Supply House Times recently caught up with several leading distributors and manufactures to gather a feel for what trends are happening throughout the valve sector in commercial, industrial and residential applications. As the market adjusts to the current economic climate, conservation of time, water and labor are key.
Automation and AI drive product design
Industrial Valco, a supplier of valves, fittings, flanges and accessories, reports an increased need for valves that comply with lower emission requirements.
“New EPA guidelines have led refineries and chemical plants to sign more stringent consent decrees to lower their VOC emissions. For valves, this requires a redesign of the leak paths such as the packing area. As a result, most valve manufacturers are redesigning valves to comply with the lower emission requirements. Multi-turn valves like gates and globes were the first valves to be redesigned and are already on the market covered under API 624, while quarter turn valves like ball and butterfly valves are transitioning toward low emissions as set forth under API 641,” says Rob Raban, the company’s president.
Michael Gaulin, director of marketing communications for Watts, notes connection technology is trending in valve product development.
“The integration of smart and connected technology into valves allows facilities to monitor them remotely, receive real time alerts if something unexpected happens, and in some cases take an action like shutting off a valve,” he says.
Brandon Emineth, vice president of sales, mechanical, with Dakota Supply Group says manufacturers are focused on making sure their products have the latest bells and whistles.
“The industry is trying to pay closer attention to contractor needs, opinions and preferences, instigating changes that allow for better serviceability and performance in the product,” he says. “Manufacturers are making greater technology improvements that allow design, BIM modeling and pre-fabrication advantages. In addition, they are creating an ecosystem to allow interconnected systems that bolster automation and AI.”
Of course, the skilled labor shortage is affecting all aspects of the PHCP-PVF supply chain. Watts notes this is at the top of mind when talking valve product design.
“As the industry faces labor shortages and financial pressures, smart and connected technology is transforming how end users interact with the facilities and systems they manage. Remote monitoring, alerts and the ability to automatically trigger events such as shutdown or adjustment allow facility personnel to have better control. Additionally, the ability to tie valves into building automation systems is making it even easier to see what’s happening within a system from one central hub,” Gaulin says.
As codes and safety guidelines continue to change, there is always a demand for valves in every application to be safe and reliable.
“When new equipment is being designed, engineers are expected to follow new safety guidelines, design codes and, as we’ve seen more recently, health and safety laws. Products must meet the expected lifecycle guarantee, be quick and easy to install and maintain and be able to perform in tough conditions,” notes Michael Brendel, product marketing manager for Emerson.
Emineth also emphasizes the importance of AI and smart systems, and notes the technology is branching into all applications.
“Owner experience, efficiency and AI are driving demand for smarter systems that deliver more than simply turning the water on or off,” he says.
“Automated valves have expanded well beyond the industrial sector, and the concept is spreading into any structure looking to improve user experience,performance or safety.”
Customer needs and market status
Due to the impacts of COVID-19, the valve market sits in an uncertain state; expectations moving forward largely depend on financial support for larger projects around the country.
“Commercial and infrastructure building has stalled significantly with COVID-19. I would expect the valve market to experience larger negative impacts until the economy decides if infrastructure and facilities are a priority. I would speculate this will drive competitive tensions between manufacturers,” Emineth notes.
Budget cuts, oil and gas pricing and customers’ decreasing inventory are all also affecting valve distributors.
“Many of our customers have intentionally let their inventories drop, while a few have implemented a freeze on inventory purchases. In turn, we are seeing an increased need for local inventory across all commodity groups. We believe local availability and lead times are the most impactful factors for the purchase of valves,” Raban explains.
“The valve market in general has been tough the last few months. In addition to the pandemic, our (U.S.) relationship with China has deteriorated and continues to do so. There is a good bit of anxiety out there right now among valve manufacturers and distributors. Most of the oil and gas, refining and petrochemical end users in the Gulf Coast area cut their budgets significantly for 2020 in response to lower demand forecasts,” he adds.
When talking overarching consumer needs, Watts says there are three main areas of concern.
“Safety, energy efficiency and water conservation are the driving forces within just about every facility. Occupant safety tops everything else. To this point, the rise of digital mixing valves for example is allowing facilities to more accurately control water temperatures and make adjustments much easier than with traditional mixing valves,” says Gaulin.
As manufactures work to meet these customer needs during an uncertain economic climate, relationships with distributors is more important than ever. Emineth points out there is always a silver lining.
“Although the valve supply chain is seeing a lesser focus on new product development and expansion, we have all gained a common cause during COVID-19; it has forced all of us to work more strategically to improve our collective approach to not only the supply chain, but community safety and continuity.”