Monday, June 26, 2017

Industrial Uses of Steam – Part 1

gas fired boiler in equipment room
Boilers are the most common production equipment
for industrial steam applications
Steam is used throughout industrial process control operations in various ways. The ability of steam to serve as a means to deliver heat and provide motive power to a facility or process keeps it in wide use throughout many industries.

Heating with steam can by of a direct or indirect nature. Direct heating uses steam distributed into or onto a substance to directly affect its temperature. In order to ensure success in direct heating, mixing needs to occur so that the temperature of the substance is uniformly impacted. Indirect heating uses one of the many available forms of heat exchangers to transfer heat from steam to process fluid across a physical barrier that isolates the process fluid from the steam.

Industries employ steam for many valuable uses. Food processing factories, refineries, and chemical plants utilize positive pressure steam. In most instances, steam is delivered to equipment, typically, at pressures above atmospheric and at a temperature exceeding 100°C. Process fluid heat exchangers, reboilers, air preheaters for combustion, and a range of other heat transfer equipment uses steam as the heat source. A shell and tube heat exchanger raises product temperature on its passage through the unit. Ideally, the heat exchanger expels condensate after removing the latent heat from the steam. Condensate can be collected and returned to the steam generation portion of the system, conserving much of the energy used to originally heat the water.

Hot water was the main agent traditionally used for heating at temperatures below 100°C. Using steam to heat at temperatures below the 100°C benchmark is an increasingly popular technique. Vacuum saturated steam can be applied in the same way as positive pressure saturated steam, but the steam temperature is adjustable by altering the pressure. The ability to change the pressure (and the temperature) allows for more precise temperature control when compared to using hot water. Another advantage of using steam over hot water is that the steam heating system is fast and precise. The desired temperature can be reached quickly and uniformly.

Another popular use for steam in industrial settings is as a propulsion or drive force. Steam turbines generate electricity in thermal power plants. A recent trend, developed to minimize wasted energy, is applying steam at increasingly higher temperatures and pressures. Superheated steam, used in steam turbines, acts as a counter to potential damage to the equipment resulting from condensate in the turbine section. Less chance of condensate in the turbine translates into a reduced risk of equipment damage or failure. Nuclear power plants, though, cannot utilize the advantages of superheated steam because of complications arising involving the steam and the turbine material. To combat this problem, high pressure saturated steam is utilized instead, with upstream separators installed to remove condensate from the steam flow. In addition to power generation, steam acts as the force behind turbine driven compressors and pumps, including gas compressors and cooling tower pumps.

Depending on the process being controlled and the specific industry’s demands, the simplicity and various applications of steam make this reliable medium a first choice for industrial operations. Share your steam system and use challenges with combustion and steam experts, combining your own knowledge and experience with their specialized expertise to develop effective solutions.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Wireless Transmitters In Process Measurement and Control

oil refinery
Industrial process instrumentation connectivity can present
substantial challenges.
In process control, various devices produce signals which represent flow, temperature, pressure, and other measurable elements of the process. In delivering the process value from the measurement point to the point of decision, also known as the controller, systems have traditionally relied on wires. More recently, industrial wireless networks have evolved, though point-to-point wireless systems are still available and in use. A common operating protocol today is known as WirelessHART™ , which features the same hallmarks of control and diagnostics featured in wired systems without any accompanying cables.

Wireless devices and wired devices can co-exist on the same network. The installation costs of wireless networks are decidedly lower than wired networks due to the reduction in labor and materials for the wireless arrangement. Wireless networks are also more efficient than their wired peers in regards to auxiliary measurements, involving measurement of substances at several points. Adding robustness to wireless, self-organizing networks is easy, because when new wireless components are introduced to a network, they can link to the existing network without needing to be reconfigured manually. Gateways can accommodate a large number of devices, allowing a very elastic range for expansion.

In a coal fired plant, plant operators walk a tightrope in monitoring multiple elements of the process. They calibrate limestone feed rates in conjunction with desulfurization systems, using target values determined experientially. A difficult process environment results from elevated slurry temperature, and the associated pH sensors can only last for a limited time under such conditions. Thanks to the expandability of wireless transmitters, the incremental cost is reduced thanks to the flexibility of installing new measurement loops. In regards to maintenance, the status of wireless devices is consistently transmitted alongside the process variable. Fewer manual checks are needed, and preventative measures may be reduced compared to wired networks.

Time Synchronized Mesh Protocol (TSMP) ensures correct timing for individual transmissions, which lets every transmitter’s radio and processor ‘rest’ between either sending or receiving a transmission. To compensate for the lack of a physical wire, in terms of security, wireless networks are equipped with a combination of authentication, encryption, verification, and key management. The amalgamation of these security practices delivers wireless network security equal to that of a wired system. The multilayered approach, anchored by gateway key-management, presents a defense sequence. Thanks to the advancements in modern field networking technology, interference due to noise from other networks has been minimized to the point of being a rare concern. Even with the rarity, fail-safes are included in WirelessHART™.

All security functions are handled by the network autonomously, meaning manual configuration is unnecessary. In addition to process control environments, power plants will typically use two simultaneous wireless networks. Transmitters allow both safety showers and eyewash stations to trigger an alarm at the point of control when activated. Thanks to reduced cost, and their ease of applicability in environments challenging to wired systems, along with their developed performance and security, wireless industrial connectivity will continue to expand.

Share your process measurement requirements and challenges with application specialists, combining your own process knowledge and experience with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Common Industrial and Commercial Process Heating Methods

Gas fired boilers in industrial facility
Gas fired boilers used the combustion of fuel to produce
steam which is utilized by other process equipment
Many industrial processes involve the use of heat as a means of increasing the energy content of a process or material. The means used for producing and delivering process heat can be grouped into four general categories.
  • Steam
  • Fuel
  • Electric
  • Hybrid
The technologies rely upon conduction, convection, or radiative heat transfer mechanisms, soley or in combination, to deliver heat to a substance. In practice, lower temperature processes tend to use conduction or convection. Operations employing very high temperature rely primarily on radiative heat transfer. Let's look at each of the four heating methods.


