- Published on Thursday, 22 May 2014 11:09
- Written by Greg Johnson
In 1989, VMA formed the VRC to create a way for facilities that have good quality control procedures, use quality parts and have access to OEM specifications a way to band together to reach common goals.
The council was formed to promote safety, establish proper repair and rebuild methods, facilitate the legal exchange of information and best practices, address the issues that OEM repair shops face and to cooperate with standards bodies and regulators in developing the right guidelines.
This year, VRC is celebrating 25 years of existence.
VALVE Magazine created this special section to review the VRC’s history, to address current trends in valve repair and rebuilding and to create a directory of the growing list of companies that belong to the council.
VRC also will commemorate its proud heritage and accomplishments when it gathers in Houston for the second Valve Repair Meeting and Exhibition June 5-6.
Many changes have occurred in both the industry and the council over the 25 years, but one constant remains: VRC exists to bring quality, best practices and legitimacy to the companies that repair and rebuild using OEM procedures.
In the mid- to late-1980s, VMA began discussions on how to create a special council to counter a huge increase in the frequency and intensity of spurious valve work, most notably, the supply of bogus valves to nuclear power plants.
The valve service industry at the time was trying to regain momentum following the lean beginning of 1980s. The industry was also facing the not-so-aboveboard group of usual suspects who took advantage of the lean times to resume performing poor, and in some cases illegal, valve refurbishments. One of the most significant concerns for valve manufacturers were companies that sold rebuilt valves as new, complete with forged valve tags. This situation resulted in law suits filed against a variety of valve rebuilders from New Jersey to California, as well as general bad publicity for the repair industry.
The increase in OEM liability these bogus valve companies created spurred VMA to form a committee to look into the feasibility of forming an association-sponsored valve repair organization. Although the problem was primarily in the gate, globe, ball and check valve arena, control valve and pressure relief valve manufacturers were also paying close attention to the problems and became involved in forming the organization.
At the VMA board meeting in April 1989, plans for the Valve Remanufacturers Council (VRC) were finalized. The first VRC executive director was Bill Sandler, who scheduled the first official meeting for May 24, 1989 in Houston. Twenty-five companies were represented at that first gathering, and 11 of them applied for membership in the organization. The first chairman of the VRC was Myles Sweeny of Durco.
At the time the VRC was started, another group of valve rebuilders, known as the National Association of Valve Rebuilders (NAVR), was active. That group was formed in 1980. The biggest difference in the organizations was that VRC had OEM participation, while NAVR did not. NAVR would slowly fade away and disappear entirely by the turn of the century.
The first annual meeting of VRC took place in February 1990. Among the speakers at this first gathering were Fred Harrison of the National Board and Rudy McDonald, valve engineering specialist from Exxon, Baton Rouge. Harrison became a staple presenter at VRC meetings for more than 15 years.
When VRC was first formed, meetings were held twice a year. The format of these meetings was to have about six seminars of interest to the valve service community along with a number of vendor exhibits.
In 1992, the VRC faced its first bit of controversy when its board voted to change the bylaws to exclude member companies that were involved in the purchase and resale of surplus valves.
“It was felt [at the time] that this practice did not promote the true purpose of the VRC,” according to a joint VMA/VRC communique. The resulting change in bylaws meant the loss of a few members. Ironically, the latest bylaws change (2001) reversed that trend and made membership possible for some of those who left the fold in 1992.
The VRC’s second bit of controversy occurred in 1994 when the VMA Board of Directors suggested that the name Valve Remanufacturers Council be changed to Valve Repair Council as a means of further distancing itself from the valve rebuilding and surplus valve-selling world.
In 1993, the VRC discontinued the practice of holding an annual meeting in conjunction with VMA. Meetings during the 1993-2001 time period were usually held in cities such as Houston, New Orleans and San Antonio to attract the many Gulf Coast members.
During the late 1990s, many members of VRC felt that the relationship between VRC and VMA could use some rejuvenating. Independent members felt not enough support was given by VMA. This led to a series of meetings between groups from both the VMA and VRC, which brought up these hot button topics:
- More support of the overall mission of VRC by VMA
- A requirement that all OEM-authorized facilities be members of the VRC
- Access to OEM parts by VRC members
- Review of the VRC constitution in light of business practice changes by OEM-owned valve shops (e.g., selling rebuilt and/or surplus valves)
- At one of the next VMA meetings, a VRC-requested poll was taken to answer two questions posed by VRC:
1) Are you familiar with the VRC? Yes: 77%; No: 23%
2) Would your company be willing to cooperate with VRC members in providing timely and preferred engineering and parts replacement support on an “as needed” basis? Yes: 52%; No: 32%; No Opinion: 16%
No opinion means either a) not familiar with the VRC, or b) ambivalence regarding the question
Needless to say, the results of the poll were less than exciting to many VRC members. As a result of the meetings and poll, a decision was made that VRC and VMA should have more interface and get better acquainted. It was also decided that VRC annual meetings would again be held in conjunction with the VMA annual meeting (starting in 2002). Additionally, virtually all VMA activities (meetings and seminars) would be opened up to VRC members. This gave VRC members an opportunity to interact with VMA counterparts.
Despite adding new companies each year, membership in VRC hovered at about 25-28 up until 2010. This was because of mergers and acquisitions prevalent in the industry during this time. However, the past three years have seen VRC’s membership rise to a record 39 members.
