Give your valve purchases a second thought

Jan. 19, 2006
Doing so proves, once again, that the informed consumer is the best customer.

A recent court judgment assessing financial damages on a valve rebuilder that sold reconditioned valves as new  units points out the need for complete knowledge of the supply chain when purchasing new or remanufactured valves. The rebuilder repaired over 1,300 valves and sold them as new through resellers in both the United States and Canada. When the Rapid Transit Authority in Cleveland--the end-user--came to us with operational problems, we discovered the deception.

The valves in question were used on LPG service. Further investigation revealed that the valves were reconditioned with improper parts and were missing parts critical to their function and compliance with the requirements of the API 607 fire safety code. They contained copied seats of the incorrect shape and material. A failure these valves caused could have been catastrophic.

This is not the first case of remanufactured valves being sold as new. In another case involving a different valve manufacturer, a chemical plant in the southeastern United States bought 23 "new" valves. The plant soon discovered the valves were used and rebuilt. This case clearly involved fraud. Some of the 300 lb. pressure rated valves had the original lettering ground off and 600 lb. markings restamped on the valve body casting. Don'y you find this a little frightening?

The source of the problem turned out to be valve resellers that bought the valves from a junk dealer rather than from the original valve manufacturer. The valves may have been surplus valves the original purchaser sold. Somewhere along the line, they were altered, repainted, and sold as new to the unsuspecting purchasing people at the chemical plant.

 In yet another case, engineers at an electric utility plant in Arizona were investigating an unusually high incidence of failure among 27 recently installed valves. An inspection of the valves revealed that the original serial numbers had been ground off and replaced with new numbers. In addition, they discovered that the names of the valve manufacturers were stamped onto the valve bodies. When the investigators asked the manufacturers about the valves, the manufacturers did not recognize the products as their own.

Valve replacement is mandatory in cases like this. The cost of the down time for this emergency outage of the main electrical generating system was a significant one for the utility company. Additionally, they had to engage alternative sources of electricity during the outage. This included purchasing power on the open market and using alternative backup generating systems until the primary system was repaired and back on line.

Was P.T. Barnum correct?
Everyone that buys a valve is a potential victim of this type of deception. The problems illustrated above, however, are not limited to new valve purchases. Valve repairs performed by unauthorized valve repair houses are just as dangerous. One needs only to open the yellow pages to see advertisements for valve repair companies. What is not readily apparent from these ads is that these companies are not authorized to repair every make and model of valve. In fact, the truth is that many valve repair shops are not authorized by any valve manufacturer at all. Some original equipment manufacturers authorize large nationwide companies to perform repairs for them. The technicians at shops authorized valve repair shops have undergone extensive technical training. The OEMs audit the repair shop's quality systems. Generally, these valve repair companies justifiably advertise their authorizations quite proudly. In other cases, OEMs establish their own network of valve service and repair centers.

Bogus parts
Yet another danger lurks--the purchasing of valve repair parts. Not too many years ago, pirate part manufacturers victimized the auto industry. These illegally made parts could be found in every auto replacement part from oil and gas filters to fenders and body panels.

The same situation is now happening in the valve industry. All over the world, unauthorized manufacturers of valve parts are making pirate parts. The sources of these parts are not only the third world countries. Frequently they are being made by seemingly reputable machine shops in our own back yards. Sometimes these parts makers managed to obtain copies of old prints with the OEM's name and logo in the title block. More often they "reverse engineer" the worn out remains of used valves and actuators. The danger here is twofold--design flaws may have rendered old drawings obsolete and newer technology have have improved the performance of the manufacturer's current product offering.

Reverse engineering of parts does not accommodate the original manufacturing tolerances of the whole product. Although reverse engineering may yield a part that looks like the original, the part may not function correctly because of a poor fit with the other components of the assembly.