Steam based heating systems introduce steam to the process either directly by injection, or indirectly through a heat transfer device. Large quantities of latent heat from steam can be transferred efficiently at a constant temperature, useful for many process heating applications. Steam based systems are predominantly for applications requiring a heat source at or below about 400°F and when low-cost fuel or byproducts for use in generating the steam are accessible. Cogeneration systems  (the generation of electric power and useful waste heat in a single process) often use steam as the means to produce electric power and provide heat for additional uses. While steam serves as the medium by which heat energy is moved and delivered to a process or other usage, the actual energy source for the boiler that produces the steam can be one of several fuels, or even electricity.


Fuel based process heating systems, through combustion of solid, liquid, or gaseous fuels, produce heat that can be transferred directly or indirectly to a process. Hot combustion gases are either placed in direct contact with the material (direct heating via convection) or routed through tubes or panels that deliver radiant heat and keep combustion gases separate from the material (indirect heating). Examples of fuel-based process heating equipment include furnaces, ovens, red heaters, kilns, melters, and high-temperature generators. The boilers producing steam that was described in the previous section are also an example of a fuel based process heating application.


Electric process heating systems also transform materials through direct and indirect means. Electric current can be applied directly to suitable materials, with the electrical resistance of the target material causing it to heat as current flows. Alternatively, high-frequency energy can be inductively coupled to some materials, resulting in indirect heating. Electric based process heating systems are used for heating, drying, curing, melting, and forming. Examples of electrically based process heating technologies include electric arc furnace technology, infrared radiation, induction heating, radio frequency drying, laser heating, and microwave processing.


Hybrid process heating systems utilize a combination of process heating technologies based on different energy sources or heating principles, with a design goal of optimizing energy performance and overall thermal efficiency. For example, a hybrid steam boiler may combine a fuel based boiler with an electric boiler to take advantage of access to low off-peak electricity cost. In an example of a hybrid drying system, electromagnetic energy (e.g., microwave or radio frequency) may be combined with convective hot air to accelerate drying processes; selectively targeting moisture with the penetrating electromagnetic energy can improve the speed, efficiency, and product quality as compared to a drying process based solely on convection, which can be rate limited by the thermal conductivity of the material. Optimizing the heat transfer mechanisms in hybrid systems offers a significant opportunity to reduce energy consumption, increase speed and throughput, and improve product quality.

Many heating applications, depending on scale, available energy source, and other factors may be served using one or more of the means described here. Determining the best heating method and implementation is a key element to a successful project. CTI Controltech specializes in combustion applications and the industrial production and use of steam. Share your process and project challenges with them and combine your facilities and process knowledge and experience with their engineering expertise to develop effective solutions.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Dual Input Industrial Temperature Transmitter - What You Can Do

dual input advanced industrial temperature transmitter
Dual input advanced industrial transmitter
has many built in functions
Courtesy Azbil
You will likely find temperature measurement to be a part of almost every industrial process. It is a mainstay of commercial and industrial processes and operations globally. Accurate measure of process, equipment, or product temperature provides operators with useful information that is utilized in countless ways. The range of available instruments and equipment for measuring temperature in industrial process settings is extensive, with devices or varied types, performance, and form factor to accommodate every application.

There are a variety of instruments and methodologies for measuring temperature, the most common of which is probably direct contact between the target substance and an appropriate temperature sensor. Industrial process applications are commonly served by thermocouples or resistance temperature detectors (RTD), chosen for their cost, accuracy, and flexibility of installation.

Every operating process is "critical" to some group of stakeholders. The process may be of great importance for a number of reasons:
  • The process output may serve as an input to another process with great value.
  • The process output may be of great direct value to the stakeholders.
  • The process may have significant levels of hazard associated with improper or out of control operation.
  • Out of control operation may result in substantial financial loss to the stakeholders.
When temperature is an important indicator of process function, whether for financial or safety reasons, the operator cannot tolerate a loss of the temperature signal. One manufacturer has an advanced solution in the form of a dual input temperature transmitter with built in functions that:
  • Switch to the backup sensor if the primary has a failure indication.
  • Alert the operator if the deviation between the two sensor readings indicates sensor drift. 
  • In wide range temperature applications, switch between sensors with differing measurement ranges for better accuracy.
Along with HART communications and other useful features, these advanced temperature transmitters can help reduce risk and increase performance and safety. Assess how these advanced devices can enhance your process performance. A product data sheet is included below. Product specialists can help with product configuration and selection, along with any application concerns you may have.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Rack and Pinion Style Pneumatic Valve Actuator

pneumatic rack and pinion valve actuator
One example of a pneumatic rack and pinion valve actuator
Courtesy Rotork
Three primary kinds of valve actuators are commonly used: pneumatic, hydraulic, and electric.
Pneumatic actuators can be further categorized as scotch yoke design, vane design, and the subject of this post - rack and pinion actuators.

Rack and pinion actuators convert linear movement of a driving mechanism to provide a rotational movement designed to open and close quarter-turn valves such as ball, butterfly, or plug valves and also for operating industrial or commercial dampers. The rotational movement of a rack and pinion actuator is accomplished via linear motion and two gears. A circular gear, known as a “pinion” engages the teeth of one or two linear gears, referred to as the “rack”. Pneumatic actuators use pistons that are attached to the rack. As air or spring power is applied the to pistons, the rack changes position. This linear movement is transferred to the rotary pinion gear (in both directions) providing bi-directional rotation to open and close the connected valve.
rack and pinion gears animation
Rack and pinion gear
Courtesy Wikipedia

The actuator pistons can be pressurized with air, gas, or oil to provide the linear the movement that drives the pinion gear. To rotate the pinion gear in the opposite direction, the air, gas, or oil must be redirected to the other side of the pistons, or use coil springs as the energy source for rotation. Rack and pinion actuators using springs are referred to as "spring-return actuators". Actuators that rely on opposite side pressurization of the rack are referred to as "direct acting".

