Pipeline Specifications: The Challenges of Navigating the Supply Chain

FEATURED STORY The Challenges of Navigating the Supply Chain Pipeline Specifications:

When navigating the supply chain between end users, licensors, and suppliers, numerous potential difficulties may be encountered. When it comes to piping line class specifications and the conditions surrounding their creation and maintenance, communication between each party is crucial. Valve World Americas had the pleasure of speaking with Glen Beal, Technical Engineering Manager from MRC Global, regarding the factors taken into consideration for piping line class specifications at each stage and how to successfully navigate the supply chain.

By KCI Editorial

What are Piping Line Class Specifications?

Piping line class specifications, or PLC specs, distinguish the appropriate com­ponents and requirements that make up a piping line. This can range from its components, such as valves and fittings, to the pipes themselves. These specifica­tions identify the parameters of what can and cannot be used for an individual, or group of, process fluid components un­der certain pressure and temperature conditions. They establish the types and particular forms of piping components allowed for a specific line or system of piping. The PLC provides guidance that is used to design, purchase, fabricate, operate, and maintain the pertinent pip­ing system from cradle to grave. A PLC specification must be written to convey everything from rainwater to the most hazardous chemicals. Typically, the more critical the substance, the more explicit the specifications in both defini­tion and application.

What Drives an End User?

When end users write a piping line class specification, their first goal is to figure out exactly what is driving the specifica­tions: what are the factors that define this system? “Is the end user trying to define an innate type of process or fluid? Or are they defining something hazard­ous or critical? Either way, the end user must be careful to protect people and the environment, as well as the equipment,” explained Beal. The design of each speci­fication is generated based on the tools and operations required to maintain and protect the system. They are also often written in coordination with their company’s corporate practices; and in compliance with the applicable industry codes and standards, (ASME, API, etc.) which can vary from system to system. “For end users, often the development philosophy focus of the spec is the inter­nal operating parameters of the piping; allowing those to be the primary, if not the sole driver to define the PLC,” said Beal. While it is essential that the operat­ing parameters are optimized to suit the needs of the media being transferred, fo­cusing solely on these parameters may make matters challenging for the suppli­ers providing the materials necessary to complete the piping line.

“End users often make their specifica­tions rather tight and narrow, or as spe­cific as possible as a way to aid design and maintenance tools. While this may make sense from an end user perspec­tive, it can lead to complications later in the supply chain with other parties. Over­all, it can prolong the process of receiv­ing the necessary materials or products,” continued Beal. If the scope of the piping line specifications is made slightly more flexible, receiving alternative materials to lower lead times becomes a viable pos­sibility. Defining alterability can therefore be a huge benefit to both the supplier and end user, not only to reduce down­time, but also to provide an advantage when purchasing licensor technology.

Keeping Up with Technology as a Licensor

The difference between an end user’s and licensor’s focus can appear mini­mal, as they consider several of the same components when creating a piping line class specification. When analyzing the differences between end user and licen­sor specifications, the key distinction is that licensors create more unambiguous specifications for very specific applica­tions. End users often come to licensors to buy their technology and specifica­tions for unique, or particularly chal­lenging conditions. “Generally speaking, if 40 pipeline specifications in total are required to define a facility, 10-15 could be licensor or technology-sanctioned consecrated PLC specs and the remain­ing 25-30 facility PLCs for degraded and common mediums could come from the owner’s own library,” explained Beal. “Licensor technology is often required for intense pipeline conditions, such as applications where a valve or piping is part of extreme and/or critical processing (i.e., controlled injection, temperatures upwards of 400°C.)”

Although they are more specialized, li­censors tend to face many of the same struggles as end users when creating a piping line specification; they too must align with the practices of the owner and with codes and standards when writing specifications. “A most distinctive chal­lenge,” added Beal, “is the ever-progres­sive nature of technology. Technology is constantly evolving in every sector around the globe, which makes it chal­lenging to keep up with the latest licen­sors’ technology. By the time a technolo­gy is bought, studied, and has a plant de­signed, multiple years may have passed, and the technology has likely advanced or been adjusted. If an end user’s line class specifications are based on licensed technology from three, five, or ten years prior, there is a big gap – a disconnect. The valve that was best suited to the ap­plication three years ago may no longer be the most viable. (i.e., changes in valve trim or even valve style.)

If the end user and the licensor do not have a continual working relationship, it can be costly and time consuming to determine another solution.” To keep up with technology evolution, it is critical that there is continued communication and good working relationships be­tween the end user, the licensors, and their suppliers.