One of the assets of the VRC is also one of its biggest challenges—the diversity of its membership. This diversity comes in many forms: There are OEM-owned shops as well as independently owned and operated shops. There are shops that only work on control valves and shops that only work on safety relief valves. Some shops work on every type of valve. Each of these groups has a unique set of interests and concerns. Likewise, each individual representative has different areas of concern, interests, management philosophy and authority. This rainbow coalition sometimes makes it difficult for everyone’s voice to be effectively heard.
As Y2K appeared in the rearview mirror, some traditional OEM profit streams became leaner, and a push was made to regain lost revenues through expanded OEM repair programs and in some notable cases, through the sale of rebuilt valves, both the OEM’s own brands as well as other manufacturers. This situation resulted in the VRC changing its bylaws in 2001 to allow such activity for its members—activity that just 13 years earlier was specifically banned.
As a result of the success of the American VRC, the British Valve & Actuator Association (BVAA) created a similar repair group a few years ago. The make-up of that association’s repair sub-group is similar to VRCs and its goal of OEM-focused repair is just as strong.
The most recent exciting event is that VRC held its first Valve Repair Conference in 2012. The initial meeting brought together valve repair professionals from all over the United States. The event will be repeated this year in Houston June 5-6. This event, which will honor the 25th anniversary of the organization, will include seminars, vendor exhibits, social events and shop tours of some of the repair facilities in Houston.
VRC’s first 25 years has been an interesting journey. The prime goal of legitimizing the valve service industry has been attained and the stature of VRC member companies has definitely been raised. Many companies, particularly the independents, have become go-to organizations lending the expertise and knowledge they’ve gained from years of valve service experience. Programs such as VRC charter member Southern Valve Service’s valve data acquisition program have been instrumental in helping end users determine the total cost of ownership of their valve assets. These data acquisition programs as well as asset management systems are now standard fare for all quality valve service facilities.
The current upsurge in the U.S. oil and petrochemical industry has created more opportunities and much optimism for the fraternity of valve service companies. End-users and OEMs alike can also feel much more comfortable that VRC members are filling a very valuable role of quality valve repair that will meet both the opportunities of today and the challenges of tomorrow.
Trends in Valve Repair
Today’s top-notch valve repair facilities look much different than they did 25 years ago. Walking through one of these facilities is very much like walking through a valve manufacturer’s plant. You will see the latest machine tools, including Computer Numerical Control turning centers and milling machines. The testing department will be outfitted with several testing machines that can handle the largest valves, including buttweld end types. Nondestructive inspection capabilities in these facilities include magnetic particle, hardness testing, positive material identification, dye penetrant examination and in some cases in-house radiography. The shop will also feature computer screens everywhere, loaded with the latest enterprise resource management software.
All this equipment and the matching expertise that goes with it is in direct response to the current needs of the end-user repair customers. No longer is the repair process just a basic mechanical repair exercise. Today’s valve repair customers demand a high level of expertise, experience and technology. That is primarily because most of the valves repaired today are of the engineered, critical path or large-diameter type.
The previous paradigm in the repair industry was that nearly every valve was repaired during an outage or turnaround. Today, the economics of inexpensive imported commodity valves, along with the economic savings of the run-to-failure mode of maintenance, have drastically reduced the quantity of valves repaired during these outages.
Most refiners will not even repair plain carbon steel valves that are less than size 12. Some users even raise this no-repair bar to size 24, class 150, further reducing the quantity of valves needing repair. The reason is simple: The cost of a new valve makes it uneconomical to repair these valves, so they are just scrapped. Cost additions such as high-pressure classes, higher-cost materials and actuation causes the repair/scrap formula to lower the repairable valve size considerably.
Although there are fewer commodity gate and globe valves repaired, because of the economics, the metal-seated ball valve has created a strong and lucrative market for the repair industry. There are not as many of these ball valves, which have taken over a good portion of the multi-turn valve’s market share, but the expertise needed to repair them is greater, as is the price charged by the repair facility.
The control valve repair industry has seen technology needs increase geometrically with the influx of so much digital control. Electronics and strong computer knowledge, along with specific OEM training, is now a requirement to work on these 21st century final control elements.
Safety relief valve repair has not changed as much over the past 25 years. For the most part, the products are still built similar to the designs of 40 years ago. What has changed is the additional focus on these sentinels of safety and the need to absolutely confirm their operability at all times. This has resulted in increased scrutiny by the National Board in the form of tightened repair requirements.
Another factor that has entered the economics of valve repair are national repair agreements where one service facility bids on the repair of valves from multiple plants. These bids require base pricing for most general valve repair, but out-of-scope repairs and the repair of non-agreement valves are separate. The base repair margins in the national agreements are often so low the only profits to be made are in the non-agreement valves and out-of-scope added repairs.
Actuator repair has continued to grow in volume and sophistication. As more and more processes are automated and the requirements for remote control and monitoring increase, so does the number of actuated valves. The control systems of many of the actuated valves require greater expertise than in years past so the skill-set of the actuator repair technician today is broader than it used to be.
Like many other technical jobs, there is a need for more trained valve repair technicians. Except for a few notable exceptions, the only way new valve technicians are trained is by on-the-job training. A broad focus, valve-training curriculum, including hands-on applications, would be very welcome in the industry today. As a way to begin that process, the board of the Valve Repair Council recently awarded a grant to the Valve Manufacturers Association to create a Valve Repair module as part of its Valve Basics education & training program. Plans call for the new module to be released in early 2015.