Most actuators are designed for 100-degree travel with clockwise and counterclockwise travel adjustment for open and closed positions. World standard ISO mounting pad are commonly available to provide ease and flexibility in direct valve installation. NAMUR mounting dimensions on actuator pneumatic port connections and on actuator accessory holes and drive shaft are also common design features to make adding pilot valves and accessories more convenient.

Pneumatic rack and pinion actuators are compact and effective. They are reliable, durable and provide good service life. There are many brands of rack and pinion actuators on the market, all with subtle differences in piston seals, shaft seals, spring design and body designs. Some variants are specially designed for very specific operational environments or circumstances.

Share your process valve control and automation challenges with application experts, and combine your process experience and knowledge with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Desuperheating and Attemperation of Steam

electric power plant
Electric power generation plant
Steam heats or powers a respectable swath of industrial operations, plus there is electric power generation. Steam is an important sort of "back office" component of the lives of many dwellers in modern economies.
What is steam?
Sorry, but we need to get everybody on the same page here. Steam is water vapor, produced by the application of heat to water. In order for steam to do work and serve as a useful energy source, it must be under pressure. There can be applications that employ steam at atmospheric pressure, but most are pressurized.

The heat goes on, the water boils, steam is produced and flows through the piping system to where it is used. Sounds simple, sounds easy. It is not. There are intricacies of designing and operating a steam system that determine its raw performance, as well as how efficiently it uses the fuel or other heat source employed to boil water. Steam utilization equipment is also carefully designed to provide its rated performance when supplied with steam of a given condition.

Steam at any given pressure has a saturation temperature, the temperature at which the vaporized water content of the steam is at its maximum level. Heat steam above its saturation temperature and you have superheated steam. Cool it below the saturation temperature and vapor will start to condense. The way in which the steam is to be used determines whether, and how much, superheat is desirable or necessary.

  • Turbine operations benefit from properly superheated steam because it avoids exposure of the turbine to liquid water droplets, generally a source of surface erosion and other accelerated wear.
  • Heat exchanger performance is based upon certain inlet conditions, one of which is the degree of superheat.
  • Maintaining sufficient superheat throughout a continuously operating steam system minimizes the need for, and size of, a condensate return system
Processes are designed to deliver a predictable output when provided with known inputs. In the case of steam, the temperature of the steam may be an input requiring control. This brings us to attemperation, which in the case of steam most often refers to lowering the temperature of a steam supply. Attemperation and desuperheating (reducing the degree of superheat) are accomplished in a similar fashion, but with differing objectives. Attemperation involves simply controlling the temperature of the steam, without any direct regard for the level of superheat. Desuperheating, as a control operation, is not directly related to the temperature of the steam, just the degree by which it exceeds the saturation temperature at the current condition. For attemperation, steam temperature measurement is all that is needed. For desuperheating, pressure and temperature measurements are needed. Decreasing the temperature of superheated steam will naturally reduce the amount of superheat.

Some process requirements may focus on temperature of the delivered steam, without regard to superheat level. Others will rely on a specified level of superheat. The application scenarios are vast, with equipment available to accomplish whatever is needed. 

Either operation can be accomplished with some sort of heat exchanger that extracts heat from the steam. A more flexible option relies on the addition of atomized water to the flowing steam to manage temperature or superheat level. Share your steam system challenges with experts, combining your own facilities and process knowledge with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Shell and Tube Heat Exchangers

diagram of shell and tube heat exchanger
Shell and tube heat exchanger diagram
Cars are something which exist as part of the backbone of modern society, for both personal and professional use. Automobiles, while being everyday objects, also contain systems which need to be constantly maintained and in-sequence to ensure the safety of both the machine and the driver. One of the most essential elements of car ownership is the understanding of how heat and temperature can impact a car’s operation. Likewise, regulating temperature in industrial operations, which is akin to controlling heat, is a key process control variable relating to both product excellence and operator safety. Since temperature is a fundamental aspect of both industrial and consumer life, heat management must be accurate, consistent, and predictable.

A common design of heat exchangers used in the oil refining and chemical processing industries is the shell and tube heat exchanger. A pressure vessel, the shell, contains a bundle of tubes. One fluid flows within the tubes while another floods the shell and contacts the outer tube surface. Heat energy conducts through the tube wall from the warmer to the cooler substance, completing the transfer of heat between the two distinct substances. These fluids can either be liquids or gases. If a large heat transfer area is utilized, consisting of greater tube surface area, many tubes or circuits of tubes can be used concurrently in order to maximize the transfer of heat. There are many considerations to take into account in regards to the design of shell and tube heat exchangers, such as tube diameter, circuiting of the tubes, tube wall thickness, shell and tube operating pressure requirements, and more. In parallel fashion to a process control system, every decision made in reference to designing and practically applying the correct heat exchanger depends on the factors present in both the materials being regulated and the industrial purpose for which the equipment is going to be used.

The industrial and commercial applications of shell and tube heat exchangers are vast, ranging from small to very large capacities. They can serve as condensers, evaporators, heaters, or coolers. You will find them throughout almost every industry, and as a part of many large HVAC systems. Shell and tube heat exchangers, specifically, find applicability in many sub-industries related to food and beverage: brewery processes, juice, sauce, soup, syrup, oils, sugar, and others. Pure steam for WFI production is an application where special materials, like stainless steel, are employed for shell and tube units that transfer heat while maintaining isolation and purity of a highly controlled process fluid.

Shell and tube heat exchangers are rugged, efficient, and require little attention other than periodic inspection. Proper unit specification, selection, and installation contribute to longevity and solid performance.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

High Pressure Valves for Industrial Processes and Operations

engineer working on pump and piping system oil refinery
Industrial operations present substantial
challenges to engineers and equipment
I am convinced that there is a valve out there for every conceivable application. Of course, that is not literally true, but there is an enormous array of manufacturers producing countless valve variants to meet specific requirements of the many industrial fluid processing applications.

