These control valves feature valve positioners that can compare measurements and apply corrections. Source: Bitjungle/CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons.These control valves feature valve positioners that can compare measurements and apply corrections. Source: Bitjungle/CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons.One of the industrial internet of things (IIoT) innovations likely to result in significant energy and cost savings is the smart valve – so called because of the presence of a controllable, “smart” valve positioner integrated with pressure and temperature sensors within the valve body.

When networked, smart valves represent an intelligent industrial control system. The system allows remote monitoring through a central control station, giving operators (or autonomous controllers) the ability to reconfigure piping as necessary – and allowing production to continue even if there is damage or blockage in the pipeline network.

By providing real-time information, smart valves can serve to reduce the power necessary to run a system, resulting in greater efficiency. They can also be deployed in applications where conventional valves cannot be used due to lack of power. Strategies for reducing power drain through the use of smart valves is one of the goals of their ongoing development.

According to online engineering simulation platform SimScale, smart valve systems are currently gaining in popularity. This is perhaps not surprising, as valve use spans multiple industries. Examples of industrial smart valve deployment include:

  • Subsea oil and gas operations, where smart valve systems can serve as a more reliable, more responsive and more cost-effective replacement for standard electro-hydraulic control systems.
  • The development of intelligent wells, used to gather, analyze and transmit data, enabling remote action to control production processes. Well-based sensors are also being utilized to improve the understanding of reservoir behavior and assist in the selection of drilling areas and well designs – potentially enabling a single well to do the job of several.
  • Pneumatic operations within a plant, where smart valves can be used autonomously to reduce energy waste – as much as 40 to 50 percent, according to Pharma Online. Pneumatic systems are notorious for having a high degree of wasted energy, due to the common past practice of using oversized actuators in order to preempt downstream production issues. This problem may be less prevalent in newer pneumatic systems, but it continues to plague legacy equipment. Smart valves can be retrofitted to address the issue, even in older systems.
  • On a consumer level, the rollout of smart-home devices has included smart leak detectors and water-shutoff valves that work in conjunction to prevent flooding and water damage. These typically connect to home-based WiFi and offer a smartphone app for users to receive alerts and control their water supply remotely. At least one product currently on the market does more than alert the homeowner of a problem -- it offers the option to connect to a nearby plumber, as well.

According to a recent report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc., the global market for industrial valves is forecast to reach $112 billion by 2024, driven by factors such as stringent emission control regulations driving replacement demand. The fastest-growing market at present is the Asia-Pacific region, led by rapid industrialization, growing investments in equipment upgrade and replacement and what the report calls “healthy” capital expenditure (CAPEX) spends on automation and the resulting demand for smart valves.