Valve Basics Program Meets Deeply Felt Industry Need

zoo1Leafing through comments made by those who attended the most recent Valve Basics Seminar & Exhibits quickly reveals why these courses are so vital to the industry.

“I started off with almost no knowledge about valves and actuators,” wrote Rehul Upadhyay, a master’s degree student from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. He was one of 60 people who attended the event, held May 12 to 14 in Charlotte, NC.

“Within three days I got to know so many new and interesting things I am now considering working in this field,” he continued.

The student, who is from India, attended the event based on a suggestion from his advisor. Upadhyay said he “was fortunate enough” to get a scholarship to attend. “This was the first time I got to interact with industry people here in the U.S.,” he said, and “it was a great learning experience.”

zoo2VMA provided scholarships so that four mechanical engineering students from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte could attend the seminar.

His thoughts illustrate one aspect of why the courses are needed: to find ways to pass on skills in an industry as complex as valves, actuators and controls.

“Education is a top priority for many VMA members, who know they need to replace some of the knowledge this industry is losing because our workforce and our leaders are nearing retirement age,” said VMA President Bill Sandler. “These courses help to fill that need, as well as the need for people to broaden their understanding of valve and actuator operations.”

The most recent course had one of the youngest groups to attend since the program began six years ago: The majority fit into the category of two or less years of experience while the next biggest group had two to five years of experience.

Also of note at the Charlotte event was high level of participation by attendees. Presenter Greg Johnson—who also serves as chairman of the VMA Education & Training Committee—said: “The level of enthusiasm, and both the quantity and quality of the questions asked, was probably the best I’ve seen since we kicked off this program some six years ago.”

Hands-on, the Zoo is a Hit

The education program also fulfills another great need in the industry, one not based on number of years of experience: the need for practical, hands-on teaching—the stuff that can’t be read in books or online. That need is felt both by people new to the industry and those that have some knowledge or experience in one product area or end-user industry, but want to expand their practical knowledge.

zoo3During the Valve Petting Zoo, Greg Johnson demonstrates multi-turn valves and fields questions from attendees.That’s where the Valve Petting Zoo comes in handy. The zoo sessions were added after the first couple of basics programs in 2009 and 2010. Greg Johnson recalls when the petting zoo was added to the program: “It became clear from the start, as the committee reviewed evaluations, that the attendees wanted to see and touch valves, actuators and controls ‘up close and personal’ to help them better understand what they were hearing in the lecture portion of the program.” It was Johnson who coined the term “valve petting zoo” as a light-hearted way to describe this hands-on experience. But it soon caught on and, said Johnson, “the rest is history.”

Many of the attendees in Charlotte praised the practical teachings of this portion of the program. For instance, Omer Sanjay, applications engineer for Rupture Pin Technology, Inc., called the petting zoo “an excellent idea and very helpful, too.”

Douglas Eicher, technological specialist at DTE Energy, explained why. “Visualizing and putting your hands on the equipment can easily be worth two or three presentations,” he said. “And the smaller group allows for good interaction and knowledge sharing.” Eicher had attended the two-day 101 course several years ago and wanted to hear the new 201 presentations. “But since I was already coming for the one-day, I decided to attend the 101 portion again.”

Several commenters asked for even more time for the zoo portion of the program, an idea the Education & Training Committee is exploring and hopes to implement at the next event.

zoo4In addition to the hands-on experience of the Valve Petting Zoo, the tabletop exhibition provided another setting for attendees to ask questions about various industry products. Contributing to the hands-on experience were tabletop exhibitors who showed their specific products and how they work. This most recent event had 16 exhibitors on hand to explain the workings of their particular wares, which included not only valves, actuators and controls, but also castings, gaskets, packings, seals, springs, sensors, elastomers, lubricants and more.

201 Classes Strike a Chord

The other most frequent comment about the Basics course from those who attended in Charlotte centered on the fact it has gone from the base level of teaching to a deeper level—that’s why the 201 classes were added, along with an extra day. These more intermediate lessons included sessions on standards; materials; packings and fugitive emissions; critical service valves and applications; valve data, feedback and monitoring; and basic valve repair. The 101 classes continue to cover the major types of valves, actuators and controls as well as solenoids and accessories.

“This course is very comprehensive,” concluded Toby Rucker, designer with Columbia Pipeline Group. “The speakers were all knowledgeable and interesting.”

His comments are typical of those who attend these courses. That’s why the curriculum has been expanded from two to three days, an addition that several people besides Rucker commented was invaluable to their experience. The numbers backed up the comments—of those who registered, 85% signed up for all three days.

Some participants suggested there was need for even more.

“Can VMA provide 300 and 400 level seminars?” one attendee asked. People also suggested including information on specific technical issues, specifications, more data on how each type of valve operates, deeper technical information on the materials and methods that go into making valves, more on what happens with specific situations such as shutdowns and much more. The list goes on and on.

These suggestions will be added to the hundreds of comments that have helped the Basics courses evolve from a good idea that met a deeply felt need to a vital part of the valve, actuator and controls industry.

As Calan Tobin, product specialist for Wolseley Industrial Group, put it: The Valve Basics lessons, including those offered at the Charlotte event, are “well thought out; the speakers all hit on topics important in our industry.”

Others must have felt the same: Of those who responded to a request for feedback, 97% said they’d be passing along the recommendation to attend to their colleagues.

Columbia Pipeline’s Rucker said it best: “I will highly recommend this seminar to my co-workers.” His co-workers may soon be joining the over 1,200 people who have benefitted from VMA’s Valves, Actuators and Controls 101 (and now 201) lessons.

Valve Ed’s Originators

VMA’s “Valve Ed” program was developed in 2008 by a group of volunteers representing a number of the association’s member companies, with decades of experience among them. This group of hard-working industry professionals became the Education & Training Committee. The committee continues to guide the program’s development by continually updating and expanding the course and plotting its path into the future.

Committee members are: Chairman Greg Johnson, United Valve; Ed Holtgraver, Actuator Lead, QTRCO; John Molloy, ASCO Valve; Paul Souza, AUMA Actuators; Jeff Kane, DFT; and Bert Evans, Emerson Process Management-Fisher.

The next Valve Basics Seminar & Exhibits, which will again feature three days of lessons, is Oct. 21-23 at the Hyatt Regency Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX. Online registration for the event will open on in mid-July. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., education & training coordinator, for more information.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is VMA’s director of education and editor-in-chief of VALVE Magazine. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is managing editor of VALVE Magazine.