A valve installed in a fluid process needs not only to perform its intended control function, but to stand up to the impact of several physical challenges.
cutaway view of high pressure angle valve for industrial process control
Cutaway view of high pressure angle valve
Courtesy Flowserve - Kammer
  • Temperature
  • Pressure
  • Corrosion
Any combination of these factors in the extreme can call for the use of a severe service valve. A good match between the valve ratings or capabilities and the demands imposed by the process conditions is essential for achieving safe operation and a reasonable useful valve lifespan.

Valves designed to handle very high pressure will exhibit specific attributes designed to accommodate the imposed physical stress. Body construction, assembly hardware, seats, and trim will all be noticeably heavier, stronger.

Rely on a valve specialist to contribute product expertise to the valve selection process. Combine your own process knowledge and experience with their product application expertise to develop an effective solution.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Operating Principles and Application of Vortex Flowmeters

vortex flow meter for steam gas or liquid
Vortex Flow Meter
Courtesy Azbil NA
To an untrained ear, the term “vortex flowmeter” may conjure futuristic, potentially Star Wars inspired images of a hugely advanced machine meant for opening channels in warp-space. In reality, vortex flowmeters are application specific, industrial grade instruments designed to measure an important element of a fluid process control operation: flow rate.

Vortex flowmeters operate based on a scientific principle called the von Kármán effect, which generally states that a fluid flow will alternately shed vortices when passing by a solid body. “Vortices” is the plural form of vortex, which is best described as a whirling mass, notably one in which suction forces operate, such as a whirlpool. Detecting the presence of the vortices and determining the frequency of their occurrence is used to provide an indication of fluid velocity. The velocity value can be combined with temperature, pressure, or density information to develop a mass flow calculation. Vortex flowmeters exhibit high reliability, with no moving parts, serving as a useful tool in the measurement of liquid, gas, and steam flow.

While different fluids present unique challenges when applying flowmeters, steam is considered one of the more difficult to measure due to its pressure, temperature, and potential mixture of liquid and vapor in the same line. Multiple types of steam, including wet steam, saturated steam, and superheated steam, are utilized in process plants and commercial installations, and are often related to power or heat transfer. Several of the currently available flow measurement technologies are not well suited for steam flow applications, leaving vortex flowmeters as something of a keystone in steam flow measurement.

Rangeability, defined as a ratio of maximum to minimum flow, is an important consideration for any measurement instrument, indicating its ability to measure over a range of conditions. Vortex flowmeter instruments generally exhibit wide rangeability, one of the positive aspects of the technology and vortex based instruments.

The advantages of the vortex flowmeter, in addition to the aforementioned rangeability and steam-specific implementation, include available accuracy of 1%, a linear output, and a lack of moving parts. It is necessary for the pipe containing the measured fluid to be completely filled in order to obtain useful measurements.
Applications where the technology may face hurdles include flows of slurry or high viscosity liquids. These can prove unsuitable for measurement by the vortex flowmeter because they may not exhibit a suitable degree of the von Kármán effect to facilitate accurate measurement. Measurements can be adversely impacted by pulsating flow, where differences in pressure from the relationship between two or more compressors or pumps in a system results in irregular fluid flow.

When properly applied, the vortex flowmeter is a reliable and low maintenance tool for measuring fluid flow. Frequently, vortex flow velocity measurement will be incorporated with the measurement of temperature and pressure in an instrument referred to as a multivariable flowmeter, used to develop a complete measurement set for calculating mass flow.

Whatever your flow measurement challenges, share them with a flow instrument specialist, combining your process knowledge with their product and technology expertise to develop effective solutions.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Scotch Yoke Valve Actuators

Scotch Yoke Pneumatic Valve Actuator
Courtesy Flowserve - Automax
A Scotch yoke is a mechanical linkage arrangement that converts linear motion into rotational motion. A common usage of the mechanism found in modern industry is valve actuators for quarter turn valves with high torque requirements. These applications would emerge most frequently in chemical and oil and gas industrial installations.

Quarter turn valves, such and ball, plug, or butterfly valves, only require a 90 degree rotation from their fully closed to fully open positions. In this case, the Scotch yoke is not used to produce continuous rotating motion, as it may in some engine applications. For the valve actuation case, the Scotch yoke functions much like a hand on a lever. The pneumatic variants use air pressure to drive the slider in one direction until a preset stop position is reached. Usually, a spring provides a counterforce that will drive the valve to a desired fail-safe stop position in the absence of air pressure. Other combinations of driving force and fail-safe operation are available to suit differing application needs.
Diagrammatic representation of Scotch yoke valve actuator
Illustration excerpted from Automax RG Standard Pneumatic Valve Actuator IOM 
with text added
The drive assembly consists essentially of a slider, a pin, and the yoke. The slider is moved laterally by whatever power sources are appropriate for the unit (pneumatic, hydraulic, spring, hand wheel, etc.). The pin is affixed to the slider and extends through a slot in the yoke. One end of the yoke is mounted to the valve shaft. As the slider is driven through is range of motion, the pin moves with the slider and forces movement of the yoke. This movement of the yoke translates into rotational force on the valve shaft and the repositioning of the valve trim.

Selecting and configuring the right actuator and valve for any application benefits from consultation and cooperation among the process engineers and valve automation specialists. Share your process valve and automation challenges with experienced professionals, combining your own process knowledge and experience with their product application expertise to produce an effective solution.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Introduction to Flowmeters

Electromagnetic Flow Meter
Courtesy Azbil N.A.
Flowmeters measure the rate or quantity of moving fluids, in most cases liquid or gas, in an open channel or closed conduit. There are two basic flow measuring systems: those which produce volumetric flow measurements and those delivering a weight or mass based measurement. These two systems, required in many industries such as power, chemical, and water, can be integrated into existing or new installations. For successful integration, the flow measurement systems can be installed in one of several methods, depending upon the technology employed by the instrument. For inline installation, fittings that create upstream and downstream connections that allow for flowmeter installation as an integral part of the piping system. Another configuration, direct insertion, will have a probe or assembly that extends into the piping cross section. There are also non-contact instruments that clamp on the exterior surface of the piping and gather measurements through the pipe wall without any contact with the flowing media.

