framework agreements. However, with the advent of the TOTEX (TOTal EXpenditure over the lifetime of a piece of equipment or project) approach, we also have the chance to introduce a more sophisticated business model that goes beyond a simple ‘lowest selling price’ strategy. At electric actuator manufacturer AUMA UK, we have realigned our business around the core idea of ‘Servitization’, an approach that has even involved a physical remodelling of our Head Office to bring departments closer together. We have also created a more sophisticated approach to inventory and the service process. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the way in which AUMA UK has approached the challenges and how we have sought to emphasise the service element of the product/service mix. 

Never complacent

There is a basic principle, well understood by successful manufacturers – “Goods derive their value through use – the service they provide” (Service-Dominant Logic, Vargo and Lusch 2008), or, put another way, “Sell the sizzle, not the sausage” (every good salesman, always!). 

It is too easy to sit back and say, ‘we always deliver on time, our products are good and we sort problems out quickly’, and assume therefore that service levels are perfect. It is important for AUMA to understand where we currently sit in relation to our target levels of service, so we conducted an independent survey, to identify any gaps that existed between how we felt we were doing and how our customers believed we were treating them. We used a ‘ServQual’ approach, measuring ourselves against five different possible gaps between service expectation and delivery. There’s plenty of information online for anyone who wants to read more about ServQual. 

Opportunities to improve

In almost every area we were pleased that our customers scored us highly, but we were also able to identify issues that needed addressing, particularly around responsiveness. We felt that we could address that by bringing our service and customer service functions physically closer together, creating a team environment, and to that end we have used space in our Clevedon offices to create a completely new area. We were also able to create a new workflow for actuators returning to base for repair. AUMA is a German manufacturing company, with four European factories for us to draw from, with a product range based on modularity; actuator controls, gearboxes and drives are selected specifically for each project, with thousands of configuration choices available. We analysed our inventory strategy in light of our manufacturing flexibilities and optimised that in light of the demand from the market to make sure we were well-prepared but lean. 

In terms of service, though, that’s only half the battle. In order to create a ‘servitized’ business, we have to find a mechanism to offer high-quality and consistent service at all points of usage. We have created an accreditation process for individuals who are delivering support at each stage in the life of the actuator. Most new actuators are installed in combination with the valve that they will operate, and we want to make sure that it is possible for valve manufacturers to mount and configure an AUMA actuator in a professional, managed way. Once on site, we want to make sure that the actuator can be commissioned and subsequently maintained correctly, and indeed diagnosed and expertly repaired when necessary. An additional benefit of the remodelling of our Head Office was the creation of space for us to develop a larger Training Academy, a base to deliver our accreditation programme. ACE (AUMA Certified Engineering) is a three-tier programme designed to train technicians throughout the value chain to manage and maintain AUMA equipment. ACE trained technicians can be employees of the OEMs, water companies or employed by service partners. Regular refresher courses maintain accreditation and on-line tools both support and confirm ACE technicians’ credentials. On-line tools can be used by ACE technicians to provide details and the history of individual actuators.

What's next?

We don’t know how the future will look, though with new sophistication deriving from Water 4.0 and IIoT we know that data will lie at its heart, and the movement of water, the treatment of waste will be expressed as data with ever-increasing granularity. What we do know though, is that manufacturers like AUMA will, by continuous innovation in product, process, paradigm and position, continue to serve a world in motion.

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Precise valve control in oil and gas

Added - 01.07.2019

Valve actuation in extreme conditions

Flow of both oil and gas requires precise actuation of valves under extreme conditions – very high, very low temperatures, in arid or high rainfall environments, in remote situations in deserts or arctic tundra, while rebuffing the corrosive effects of high humidity or salinity for extended periods. Operating in explosive atmospheres, even with the potential to require fireproof operation. 

Pipeline operations depend for their fundamental functions on a high degree of valve automation. The complex processes in compressor stations, in pumping stations or on filtration skids require valve positioning to be accurate and extremely reliable.

Control of liquids and gas valves

Actuators have to control flow of both gas and liquids. Typically, ball or butterfly valve actuation requires part-turn actuators providing a swivel movement. Gate valves, on the other hand, typically need multi-turn actuators providing several complete actuator turns to operate the valve from open to close and vice versa. 

Open/close and modulating actuation

Both open-close and modulating actuation is required. Actuators for open-close duty are typically required to infrequently open or close shut-off valves, usually ball or butterfly types, in block line valve stations or scraping stations, for example. Pipeline applications often involve opening and closing large valves with, consequently, very high torque requirements. AUMA actuators address this with a portfolio of gearboxes, achieving torques of up to 675,000 Nm.

