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Part 1

Control Valve Actuator Options

Today’s Actuators Offer Imposed Performance With Lower Life-Cycle Costs.
The Challenge Is Choosing the Right One for the Application.

George Ritz, Contributing Editor unglamorous nickname “pig iron” as- rience gained over many years of select-
signed to the actuator/control valve unit. ing the most effective valve/actuator pack-
This article is the first in a two-part se- With the onset of the smart-valve genera- age for a wide variety of service require-
ries examining the state of the art in con- tion, it suddenly appears that the control ments.
trol valve actuators and their current ap- valve actuator may get more respect along A good example of this is the recent rise
plication guidelines in the process indus- with its new electronics degree. in popularity of the pneumatic piston ac-
tries. Part I deals with the mechanical as- Today the available actuator menu in- tuator and quarter-turn valve combination.
pects of valve actuator options. Part II, cludes four basic types of mechanical ac- The package offers many advantages (see
in next months issue of CONTROL, will tuators (Table 1) which recently have been Table II) along with excellent control, com-
cover the benefits of using the latest gen- enhanced with onboard micro-processors. pact silhouette, easier maintenance, and
eration of smart, digitally controlled ac- Some of the improvements available to end most importantly, improved valve-stem
tuators. users include a wider source of power op- emissions control.
tions, quicker response, tighter control,

ver the past several years, easier maintenance, improved life cycle Application checklist
valve actuators have re- costs, and a host of others.
ceived relatively little at Selecting the proper actuator for a given A quick review of the actuator charac-
tention while process con application depends heavily on matching teristics listed in Table I indicates which
trol specialists concentrated on control- it to the valve or other driven equipment. actuator type is best suited for a par-
lers, sensors, and other components of the The process control engineer is well ad- ticular application. For example, the
control loop. This is borne out by the vised to take advantage of vendors’ expe- spring and diaphragm (S&D) and pneu-

Table I. Mechanical Valve Actuator Characteristics


Spring and Air to 30 psig, Throttling, on-off Light to Vertical direct, Low to Various elastomeric
diaphragm spring return general service moderate rotary with moderate diaphragms and
linkage frame materials

Pneumatic Air to 50-150 Throttling, on-off Moderate Vertical direct, Moderate Available in CS,SS,
Piston psig, opposed general service to high rotary with to high corrosion-resistant
pistons linkage materials

Electric Electric motor Limited throttling Very high Best on larger Very high CS,SS, aluminum
Motor and gear train good on-off remote rotary and epoxy filled
Operated service valves composites

Electro- Electric motor Good in throttling Moderate Vertical direct, High Available in various
Hydraulic and pump services to very high rotary w/ materials to suit
linkage, handles environment
dampers well
matic piston (PP) actuators are well suited • Size and weight considerations;
for low to moderate thrust required by • Safety requirements (e.g. fail-safe economical approach.
small to medium sized valves. This covers operation, area classification, etc.); For high thrust, fail-safe operation-as
about 80% of process plant applications. • Operating environment-heat, well as close control in a difficult
Electric motor and electrohydraulic vibration, corrosion. etc.; environment-the more expensive electro-
Actuators’ strong points are high thrust • Dead band and hysteresis factors; hydraulic actuator may be appropriate.
for larger valves where there is no Use of accessories (e.g., positioners, More challenging control application
convenient air supply. This makes them micro switches, handwheels, requiring greater loop stability might
most appropriate in large utility, pipe line, microprocessors, etc.); warrant consideration of a “smart”
and remote location services. • Ease of maintenance; and, actuator with an onboard microcomputer.
The lack of inherent fail-safe operation • Economic factors-first cost, (These devices and their advantages will
continues to limit the application of maintenance costs, and be covered in more detail in the second
electrically-driven actuators from life-cycle costs. article of this series.)
capturing more of the lower-thrust, Size and weight are the main
hazardous-service applications that are so The type of service has a direct bearing disadvantages of the S&D actuator (and
prevalent in process plants. on the selection of the actuator for on/off to a lesser degree the PP actuator) on large-
Electrohydraulic actuators can meet the or throttling service. Any of the actuators sized valves. If the application area is not
fail-safe requirement with an added spring types listed in Table I are suitable for on/ restrictive to a large silhouette, the S&D
in one of the pistons, so their use can he off service. Operating speed, tight shut- or the PP actuator is probably the way to
advantageous in solving some unique off, and fail-safe operation are also vital in go. The moderate cost of a supporting
positioner applications within the process this type of service. structure along with the higher actuator
plant. Throttling action introduces the cost may still not be great enough to upset
The key elements to consider when accuracy factor; the valve must be able the economics of the S&D/PP selection.
selecting an actuator/control valve to hold intermediate control points in One major area crucial to effective actuator
combination include: response to a variable signal. The work- selection is its ability to over-come stem
• Type of service-on/off or throttling; horse in this application for light thrust resonance problems to maintain the process
• Power source-air, electric, or other; units is the S&D actuator, which may do variable close to the control point. Factors
• Loop stability requirements; the job without a positioner. If high affecting resonance (valve hunting) problems
• Input signal compatibility; thrust is required, a double-acting PP
• Actuator thrust requirements; actuator with a suitable positioner will
probably offer the most reliable and



