If you’ve been around valves for a while, you’ve likely heard the term “new surplus,” plus a few other saltier descriptions for valves that are offered for sale. A joke in the industry concerning the phrase “new surplus valves” goes like this: In describing his valve product, the shifty valve salesman said it is new surplus: “surplus to me and new to you.”
But despite this joke, the history of new surplus valves is aboveboard and honest. The term was coined in the late 1940s to describe valves purchased for government-contracted purposes during World War II, but never used. In 1945, the end of the war still seemed years away, and the huge industrial pipeline was spewing forth material of all kinds, including piping, valves and fittings. A slowdown in production and cancellation of orders did not occur until the fall of 1945.
The extra unneeded valves were stockpiled at depots and holding areas around the country. The newly formed “War Assets Administration” was set up to dispose of these surplus items. Regional auctions and government sales were held from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s, during which brand-new unused surplus valves, along with many other items, were sold for pennies on the dollar, which placed huge amounts of near-perfect valves on the market. An interesting fact is that to be an eligible buyer at most of these sales, you had to be a military veteran.
These were the days before traceability issues came to the forefront; the well-known name brand on the side of the valve was its traceability. The stocking and resale of these valves helped foster the creation of many new pipes/valves/fitting supply houses, because the new surplus valves (and fittings) were well-received and readily purchased by industry, particularly on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Unfortunately, the reputation of new surplus valves soon became tarnished by dishonest valve repair entrepreneurs who rebuilt used valves, attached new counterfeit OEM tags to those valves and sold them as new surplus.
Most of the crooks are now gone, and quality new surplus valves are still available for sale on the market today. These are extras or overages that were not needed for a particular project. Many of them have all of the correct traceability paperwork. There also are many companies that have huge stocks of unused new surplus valves for sale. The only thing that is usually missing is the traceability paperwork.
So just what do the terms associated with rebuilt, repaired and new surplus really mean?
- New: A new OEM-manufactured product that is sold through official distributor channels with all traceability paperwork available with the valve.
- Surplus or New Surplus: Usually, valves that have never been installed and are purchased from an end-user or contractor who failed to use them on a construction project. In some cases, a surplus valve might have received a post-factory hydrostatic test, either in the field or at a valve service center. These valves may or may not have the requisite traceability paperwork.
- Rebuilt: Valves that are completely disassembled and refurbished. These valves may be processed with the knowledge and support of the OEM, or they may be processed by anyone with the right tools and a garage. The process becomes dishonest if the rebuilder does not put his “rebuilt by” tag on the valve.
- Repaired: Valves that have been sent to a repair facility by the valve owner for refurbishment. These facilities are almost always authorized by specific manufacturers to repair and service their products. The key to the definition is that the valve owner is sending its valves to be repaired and returned to its company.
- As-is or Raw Valves: These are valves that have been in service and bought from a plant after they were replaced by new ones. They are usually rusty and raw and in need of major repair. Oftentimes the only place to find a rare valve to meet an emergency need is searching through raw valve inventory. Some valve repair facilities have boneyards of these valves, which are used for parts in repairs.
Sometimes a difficult-to-find valve is needed to get a plant back up and running, particularly during an unanticipated outage, which too often occurs on Saturday night or Christmas Eve (or both). The particular valve may not be available from new distributor stock or the old one may not be repairable. This requires both the repair facility and the end user to step out of their normal paths of procurement and solve a problem by finding a suitable new surplus valve or raw valve to rebuild.
End users often question whether they should purchase a rebuilt valve instead of a repaired valve. The answer is that it depends upon the user’s confidence in the rebuilder and the amount of inspection and quality evaluation he or she is willing to have the rebuilder perform. Often, valves can be rebuilt and repaired to standards that exceeded the original manufacturing process, particularly if the valve was built decades ago.
Other end users wonder when they should purchase a new surplus valve. Still others are not allowed to have valves in their plants without the requisite OEM paperwork because of liability issues and OSHA 1910 Process Safety paperwork requirements. However, if there is no other choice and the rebuilt valve is the only one available, an intensive testing regimen can be performed to provide confidence and a pile of quality assurance paperwork for the purchaser. This can include disassembly and inspection of all key parts, thorough wall thickness inspection, radiography, positive material identification of key components (pressure-containing parts and trim) and hydrostatic testing with extended testing times or with an inert gas such as helium.
To have confidence in general repair work or in purchasing a rebuilt or specially tested surplus valve, a close trusting relationship with a reputable valve service company is needed. The first filter in selecting that valve service company should be to ask if they are members of the Valve Repair Council, an adjunct organization to VMA.
There are always times when the normal rules of valve repair must be bent a little to solve seemingly unsolvable valve repair issues. Dealing with an experienced, quality valve service facility can greatly mitigate the risks of these situations. An oft-used World War II motto aptly applies to these situations as well as these repair facilities: “The difficult we do today, the impossible takes a little longer.”