Everything I Need to Know About Valve Maintenance, I Learned from Beer

FEATURED STORY Everything I Need to Know About Valve Maintenance, I Learned from Beer

There is a reason they do not make Super Bowl beer commercials about maintaining draft lines, sanitizing bottles and equipment, keeping the beer fridge stocked, and other preventative measures; it is boring. They do not even make dishwashing detergent ads for the big game. Who wants to talk about cleaning? There are no entertaining com­mercials about annual check-ups with the dentist, and scheduled maintenance advertising never wins a ‘People’s Choice’ award. Routine is ‘routine’ and people just are not that interested in it, but they should be.

By Chad Pilbeam – Contributor

There is nothing sexy or glamorous about maintaining a draft beer system. No one ever sells beer drinkers on ‘the brewing industry’s top sanitation mea­sures.’ Instead, consumers are saturated with things like ‘choicest hops, premium malts, and experienced brew masters.’ For some reason, the people in the brewery marketing department think these words make beer taste better.

Maybe a catchy slogan and a clever ad­vertising campaign will make people think the flavor of the beer is ‘premium’, but the reason beer is even drinkable in the first place is that someone who does not work in the marketing department did the boring, tedious, non-sexy job of maintaining the brew system. It is routine work that makes beer drinkable. Sorry to disappoint the marketing team at the brewery, but maintenance makes beer taste way better than any adjective, even if it is a ‘citrusy explosion of hoppy grapefruit aroma balanced with a robust malty backbone and silky mouthfeel.’ Sounds delicious, right? Well, none of those flavors are present without proper maintenance.

Importance of Maintenance

A brewmaster will state that ‘cleanliness is next to holiness.’ If the equipment is not maintained, selling beer will not be a problem because beer that cannot be consumed, cannot be sold. In the valve industry, an experienced and profes­sional operator or field technician will state that a lack of maintenance on an industrial valve results in reduced ef­ficiency, increased leaks, and a higher safety concern. Whether it is in a brew­ery or with an industrial valve, neglect­ing maintenance just leaves ‘a bad taste in the mouth.’ This shared concern on maintenance practices is why “Every­thing I need to know about valve main­tenance, I learned from beer.”

An industrial valve project is compara­ble to a three-legged bar stool. There are three legs that make up the foundation of a successful project; valve selection, installation, and maintenance.

Choosing the appropriate valve for the appli­cation is the first of the three legs. With so many application-specific valves, manufacturers spend significant time selecting the most appropriate materials and type of valve. The installation of the valve is a skill, and when aided by tech­nology and engineering, is precise. Of course, precision goes to performance; the more precise the proper installation is, the better the operation of the valve. The final leg of this proverbial ‘bar stool’ is maintenance. Maintenance serves to preserve the integrity of the correctly selected and installed valve but is often overlooked because it is not as visible or as easily noticed.

When buying or selecting a new valve, multiple departments are involved to ensure it will meet the required specifi­cations; is often the genesis of a project. When installed, there are multiple par­ties privy to the application and antici­pate the valve going into use. Once the valve is selected, installed, and perform­ing at a high level, the technicians in­volved in this project set their sights on the next obstacle or assignment. Main­taining that valve is a ‘down the road’ project for ‘someone else’ to attend to.

This is not to suggest that people do not care about maintenance, or that people will deny the need for it. No profession­al with an understanding of a valve’s im­portance would ever say, “Yeah, we do not need to do anything until that valve fails.” Just like no self-respecting bar or brewery would ever say, “We will clean the tap lines when someone complains about how bad the beer tastes.” Preven­tative maintenance is essential to the in­tegrity of the asset. Whether one is serv­ing a pint or ensuring the proper flow of media in a pipeline, they never want to be in the position of saying “Yeah, we decided not to do the scheduled main­tenance” when something goes wrong.

The Dangers of Overlooking Preventative Maintenance

Should a brewhouse become contami­nated it is possible that many batches of beer will be poured down the drain. In extreme cases, cans and bottles have exploded from a lack of cleanliness. In more extreme examples, when main­tenance was not adhered to, breweries have been responsible for the death of a beer drinker.

The consequences of unmaintained industrial valves include fugitive emis­sions, lower productivity, increased energy costs, potential environmental impacts, legal exposure, and reduced safety for employees and the public. No matter how low the probability or statis­tical likelihood of a ‘worst-case scenario’, recommended maintenance is called “recommended,” as it helps mitigate the risk of a worst-case scenario.