PLC specification will almost always contain a flow direction valve (check valve) and at least one type of block valve. In many processes, alternate valve types can be used to achieve the same result. The preferred and the alternative valve choices are determined by the type of medium, and the process conditions of medium that is flowing through the valve. Whether it’s selecting the design style of a check valve (swing check or axial flow) or determining which types of block valves (e.g., gate, globe, ball, butterfly, plug, or diaphragm) are appropriate, there are three primary functional factors influencing the valve selection: 1) closure element type (i.e., ¼-turn element vs rising and lowering element), 2) flow through characteristics (impeded, restricted flow or full flow), and 3) the type of shut off sealing needed (allowable leak through or zero leakage). A description of common valve types and how they function can be found in the Valve World Americas article titled: ‘How Does a Valve Work’. The article can be found at: https://valve-world-americas. com/how-does-a-valve-work/ .

The Role of a Supplier

A supplier’s role, in terms of pipeline specifications, is to understand and con­sider the external factors that contribute to the development and fabrication of the pipeline. Although they must think like an end user to anticipate how receptive the end user will be to the materials received, they must also consider availability of materials, lead times, and several other potentially unforeseeable circumstances.

Suppliers often receive a bill of materi­als from the end user and must make of­fers based solely on the information pro­vided for the required pipeline materials. This narrows the scope of the suppliers’ focus. When selecting a material from the manufacturer, the supplier must re­main within the parameter limits given by the end user.

As pipelines tend to have precise condi­tions, different types of valves and mate­rials are often specified. “The issue with this process,” explained Beal, “is that what an end user requests may not al­ways be available. This is a phenomenon that has become more frequent recently due to all the supply chain disruptions. If, for example, a spec demands that a valve must be suitable for temperatures up to 400°C, but the valve will only ever reach up to 300°C while in service, it may be in the best interest of the end user to accept the lower temperature valve. Suppliers may be able to get that material faster from the manufacturers if the end user will accept alternatives. It is not unusual for a distributor to have a valve in inven­tory that will function as an alternative, but due to the lack of communication at the technical level, delays and/or extra expenses are just accepted.”

To enable successful critical deliveries, al­ternative valve solutions can be key. Beal believes that both end users and licensors should strive to communicate when the specifications allow for alternatives (i.e., top entry specified but split body is an acceptable alternative; or metal seating specified but graphite seating is an ac­ceptable alternative). Details of this nature are extremely beneficial. When commu­nicated, it allows for offering the quickest and best available options to the end user.

The Need for Better Communication

The underlying problem within each level of the supply chain is the lack of com­munication between channels. This can make the entire supply chain unneces­sarily difficult to maneuver for everyone involved. Much of this comes down to the lack of information shared between the end users and suppliers when it per­tains to possible alternatives to materials. Suppliers, who receive only a bill of ma­terials required by the end user, would benefit from more specific instructions on when it is, and is not, acceptable to offer alternatives.

“As a distributor or manufacturer, it is im­portant to know more about the situation. For example, where is the component going? What are the restrictions and re­quirements? Those details are often not in the purchasing documents, but they are in the piping specifications,” explained Beal. Having this supplementary informa­tion allows suppliers to recommend mate­rials that may save the end users money, as well as be more attainable.

For example, if a supplier discovers the manufacturer is out of stock of a mate­rial necessary for the purchase order line items, having a PLC or additional instruc­tions supplied with the order from the end user may allow a supplier to recom­mend a faster alternative as opposed to waiting months for the original request. “A balanced description and supple­mental information that communicate requirements and some indication of if alternatives could be suggested or not would go a long way. It would immediately open the communication cycle,” recommended Beal.

Choosing a Successful Supplier

When it comes to piping line class specifications and navigating the supply chain, Beal recommended choosing a dis­tributor or supplier who will get the end user the desired product in the timeliest manner for the best price. “You want a distributor or supplier that has influence or pull with the manufacturer for the best results,” concluded Beal. Communica­tion and standout services make all the difference when it comes to choosing a supplier. The end user gets the most benefit when he is working with a sup­plier that has strong relationships with manufacturers, a good understanding of technology, and a strong desire to work proactively in partnership with the end user to offer solutions and resolve issues.

About the Expert

Glen Beal is a Piping Engineer with over 30 years of experience. His piping engineering expertise includes developing engineering specifications and managing corporate valve technology as an end user. He has worked in the EPC Services sector as a Piping Engineering Specialist and Technology Manager, and now, he is working in the supply and distribution sphere of the piping and valve industry.
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Sara Mathov is a feature editor contributing to Fugitive Emissions Journal, Stainless steel World Americas, and other related print & online media.