How important is this issue?
Everyone who understands their process system knows the critical role that valving plays both in safe plant operation and the plant's profitability. Valves, whether used simply for on/off service or used in highly critical control applications, perform important functions. They provide a means of stopping the flow of the media within the piping system. They regulate that flow going to other critical pieces of equipment in the system. In addition, valves prevent leakage of the media to the environment outside the piping system. Finally, some valves may also be expected to contain the media inside the piping in the event of some catastrophic event like an earthquake or a fire.

The original manufacturer understands these requirements intimately. The manufacturer develops product designs based on constantly evolving industry and governmental standards to meet a variety of operating circumstances.

This means that, regardless of the relative criticality of the process, you should use only the original manufacturer's parts for repair or maintenance. The metallurgy and polymer composition, the part design features, the manufacturing tolerances, and the assembly procedures are critical to providing the performance characteristics you need. The most clever machinist--even those in your own shop--cannot hope to duplicate every original dimension and tolerance of a part on the basis of the old worn out part. Contemporary valves use ever more complex internal and external sealing mechanisms. Even the most talented mechanics may not be aware of the sometimes subtle assembly requirements these designs impose on a trained rebuilder. Finally, even the best of instrument technicians may not have the specific training to properly assemble and calibrate the sophisticated instrumentation packages used on many contemporary control valve packages.  In short, using parts other than those designed and produced by the original manufacturer, using untrained assemblers, and repairing valves in unauthorized repair houses lead to your plant having valves that no longer meet your own original performance criteria.

It would be easy to point a finger at users and say; "It's the responsibility of valve purchasers to know what they are buying when buying a new or repaired valve." In reality, it is the joint responsibility of both the manufacturer and end user to put a stop to valve fraud.

How do we do that?
The Valve Manufacturers Association founded the Valve Repair Council. The membership of the Valve Repair Council is composed of valve OEMs and large, independent valve repair houses authorized to do repairs on certain OEM products. The Valve Repair Council actively promotes the service and repair of valves, actuators, and controls through the established OEM network of direct or authorized valve repair facilities. Many of these members are ISO 9000 certified and conform to the requirements of other independent quality auditing organizations.

If you suspect that some of your valves are questionable, contact the valve manufacturer. Valve manufacturers must be made aware of cases of suspected illegally repaired products as well as new products being sold through unauthorized channels. Manufacturers must pursue these cases to the fullest extent of the law.

When buying new valves, realize that you should either deal directly with the original equipment manufacturer or through a member of the authorized distribution channel. When buying repair parts and repair services, on the other hand, deal directly with OEM repair facilities or through OEM-authorized repair facilities.

If yours is an ISO 9000 certified company, you must also qualify your vendors. This includes suppliers of valve repair as well as the suppliers of parts and components. Insist that each of your vendors show evidence of a documented quality system. Insist that every newly manufactured valve and valve assembly that you purchase is clearly marked with a permanently affixed nameplate from the manufacturer. When buying remanufactured products, look for permanently affixed nameplates from both the original manufacturer and the equipment rebuilder.

Qualify the source of your purchases
The expression caveat emptor or buyer beware could not be any more appropriate than it is in this situation. As the valve purchaser, you must know your purchasing channel. Are you buying directly from the OEM? Are the manufacturers selling through representatives and distributors? Your suppliers state in writing that the products they are selling to you are either new or that they are rebuilt. If the parts are rebuilt, either find out who authorized the vendor to do the rebuilding or the identity of the shop that rebuilt them. Also, find out what type of training and qualification programs they employ to ensure that the rebuilder is doing work correctly according to the original manufacturer's specifications.

Some OEMs do their own repair and remanufacturing while other authorize independent repair businesses to provide this service. Because the reputations of their products are riding on the quality of the repairs, the OEM should be willing to provide you with a list of their approved sources for valve repairs in your area. Therefore, it is always wise to ask the OEM for a current list of approved repair facilities before sending any of their products out for repair.

The issues of what is newly manufactured and what has been repaired are serious issues. The responsibility for gaining control of this situation is jointly held by both consumers and manufacturers. Together we can uncover the unscrupulous individuals who seek to make a quick buck under the guise of saving your company money on valve purchases.

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