Inherent due to high in Require high Low Low Positioners, limit Excellent, simple,
built-in spring large sizes vertical switches, mature
clearance handwheels, technology technology

Require spring Low Moderately Low to Low to Positioners, limit Excellent, mature
or reserve air compact moderate moderate switches, technology
cylinders microprocessors

Require Moderate to high Compact High Low to Limit Switches, Good depending
stand-by moderate microprocessors, on power source,
power source remote operators mature
positioners technology

Require Moderate Require high Highest Highest Positioners, limit Higher maint-
stand-by power vertical switches enance, multiple
source or spring clearance moving parts

Involve stiction (valve stem friction), problems onto the positioner as a bolt-on mance offered the best opportunity for
Actuator stiffness, stroking speed, plug- cure-all. improved mill performance with the least
head buffeting, hysteresis, and other Sound decision-making capital expenditure.
factors. Most of these problem areas, Champion Paper, Inc. has discovered the “We found that 80-90% of our control
which are inherent in various actuators to importance of integrating a sound actua- problems were in control valve perfor-
some degree, are handled by effectively tor/control valve unit in the control loops mance,” says control engineer Don Jor-
matching the actuator with a valve at its integrated paper mill in Houston, dan. “Faulty control valve operation
positioner. The applications engineer Texas. Champion’s corporate goals of prod- cannot be tweaked or adjusted out by
should do the best possible job of picking uct improvement, customer satisfaction, the controller alone. Our approach has
the most suitable actuator for the service- and rightsizing led the controls group to been to work with EnTech Control Engi-
don’t unload any inherent actuator the realization that control valve perfor- neering (a controls consultant based in

Table II. Valve Actuator Advantages and Disadvantages

Lowest first cost Limited force output
Operating simplicity and reliability Large size and weight per unit force
Throttles well without positioner Low Stiffness
Inherent fail-safe operation Does not handle high ambient temperatures well
Low air pressure supply
Easily adjustable to local conditions
Few moving parts
Ease of maintenance
Most mature technology
High force and torque capacity Requires spring or accessories for fail safe operation
Moderately compact silhouette Must have positioner to function
Low weight to power ratio Higher first cost than S&D actuator
Can stand high ambient temperatures Requires high pressure air to operate
Fast stroking speed
Good throttling control
Few Moving parts
Relatively high actuator stiffness
Available in smart valve configuration
Available in corrosion resistant materials
High force output High first cost
Very high stiffness Not inherently fail safe
Compact silhouette Limited duty cycle of motor drive
Slow stroking speed (if required) Multiple moving parts
Does not require air supply or I/P
Corrosion-resistant seals and construction are available
Infrared emote setting unit available
Relatively mature technology
Good on large valves in remote locations
High force output Highest first cost
High actuator stiffness Multiple moving parts, highest maintenance
Excellent throttling ability Fails safe only with spring or accessories
Fast stroking speed Least mature actuator technology
Does not require air supply or I/P
Accepts harsh environments well
Sales & Service Locations