Because they are needed for a variety of uses and industries, there are multiple types of flowmeters classified generally into four main groups: mechanical, inferential, electrical, and other.

Quantity meters, more commonly known as positive displacement meters, mass flowmeters, and fixed restriction variable head type flowmeters all fall beneath the mechanical category. Fixed restriction variable head type flowmeters use different sensors and tubes, such as orifice plates, flow nozzles, and venturi and pitot tubes.

Inferential flowmeters include turbine and target flowmeters, as well as variable area flowmeters also known as rotameters.

Laser doppler anemometers, ultrasonic flowmeters, and electromagnetic flowmeters are all electrical-type flowmeters.

The many application classes throughout the processing industries have led to the development of a wide range of flow measurement technologies and products. Each has its own advantages under certain operating conditions. Sorting through the choices and selecting the best technology for an application can be accomplished by consulting with a process instrumentation specialist. The combination of your own process knowledge and experience with their product application expertise will develop an effective solution.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

CTi Controltech In-House Capabilities and Solutions for Combustion, Automation, and Instrumentation

CTi Controltech has operated in northern California and Nevada for many years, satisfying customers and building their capabilities into today's top flight provider of equipment and services to industrial and commercial markets. The short piece included below is a synopsis of the company's range of products and services.

Share your combustion, emission, steam, process control, and automation challenges with experts in the field. The combination of your own process knowledge with the expertise at CTi Controltech will produce effective solutions.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Oil and Gas Wellhead Valves Meet Special Application Challenges

oil and gas industry slab gate valve
Slab Gate Valve
Courtesy Flowserve - Valbart
Industrial valves are manufactured in a huge array of configurations to accommodate the specialized needs of a broad range of industrial process applications. The oil and gas industry is but one segment of many throughout the industrial sphere that presents its own set of application specific criteria.

Oil and gas production, essentially pulling raw material from the earth, has unique valve performance challenges. Extreme pressure and abrasive or erosive material are common elements of oil and gas production at the wellhead. The valves also need to tolerate the range of outdoor temperatures at the production site. Safe and reliable operation throughout these and a range of other conditions are part of the design criteria for these valves. Here are some of the specific valve variants and configurations applied in the oil and gas industry at the production wellhead.

oil and gas industry rising stem ball valve
Rising Stem Ball Valve
Courtesy Flowserve - Valbart
  • Slab Gate Valve - Provides metal to metal seal and employs parallel gate and seal with a preloaded means of assuring positive upstream and downstream seal. Full port design allows for pigging.
  • Expanding Gate Valve - A parallel expanding gate seals positively against both seats, which are protected from the flow medium in the open and closed positions.
  • Mud Gate Valve - Designed to provide positive closure under rigorous field conditions with abrasive media. 
  • Adjustable Choke Valve - Designed to regulate production well flow and downstream pressure. Different trim configurations provide appropriate levels of control.
  • Needle Adjustable Choke Valve - Utilizes different trim arrangement than other types to provide good flow management, abrasion resistance, erosion resistance, and reliable service over a long life with low maintenance requirements.
  • Check Valve - Check valves of various types are utilized throughout practically all fluid flow operations, essentially anywhere that fluid is supposed to flow in only one direction. Oil and gas production presents some special conditions of abrasion, erosion, and pressure that call for special accommodation in design and materials of construction.
There are other specialty valves employed at or near the wellhead, but the key take away here is that oil and gas production generally cannot be accommodated by general purpose valves. Share your oil and gas production challenges with a valve specialist. The combination of your process and production field experience with their product expertise will produce effective solutions.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Electric Control Valve Actuators

electric valve actuator quarter turn
CVQ Electric Valve Actuator
For quarter turn valves
Courtesy Rotork
Many process control valve installations present the option of selecting either electric or pneumatic actuators as part of the control component train. Pneumatic actuators have been in use for many years, but advances in electric motor design that delivered greater torque and more precise operation have brought electric valve actuators into a prominent market position.

Electric actuators are compact and comparatively self contained, requiring only cable connections and none of the additional devices sometimes needed for a pneumatic installation. There are some points of advantage to consider with electric actuators. Rotork introduced their CVA line of electric actuators almost ten years ago, making it something of a mature product now. Here are some advantageous points about the CVA actuators that likely apply generically as well.

  • Setup is accomplished with a Bluetooth enabled device which provides quick calibration of open and closed positions, as well as establishment of valve setup parameters.
  • A separately sealed electrical connection compartment keeps motor and mechanical compartment isolated from the environment while electrical connection section cover is removed.
  • An on board datalogger records thrust and position data over time for use in asset management and service functions. Data can be downloaded by Bluetooth or transmitted by common protocol to another station.
  • Change in setpoint produces a rapid and precise change in valve position with high resolution accuracy and repeatability.
  • Actuator can be programmed to move to a preset condition in the event of a loss of electric power. The energy to achieve the failsafe position is stored in the actuator.
  • Force balance positioning used in pneumatic valves, with spring force vs. air pressure, has resilience that can result in a change in position of the valve trim in response to a bump in system pressure. Resistance from the gear train on electric drives prevents this movement.
  • Static friction of the valve packing and other parts increases the amount of force to intially get the valve moving toward a new position. The additional time required to build air pressure and force to overcome static friction results in delayed valve response, then overshoot of the new setpoint. A combination of a sensor system and the mechanical drive section of an electric actuator eliminates overshoot and delayed response.

Electric actuators can be had in quarter turn and linear versions, with torque ranges suitable for a broad range of process control applications. The datasheet below, from Rotork, provides useful illustrations of the actuator interior, along with additional detail about electric actuators. Share your process control valve requirements and challenges with product application specialists, combining your own process knowledge and experience with their product application expertise to develop the best solutions.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Innovative Boiler Water Level Gauge Delivers High Visibility

The Simpliport boiler water level gauge provides the type of performance always wanted by operators. It is visible from great distance at angles up to 180 degrees. The brightly illuminated display clearly shows what portion of the boiler contains water and what portion contains steam.

