Rotork Works on New Leak Detection Technology with Protolabs
Company: Rotork Gears
Product: Valve leak emission housing and integrated communications
Industry: Engineering: Valve and actuators
Service: CNC machining (aluminium)
Even with a basic knowledge of engineering, it’s easy to appreciate that valves—fittings designed to control or regulate fluid flow— can and will leak. Even with the best design and highest manufacturing standards, failures still occur. In the petro-chemicals industry, in which there are strict environmental regulations in place, preventing leaks entering the atmosphere has become a strategic objective.
INNOVATIVE LEAK PREVENTION
In 2015, Rotork Gears - part of Rotork plc, a leading actuator manufacturer, was commissioned with identifying and designing how to reduce valve leaks. The result: a new, patented ground breaking solution which, following development trials by Rotork engineers, is proving to be highly effective. The solution is a bespoke, leak housing which is designed to prevent any fluid leaks from a valve stem and in doing so, prevents emissions to the atmosphere. The prospects for this product are very positive. The expectation is that the product will have a significant impact on leak detection and containment and, as outlined later, can also support leak management and maintenance processes.
DESIGNING AND PROTOTYPING
For the testing process to take place as quickly as possible, Rotork needed a ‘proof of concept’ prototype to be completed rapidly.
Choosing Protolabs as production partner was a straightforward decision according to Tom Pawinski, Rotork design and development engineer, “Protolabs is one of our accredited suppliers who we can trust to deliver within a specified timeframe.”
Having prepared the CAD model in-house at Rotork, the files were uploaded to Protolabs’ quotation system and, once the go ahead was given, the housing prototypes were manufactured using CNC machining in just four days from receipt of order.
“Working with Protolabs on this project was very cost-effective for us; no tooling investment was required to take the housing to the next stage. And, although we produced multiple designs at the drawing stage, after design analysis (from Protolabs) the prototype was right first time” said Pawinski.
ENGINEERING MEETS ELECTRONICS
The new leak housing is one part of the story. An equally exciting development is the product’s ability to detect and measure gas leaks using built-in electronic sensors. Any leaks detected are then communicated to a monitoring station via wireless technology. The whole project has provided an opportunity for Rotork’s mechanical and electrical engineers to share expertise and work in a cross-discipline environment.
Pawinski commented, “It’s been particularly beneficial to understand how to design a solution that brings a range of our skills and experience together.”
SIGNIFICANT COST SAVINGS
One of the primary benefits anticipated from being able to report detected leaks is a reduction of maintenance requirements. Instead of precautionary replacement or repair of valves that are nearing end of life, the new solution minimises maintenance requirements unless a leak occurs. “Another benefit of reduced maintenance is less production downtime, which is a significant plus for our customers,” said Pawinski.
MOMENTUM IS BUILDING
In addition to the leak housing project, Rotork is working with Protolabs to manufacture the plastic housing prototype for the electronics. When the electronics housing prototype design and in-house testing is finalised, field trials for both products will commence to ensure the designs meet the strict European certification standards.
“We now eagerly anticipate a real valve being trialled at an operational plant later this year. For us, the great thing is having a patented product we can actively promote to stakeholders, which has already resulted in significant interest from potential customers,” concluded Pawinski. In short, this represents a landmark project for Rotork.