Industries that rely on extensive pipe networks in their operations, such as water and gas utilities or petrochemical plants, need to regularly maintain their pipes and valves to keep everything in good working order.
However, operations managers come across the same recurring problems, especially if overseeing an ageing network with hundreds of manual valves that can be difficult to open and close, and sometimes hard to access.
Because of these complications, it is often simpler to forego time-consuming maintenance procedures and push on with more productive tasks. But in the long run this only makes the problem worse as the unopened valves become increasingly locked tight or possibly jammed. So, when the time comes that the valve must be opened – often as a safety precaution or perhaps to regulate flow – it is almost impossible, and the likelihood is that the operators will either simply not be able to turn the valve, or they will exert too much force and break it. In either case, the valve will need to be replaced. In some situations, the knock-o delay may cause further damage in the pipe network as well.
Newer networks, on the other hand, may have motorised valves in place which are simpler to operate, but there is usually a fall-back manual opening device (usually a handwheel attachment) in case of electric problems or power cuts. A portable pneumatic actuator is a tool that makes the task of opening and closing manual valves both easy and fast. It simply clicks onto the handwheel of the valve and rotates, exerting a regular pressure that will not damage the valve. (The torque level can be set in advance just below the maximum torque that the valve can bear so there is no risk of breaking the valve.) The task is carried out 10 times faster than an operator doing the job manually.
The advantage of a portable actuator as opposed to a fixed actuator is that it can be adapted to, and used to operate, any number of valves in the network. Operators can do the rounds with one tool, eliminating the need to purchase and install numerous separate fixed actuators. The choice of pneumatic in preference to an electric actuator is twofold. First, pneumatic actuators use compressed air so there is no fear of over-heating and there are no sparks which increase the risk of explosion in highly flammable environments. Second, the tool is much lighter and smaller than an electric one, making it ideal for a manual use in remote areas or on valves that are difficult to access.