The short video provides a good demonstration. More information is available from steam system specialists. Share your combustion and steam system requirements and challenges with experts, combining your own knowledge and experience with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Clean Steam Trap Ball Valves

cutaway of sanitary ball valve on clean steam trap piping assembly
Cutaway view of sanitary ball valve on clean steam trap piping
Courtesy PBM Valve Solutions
The use of clean steam generally implies that there are substantial concerns regarding sanitary aspects of an application. Clean steam systems, from production through distribution and return, differ in many respects from systems where clean steam is not the medium.

A major consideration for sanitary applications is the practical reduction or outright elimination of dead areas in piping systems. Any section, regardless of size, that can trap liquid is considered a potential harbor of contamination.

PBM Valve Solutions addresses some challenges posed by the use of ball valves at trap locations in a clean steam system. The valve materials and design modifications make them well suited for the intended application and reduce the pipe and fitting requirements for the trap installation.

The common design for a ball valve allows some amount of fluid to be retained within the port area of the valve when it is closed. This is undesirable for a clean steam system where the steam may come in contact with manufactured product. There can also be a requirement in such a system to maintain a minimum temperature throughout the steam distribution system under all conditions, to assure sterility is maintained. The specialty clean steam trap valve has  purge holes that drain the port area to the valve outlet that leads to the steam trap. Other features of this specialty valve support the effective use of clean steam in sanitary processing.

The document below, from PBM Valve Solutions, provides more detail on the operating features of the clean steam trap ball valve. Share your steam system and fluid processing challenges with application specialists, combining your own process and facilities knowledge with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Boiler Feedwater Deaerator

spray type feedwater deaerator for boiler
Spray type feedwater deaerator
Courtesy Williams and Davis Boilers
Boiler feedwater can require treatment in order to minimize corrosion and scaling which lead to steam system performance reduction or eventual failure and repair. There are various technologies, methods, and units of equipment which process boiler feedwater for differing challenges. One of those equipment items is a deaerator.

The purpose of a deaerator is to reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide in the feedwater. Both of these dissolved gases contribute to corrosion in the boiler and steam system. Oxygen will promote the formation of oxides with metal surfaces, commonly steel, found in most steam systems. Dissolved carbon dioxide in the feedwater will promote the formation of carbonic acid (H2CO3) which is also corrosive to metals.

Feedwater deaerators come in two basic forms. The tray type deaerator will generally have two sections, an upper domed section where feedwater is heated by system steam and dissolved gases liberated from the water, and a lower shell vessel that serves as a collecting reservoir for the degassed water. The spray type deaerator employs a single vessel or tank, with feedwater sprayed into the vessel and heated by system steam. The steam strips the dissolved gases from the feedwater, then maintains the stored feedwater at a temperature high enough to prevent gases from re-dissolving in the feedwater. Both tray and spray systems vent the removed gases.

Williams and Davis Boilers, in addition to manufacturing a broad line of steam boilers, also manufactures spray type deaerators in vertical and horizontal configurations, as well as other steam system ancillary equipment.

Share your steam system challenges with the combustion and steam experts at CTI-Controltech, combining your own process and facilities knowledge with their steam system expertise to develop effective solutions.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Learning From Catastrophe - Case Study of Heat Exchanger Failure

shell and tube heat exchangers in industrial plant
Shell and tube heat exchangers at industrial plant
Industrial accidents, whether minor or catastrophic, can serve as sources of learning when analyzed and studied. Operators, owners, and technicians involved with industrial chemical operations have a degree of moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to conduct work in a reasonably and predictably safe manner without endangering personnel, property, or the environment. Part of a diligent safety culture should include reviewing industrial accidents at other facilities. There is much to learn from these unfortunate events, even when they happen in an industry that may seem somewhat removed from our own.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, or CSB, is an independent federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents. Below, find one of their video reenactments and analysis of an explosion that occurred at a Louisiana chemical processing plant in 2013. A portion of the reenactment shows how a few seemingly innocuous oversights can combine with other unrecognized conditions that result in a major conflagration.

Check out the video and sharpen your sense of awareness for potential trouble spots in your own operation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Continuous Liquid Level Measurement Technologies Used in Industry

Industrial pressure transmitter
Pressure measurements can be utilized to determine liquid level
Courtesy Azbil
Although continuous level measurement technologies have the ability to quantify applications for bulk solids, slurries, and granular materials, liquid level technologies stand out as being exceptionally crucial to many facets of the process control industrial sphere. Called “transmitters,” these continuous liquid level measurement devices employ technologies ranging from hydrostatic to magnetostriction, providing uninterrupted signals that indicate the level of liquid in a vessel, tank, or other container.

Hydrostatic devices focus on the equilibrium of dynamic and static liquids. There are three main types of hydrostatic transmitters:
  1. Displacer
  2. Bubbler
  3. Differential pressure
The displacer transmitters utilize a float placed within the liquid container. With its buoyancy characterized to the liquid and the application, the float, a connecting stem, and a range spring or similar counterbalance represents the liquid level in terms of the movement of the displacer (float). The displacement, or movement, of the assembly is converted into an electric signal for use by the monitoring and control system.

Bubbler transmitters are used for processing vessels that operate at atmospheric pressure. This method introduces a purge gas or an inert gas, e.g. air or dry nitrogen, into a tube extending into the liquid vessel. Precise measurement of the pressure exerted on the gas in the dip tube by the liquid in the tank is used to determine the height of the liquid.

Differential pressure (DP) transmitters rely directly on, in a basic explanation, the pressure difference between the bottom and top of the container. Precise pressure measurement is used to determine the height of the liquid in the tank. One of the most advantageous aspects of DP transmitters is that they can be used in pressurized containers, whereas displacer and bubbler transmitters cannot.

Other examples of level transmitter technologies––which are not hydrostatic devices––are magnetostrictive, capacitance, ultrasonic, laser, and radar.
magnetic liquid level indicator gauge with guided wave radar transmitter
Guided wave radar liquid level transmitter
joined with magnetic liquid level gauge
Courtesy Jerguson

In magnetostrictive level transmitters the measuring device, a float, has a series of magnets that create a magnetic field around a wire enclosed in a tube. Electrical pulses sent down the wire by the transmitter head product a torsional wave related to the position of the float, which moves with changes in liquid surface level. The transit time of the torsion wave back to the sensing head is measured and the depth of the liquid, as indicated by the float position, can be determined.