CCI Atlanta CCI Korea

Tel: (770) 965-9870 26-17, Pungmu-Ri
Fax: (770) 965-9905 Kimpo-Eup, Kimpo Gun
Kyunggi-Do, South Korea
CCI Boston Tel: 82-341-85-9430
Tel: (617) 335-1964 Fax: 82-341-85-0552
Fax: (617) 335-0464
CCI Mexico
CCI Chicago Tel: 52-464-1-1769
Tel: (847) 742-6505 Fax: 52-464-7-1424
Fax: (847) 742-0511
CCI Middle East
CCI Houston Tel: 971-2-76-2428
Tel: (281) 492-6904 Fax: 971-2-76-2430
Fax: (281) 492-6980
CCI Netherlands
CCI China * Tel: 31-182-522344
Tel: 86-10-6501 0350 Fax: 31-182-525016
Fax: 86-10-6501 0286
CCI Singapore
CCl China Tel: 65-254-6211
Tel: 86-21-6485 1331 Fax: 65-254-8442
Fax: 86-21-6485 1328
CCI South Africa
Tel: 27-12-348-8868
CCI France Fax: 27-12-348-8867
Tel: 33-14-692-2430
Fax: 33-14-692-2359 CCI Spain
Tel: 34-1-519-4133
CCI Germany Fax: 34-1-519-4032
Tel: 49-521-139510
Fax: 49-521-139554 CCI Switzerland
This solar powered electrohydraulic P.O. Box
Valve actuator develops 4,000-lb. of CCI Hong Kong Hegifeldstrasse 10
Tel: 852-2492-7608 CH-8404 Winterthur
thrust and is used to control flow through
Fax: 852-2498-5878 Switzerland
a remote Venezuelan oil pipeline. (Rexa) Tel: 41 52-262 6116
CCI India Fax: 41 52-262 00 39
Toronto, Ontario) to do a plantwide audit Tel: 91-33-473-0810
Fax: 91-33-247-1269 CCI U.A.E.
on our control loops and train our people Tel: 971 4 494 118
in correcting the problem areas. EnTech CCI Indonesia Fax: 971 4 445 881
has developed a control valve dynamic Tel: 011-62-21-5301307
specification, which we have found very Fax: 011-62-21-5320369 CCI United Kingdom *
Tel: 44-1202-661108
valuable in solving our control valve tun- CCI Italy Fax: 44-1202-661109
ing problems”. Tel: 39-383-60-537
EnTech has found that most control Fax: 39-383-60-587 CCI United Kingdom
valve problems start with erroneous con- Tel: 44-1484-40-14-48
CCI Japan Fax: 44-1484-40-14-48
trol valve selection during initial design. 194-2, Shukunosho
These problems get worse over time due Ibaraki-City, Osaka 567, Japan *Primary Address For Country
to poor tuning and maintenance. The pri- Tel: 81 726 41 7197
mary design error occurs when pyramiding Fax: 81 726 41 7198
capacity safety factors are cranked into
the original specification of the control
valve. That forces the valve to operate in
its lower range most of the time.
Even periodic bench testing is not a com-
plete solution to control valve problems
because bench conditions differ signifi-
cantly from actual operation. Existing loop
problems and valve-disk buffeting can
CCI World Headquarters
cancel the best of bench testing intentions. Tel: 949-858-1877
Continual auditing of control valves un- Fax: 949-858-1878
der operating conditions offers the most E-Mail:
reliable solution to catching most of the Website:
problems. 22591 Avenida Empresa
Rancho Santa Margarita
California, 92688, USA