When automated valves are needed for a project, the selection and procurement process involves many players. For a major capital installation, influencing parties will include not just the end user and valve and actuator manufacturers— engineering designers, construction and installation contractors will also be involved.
While these parties have some common interests, each of them also has specific individual interests. It is worth looking at the selection and procurement process through the eyes of each of these parties to see how their perspectives can influence the offerings and support provided by the automated valve suppliers. In an intensely competitive global marketplace, every valve and actuator manufacturer strives to bring value to all parties in the hope of winning business.
Although the first consideration may at first appear to be price, the more important issue is value. With engineered products the level of specification is important to ensure fitness for purpose. This, together with other factors, contributes to the concept of value. However, value may mean different things to the different parties involved in the project.
The end user is often a key influence on what constitutes value. They need equipment that is not just capable of performing the flow control requirements, but that equipment but also have many other qualities that contribute to the safe and efficient running of the plant.
Value also means more to an end user than just initial cost. The upfront capital costs are important, but installation costs, running costs and maintenance costs add up to the total life cycle cost of the automated valve. The end user is usually the owner and operator of the plant, so operational reliability, minimum maintenance and maximum compatibility with existing equipment are equally important. Plant downtime represents lost revenue, so the lower the costs involved in maintaining the automated valves at a high level of availability, the better.
For these reasons, many end users have a carefully compiled, but relatively short AVL (approved vendors list). This allows a measure of competitive bidding, but ensures their maintenance and operations personnel are using familiar equipment. Also plant-wide spare parts inventory and training is more focused. Where predictive or preventive maintenance systems are used, it is easier and more efficient when there is only one actuator manufacturer on a plant, so interpretation of the data is easier.
End users will work with conceptual and detail design engineers to ensure that the automated valve specifications reflect all of these items.
The detail design engineers are interested in adhering to the end user AVL, but also have concerns of their own. The want to ensure that equipment they select is not going to fail and reflect badly on them. So they tend to be conservative and only try new technology once it has been field proven. They also look for good technical support from the manufacturers in the form of drawings, wiring diagrams, weight and center of gravity information as well as power draw data.
The procurement may be done by the design and construction company, or by one or more of the subcontractors, and there may be many subcontractors. Procurement agents take the recommendations of the design engineers and go out to bid for the automated valves, usually to either valve makers or valve distributors. As long as the procurement specifications are clear, then value for the procurement agent is dominated by the purchase price and the delivery requirements needed to progress the project. Some procurement agents may seek pricing from vendors that are not on the AVL. If there is a dramatic difference in price then the low bid may be kicked back to the design engineers for review and justification of the AVL.
The valve makers and distributors are solicited for bids by the procurement agents. Using the bid documents, including the AVL, they will solicit bids from the actuator manufacturers, the last link in the contractual chain. As they are bidding against other suppliers, then the price plays a key role in the assessment of value. Great care is taken to ensure the bid specifications are met by, not only by their valves, but by the actuator supplier. Technical interpretation, sizing, service and sales support by the actuator manufacturer is needed by the valve maker, and a good symbiotic relationship between the two helps contracts to be won and executed effectively for both parties to benefit.
The installation during the construction phase may be done by a contractor that may have had no involvement in the selection of the automated valves. Their main concern is that the installation goes smoothly and quickly, and that it passes the acceptance criteria. Contractors look to the automated valve suppliers for good documentation, field support, ease of mechanical installation and connections for power and control. Design features that provide ease of configuration, start up and commissioning help the contractor do their job quickly and efficiently.
Although not all automated valve projects follow this general description, the attitudes and motivations of the parties involved are often the same. The mechanics of municipal bidding may differ from that of an oil and gas project, for example, but the fundamental dynamics of competition, product benefits and supplier support hold true for the parties involved in this often complex process.