Capacitance transmitters are best applied to liquids that have high dielectric constants. Essentially, changes in the capacitance of the sensor / tank / liquid assembly will vary proportionately with the liquid level. The change in capacitance is measured and converted to an appropriate electrical signal.

Ultrasonic level transmitters emit ultrasonic energy from the top of the vessel toward the liquid. The emissions are reflected by the liquid surface and them time required for the signal to return to the source is used to determine the distance to the liquid surface.

Laser level transmitters operate similarly to an ultrasonic level transmitter. However, instead of using ultrasound signals, they use pulses of light.

Radar level transmitters involve microwaves emitting downward from the top of the container to the liquid’s surface and back again; the measurement is the entire time-frame. One variable radar level measurement echoes capacitance measurements: they both involve dielectric contact of liquid.

The precise measurement of transmit time for a wave or pulse of energy is employed in several of the technologies, the measurement of pressure in others. Each technology has a set of attributes making it an advantageous selection for a particular range of applications. Share your liquid level measurement challenges with an application expert, combining you process knowledge with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Safety Cover For Magnetic Level Gauges

Magnetic level gauges provide visual indication of vessel and tank liquid levels. Their application advantage lies in their high visibility, isolation of the indicator from measured media, and options flexibility that permits use in many environments. While armored gauges are available, there is another level of safety that can be added to almost any existing or newly installed gauge.

The video demonstrates the use and toughness of the SafeView™ shield from Jerguson. It accommodates the company's line of magnetic level gauges, as well as those of many other manufacturers.

Your process measurement and control challenges are best solved by working in concert with a product application specialist. The combination of your process knowledge and their product application expertise will develop an effective solution.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Rotary Vane Actuators for Damper Control

pneumatic rotary vane actuator damper drive
One example of a rotary vane pneumatic damper drive
Courtesy Rotork
A rotary vane actuator is simply a part of an automated damper assembly: its role is to change the position of the damper, converting the motive force of fluid pressure into torque and applying it to a mechanism that will position the damper.

Vane actuators are widely used on quarter turn valves in industrial process automation, but their application also extends to dampers on all types of equipment and installations. Vane actuators are well suited for applications with operation requiring fully open or fully closed damper positions, although some do provide modulating service. A rotation of the actuator drive mechanism through a 90 degree arc, in combination with connecting linkage, quickly moves a damper between open and closed positions. A rotary vane actuator is well suited for driving this type of actuation, with its own 90 degree arc of movement.

A rotary vane actuator is specific to quarter turn opeartion. A pressure tight housing contains a movable vane which is sealed to the sides of the pressure chamber by means of a low friction gasket. Inlets and outlets to the chamber on opposing sides of the vane allow a controller to produce a pressure differential across the vane. The vane will move, in response to the pressure differential, in either direction. A shaft is connected to the vane and the vane acts like a lever to rotate the shaft as the vane is moved by fluid pressure. The torque produced by the actuator assembly is dependent upon the applied fluid pressure.

Hydraulic rotary vane actuators have the ability to handle large amounts of fluid and dynamic motions, exhibiting also qualities of durability and compactness. Pneumatic vane actuators use plant air pressure as the motive force. Both types generally provide fast operation, have few moving parts, and require little regular maintenance. A variety of typical automation accessories and options are available to customize a unit for a particular application.

More information is available from product specialists, with whom you should share your application requirements and challenges. Combining your process and facilities knowledge with their product application expertise will produce effective solutions.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Advanced Pressure Transmitters for Process Measurement

pressure transmitter for industrial process measurement
Direct mount pressure transmitter
Courtesy Azbil
The measurement of pressure is a common task throughout many industrial spheres. Depending on the application, a wide range of process or machinery operation status can be derived from a pressure reading. Accuracy, ruggedness, and flexibility in application are hallmarks of a useful pressure transmitter.

Azbil North America advanced pressure transmitters offer a combination of features that can make them an advantageous selection for almost any application.

  • Stability of +/-0.1% for 10 years
  • Little to no downtime for calibration
  • Sensor technology that provides day-one accuracy for the life of the transmitter
  • Customizable display
  • Alarm outputs
  • Fast response
  • International standard certifications
The advanced pressure transmitter is available in variety of mounting configurations to suit most applications. More information is contained in the document included below. Share your process measurement challenges with application experts, combining your own process knowledge and experience with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Application of Limit Switches on Automated Industrial Valves

industrial valve automation actuator and limit switch
Employed in a wide range of industrial applications,
limit switches are known for ease of installation,
simple design, ruggedness, and reliability.
Courtesy Flowserve Automax
Limit switches are devices which respond to the occurrence of a process condition by changing their contact state. In the industrial control field, their applications and product variations are almost countless. Essentially, the purpose of a limit switch is to serve as a trigger, indicating that some design condition has been achieved. The device provides only an indication of the transition from one condition to another, with no additional information. For example, a limit switch triggered by the opening of a window can only deliver an indication that the window is open, not the degree to which it is open. Most often, the device will have an actuator that is positively activated only by the design condition and mechanically linked to a set of electrical contacts. It is uncommon, but not unknown, for limit switches to be electronic. Some are magnetically actuated, though most are electromechanical. This article will focus on limit switch designs and variants used in the control and actuation of industrial process valves.

Valves, devices used for controlling flow, are motion based. The movable portions of valve trim create some degree of obstruction to media flow, providing regulation of the passage of the media through the valve. It is the movement of critical valve trim elements that limit switches are used to indicate or control. The movable valve trim elements commonly connect to a shaft or other linkage extending to the exterior of the valve body. Mounting electric, hydraulic, or pneumatic actuators to the shaft or linkage provides the operator a means to drive the mechanical connection, changing the orientation or position of the valve trim and regulating the media flow. Because of its positive connection to the valve trim, the position of the shaft or linkage is analogous to the trim position and can be used to indicate what is commonly referred to as “valve position”. Limit switches are easily applied to the valve shaft or linkage in a manner that can provide information or direct functional response to certain changes in valve position.