Modulating actuators provide enhanced positioning accuracy for control valves in order to precisely control the flow within pipelines. E.g., in gas receiving terminals in gas pipelines, pressure control valves have to operate frequently and precisely to reduce the gas pressure.

AUMA’s modular actuator concept meets varied demands with a set of standard components, reducing inventory requirements. A broad range of multi-turn and part-turn actuators are available for different torque ranges, for different power supply sources, different valve attachments, etc. A choice between basic or intelligent actuator controls provide cost-efficient solutions for both simple and the most complex process control tasks. Flexible actuator geometry allows easy on-site adjustment of mounting positions so that operating elements such as local controls and display are always easily accessible, even if space is scarce.

Actuator protection in corrosive and explosive environments

Especially important for pipeline situations exposed to highly saline atmospheres, AUMA employ a powder coating process for the individual housing parts. AUMA actuators meet the requirements of EN ISO 12944-6 for corrosivity categories C5-M long (marine, coastal and offshore areas).

Electric actuators to be used in oil and gas pipelines must be certified for use in potentially explosive atmospheres. The oil & gas industry is a global market with varied certification depending on the country or region, for example ATEX (Europe), IECEx, FM (USA), EAC (Russian Federation) or NEPSI (China). Additional requirements can call for actuators in fireproof versions that reliably maintain all functionality, even under the direct impact of fire. AUMA actuators can be equipped with a fireproof enclosure that meets the requirements of UL 1709 that absorbs the heat and ensures reliable actuator operation at ambient temperatures up to 1,100 °C for 30 minutes, preventing spread of fire by closing the valve.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the intelligent actuator

The actuator also forms the crucial interface between the process and the distributed control system (DCS). And, as IIoT gains momentum, electric actuators provide direct access to a wide variety of both process and diagnostics data. AUMA's AC .2 controls can significantly save money at the system design stage by converting and transmitting data to the DCS, including from other sensors so wiring can be simplified.

IIoT and big data means that flow of oil and gas, the processes along the pipeline, will all be expressed as data with ever increasing granularity. Where there is data, that data can be used and manipulated, and new ways of using that data will emerge. Actuators, because they are present throughout any distributed flow process, will be key enablers in the data revolution to come.

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The “Sympathetic” Control of Valves and Valve Actuation

Added - 29.01.2019

“To a man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.” (Abraham Maslow, 1966)

One of the inevitable consequences of being one of the first countries in the world to introduce a comprehensive water and sewerage network is that the British water system is also one of the oldest. Throughout the UK we retain many hundreds of miles of venerable cast-iron pipework. While we bless our Victorian forebears for their vision and engineering ambition, that leaves headaches aplenty for modern operators. Cracks lead to leaks, leaks to waste and increasingly – to substantial fines, including at least one levied by OFWAT of more that £100 million. Water Companies are investing heavily in leak management to mitigate water loss and avoid further retribution.

The valves that control the flow of water and sewage through the network can lock, stick and be difficult to move. Modern valve actuators are capable of exerting very high levels of torque to open and close the valve. If that force is applied too abruptly the shock of the blow can cause the pipework around the valve position to rupture. Also, obviously, a valve actuation cycle starts and finishes at a speed of zero. A fixed speed actuator has a high acceleration from its starting position and, also, an almost instantaneous deceleration when it reaches its end point. Closing at excessive speed results in pressure surges and might cause overloads in both valves and pipeline systems, leading eventually to more leaks. 

There is a solution to the problem, one that reliably opens and closes the valve, but which is ‘sympathetic’ to the vulnerability of parts of the infrastructure. AUMA’s variable speed range of actuators now offers the high torque required to release the valve, with a soft start and soft close that conserves the pipework, and higher speed through the middle of the cycle. AUMA’s ACV speed profiles allow up to ten speed values to be specified for an actuation cycle, regardless of direction. Variable speed operation also allows control of water hammer, avoiding another major risk to pipework.

AUMA offers several types of variable speed actuation. A full range of single-speed actuators and controls, of course, plus SAV multi-turn actuators for open/close duty and SARV for modulating duty are paired with intelligent ACV .2 actuator controls, while SAVEx and SARVEx are explosion-proof versions of the same devices. Soft starting, yet powerful and rapid actuation delivers the torque that every valve requires, without inflicting the damage that a hard blow can cause. At AUMA, we have every tool in the box, not just a hammer.

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The ACE Programme

The 3-tier ACE Programme allows technicians, installers and maintenance engineers to prove their competence with AUMA Actuators, controls and gearboxes, and integration of AUMA equipment into wider control systems. Click below to find out more about ACE and where you fit in.