While it may seem obvious that preven­tative maintenance has several benefits, many individuals question why there is a persistent need to revisit the topic. The reason it is revisited is the same reason reminders are sent to go visit your den­tist or change the oil in the car – it may be known, but it still gets overlooked. It is therefore beneficial to use beer to raise awareness.

Remember that no one notices when maintenance is performed, but when maintenance is not performed, everyone notices. In the same way, if an individual goes to the dentist no one sees the dif­ference but skip the dentist and people will notice bad teeth.

Total Costs

Preventative maintenance is scheduled and calculated. The expense is antici­pated and well documented. From a budgeting perspective, this is a fantastic advantage and reason to perform these routines. The downside is that when bud­gets need to be trimmed, maintenance is often sacrificed. The decision to cut maintenance offers short-term savings and a hope that there is no long-term consequence. Sure, this improves the direct costs of maintenance, but the in­direct costs must be considered as well.

The downtime cost of an industrial valve is difficult to calculate given the variables of application, media being transferred, and type of valve. It does however have an expense, which is usu­ally kept separate from the maintenance or lifetime cost of the valve. If one adds the cost of the downtime to the valve maintenance budget, the benefit of rou­tine maintenance is easily justified.

There are two things more costly than downtimes: unexpected downtimes, and catastrophic failure. By performing rou­tine maintenance, the individuals respon­sible for visually inspecting the valve can establish predictive maintenance proce­dures. Predictive maintenance differs from preventative in that those maintain­ing the valve can anticipate when a repair might be necessary and can schedule re­pairs to avoid the more expensive unex­pected downtime. As for a catastrophic failure, this results in a combination of unexpected downtime, unknown costs to resolve, legal exposure, and potential environmental impact.

To stay healthy and drink beer, regular exercise is needed even if the days of six-pack abs are long gone. Experts, therefore, suggest that maintenance personnel routinely check the seating of the valve, inspect the gaskets, look for signs of corrosion, and clean the valves. They also suggest following the lubrica­tion and packing requirements, perform­ing routine torque checks, and opening and closing them frequently to ensure proper working function and to mini­mize sticking, noise, debris buildup, and corrosion. Despite maintenance being a cost center and expense to the company, the result is savings to the operator and owner over the lifetime of the valve.

Follow Best Practices

‘Quality’ is a word companies often like to use, but can it be substantiated? If industry best practices are adhered to, industry best results will prevail, and ‘quality’ is substantiated. Just because a bottle of beer reads ‘Premium’ on the label, does not mean the brewer did not use cheap ingredients, take shortcuts in the brewing process, or strip flavor and substance through filtering. If ev­ery brewer claims to have an excellent or ‘premium’ product, how does a truly premium brewery differentiate?

For industries that rely on industrial valves, the selection, installation, and maintenance all identify the quality of the asset. Selection is a choice, installa­tion is a skill, and maintenance is a de­cision. Beer drinkers do not make the decision to drink the most poorly made beer; valve experts should likewise not allow valves to be the most poorly main­tained. No one chooses to be the op­erator of poorly maintained valves; they just choose to not perform the preventa­tive maintenance and end up with them. Maybe they chose that after all.

What does it take to be the best? What does it take to stand out? Beer in many ways is a commodity and brewers are finding it harder and harder to differenti­ate. Imagine if a consumer discovers that the brewer does not have strict proce­dures, that they do not treat their water, fail to maintain proper temperatures, or do not subscribe to the brewer’s mantra of ‘cleanliness is next to holiness’. They would not be surprised when bad beer is brewed or served, on account of in­sufficient maintenance. Should anyone in the world of industrial valves be sur­prised by an unexpected shutdown or poor performance when maintenance is not performed? The simple answer is no.

To the workers who perform routine and predicted maintenance on indus­trial valves in accordance with the data and recommendations, you have earned the right to use ‘quality’ when describing your work, and you have earned a beer. To those ignoring the maintenance, do not even think about putting ‘premium’ on your ‘label’, and you can have a beer after you are done checking up on those valves!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chad Pilbeam is a contributor to KCI Publications and promotes his Beer Logic™ mantra of “Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from beer.™ He is a professional writer, public speaker, podcaster and radio host, and marketer who loves beer and is a Certified Cicerone®. Chad lives in “The Great Beer State” of Michigan, USA. Follow Chad @chadthebeerlogicguy and @whatsontapradio.
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