In industrial valve terms, a limit switch is a device containing one or more magnetic or electrical switches, operated by the rotational or linear movement of the valve.

What are basic informational elements that can be relayed to the control system by limit switches? Operators of an industrial process, for reasons of efficiency, safety, or coordination with other process steps, may need answers to the following basic questions about a process control valve:

  • Is the valve open? 
  • Is the valve closed? 
  • Is the valve opening position greater than “X”? 
  • Has the valve actuator properly positioned the valve at or beyond a certain position? 
  • Has the valve actuator driven the valve mechanism beyond its normal travel limits? 
  • Is the actuator functioning or failing? 
Partial or complete answers to these and other questions, in the form of electrical signals relayed by the limit switch, can serve as confirmation that a control system command has been executed. Such a confirmation signal can be used to trigger the start of the next action in a sequence of process steps or any of countless other useful monitoring and control operations.

Applying limit switches to industrial valve applications should include consideration of:

  • Information Points – Determine what indications are necessary or useful for the effective control and monitoring of valve operation. What, as an actual or virtual operator, do you want to know about the real time operational status of a valve that is remotely located. Schedule the information points in operational terms, not electrical switch terms. 
  • Contacts – Plan and layout a schedule of logical switches that will provide the information the operator needs. You may not need a separate switch for each information point. In some cases, it may be possible to derive needed information by using logical combinations of switches utilized for other discrete functions. 
  • Environment – Accommodate the local conditions and hazards where the switch is installed with a properly rated enclosure. 
  • Signal – The switch rating for current and voltage must meet or exceed those of the signal being transmitted. 
  • Duty Cycle – The cycling frequency must be considered when specifying the type of switch employed. Every switch design has a limited cycle life. Make sure your selection matches the intended operating frequency for the process. 
  • Auxiliary Outputs – These are additional contact sets that share the actuation of the primary switch. They are used to transmit additional signals with specifications differing from the primary signal. 
  • Other Actuator Accessories – Limit switches are often integrated into an accessory unit with other actuator accessories, most of which are related to valve position. A visual local indication of valve position is a common example. 
Switches and indicators of valve position can usually be provided as part of a complete valve actuation package, provided by the valve manufacturer or a third party. It is recommended that spare contacts be put in place for future use, as incorporating additional contacts as part of the original actuation package incurs comparatively little additional cost.

Employing a properly configured valve automation package, with limit switches delivering valve status or position information to your control system, can yield operational and safety benefits for the life of the unit. Good advice is to consult with a valve automation specialist for effective recommendations on configuring your valve automation accessories to maximize the level of information and control.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Electronic Line Break Detection - Pipeline Monitoring

electronic line break detector for oil and gas pipelines
Electronic line break detector unit
Courtesy Rotork
There are some process control challenges for which you may need to establish or produce a solution of your own design. These should be applications where a pre-engineered option or product is not available. A manufactured product for your application likely is comprised, not only of appropriate physical attributes suitable for the application, but also the experience gained from numerous successful iterations solving the same problem, challenge, or issue you currently face. There can be expertise, knowledge, and experience provided as part of a hardware item, and bringing that knowledge and experience of others into the solving of a process control challenge is sound practice.

Pipelines, when considered from differing organizational vantage points:

  • A source of revenue
  • A means of transportation
  • A pipe with fluid in it
  • An ongoing operation requiring monitoring and control
  • An extensive physical presence with an associated risk element
Pipelines are all those and more. Regardless of your vantage point, line breaks are decidedly negative events worthy of early detection and rapid response. Part of that solution is available in the electronic line break detection device from Rotork, globally recognized leader in the design and manufacture of valve actuators employed throughout the industrial sphere. The ELB model incorporates a set of features and capabilities that can be used to detect and respond to gas pipeline breaks. It is a self contained unit employing technology to detect line breaks and execute a predetermined response.

Read more about the ELB from Rotork in the document included below. It provides a detailed outline of the operational features of the unit. Share your fluid system control challenges with an experienced application team, combining your process knowledge with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Application of Flame Scanners in Combustion Operations

single burner flame scanner sighting or alignment
Aim flame scanner through the largest cross sectional area of the flame
Courtesy Fireye
Flame detectors or scanners are regularly deployed in combustion applications as a means of confirming the presence of flame in a combustion chamber. The verification that fuel flowing into the utilization equipment is being properly burned and not accumulating unburned in the combustion chamber is the first line of safety in combustion.

Flame scanners use the characteristics of combustion and the electromagnetic emissions from burning fuel to detect flame and distinguish among flames from multiple burners. The instruments rely heavily upon operating principles utilizing visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light measurement and detection.

In single burner applications, simpler sensor and controller combinations can work suitably, but multiple flame applications are candidates for more complex detection devices and controls which can discriminate among multiple flames. Differences in individual flame characteristics, indicated through combustion products, can be utilized to distinguish between flames from different burners. Some photoelectric detectors can distinguish a signature flicker in flames of any type, invisible to the human eye.

Knowledge and understanding of the flame itself, its emissive attributes, and other characteristics are the key to proper flame detection. This may include the temperature of gases within the flame and its specific gas products. Other than temperature, electromagnetic radiation and ionized gas molecules in the flame are commonly used by flame scanners or detectors.

A variety of flame scanners are available for industrial and commercial use, each optimized for particular application sets. Essentially you have a scanner, which acts as a sensor. The signal from the scanner requires amplification and further processing to provide a reliable control signal. Hardware is available as discreet components, allowing a combination of scanner, amplifier, and control units to be combined into a system tailored for specific application requirements. Integrated systems are also available, with all appropriate detection and amplification circuitry built into a single compact unit.

Share your combustion process challenges with application specialists and combine your facility and process knowledge with their product application expertise to develop effective solutions.