The lifespan of valves that are used to control and contain bulk materials transported via railcar – whether liquid, gas or solid – is finite. As mechanical instruments, it is inevitable that one day they will begin to break down or outright fail, which will prevent them from adequately and reliably doing the job for which they have been tasked.
Knowing that valve failure is coming – and that there is an eventual need to replace the valve – is obvious, but less apparent is knowing when that failure will actually occur. In other words, predicting valve failure is more of an art than a perfect science, but being able to read the tea leaves and have an idea of when a valve is about to reach the end of its useful life is critical in avoiding catastrophic product leaks and spills.
All types of railcars feature a number of different valve types. For example, these are the common valves you may find for each of the below railcars:
No matter the railcar style or commodity being transported, all valves are subject to daily use and abuse that, as they accumulate over time, can compromise their performance. Therefore, it is imperative for railcar operators to be on the lookout for signs that a valve may be ready for retirement:
- General Abuse: Valves that are nicked, dinged, gouged or dented are at risk of having their performance adversely affected. Any external damage that can be seen should prompt the operator to inspect a valve and its components per its IOM to make sure that it is still functioning as intended.
- Diminished Performance: All valve types are built to do a precise job in a precise way at a precise time – and to do it properly over and over again. If a valve is opening when it should be closed, not responding to required flow or containment conditions, or operating sluggishly, it should be removed from service and inspected.
- Component Damage: “Valve” is the name for the complete assembly, but a valve is actually a finely tuned machine constructed of numerous individual components that must work in harmony in order to function as needed. So, if any of the valve’s O-rings, washers, seals and springs are wearing out and need to be replaced sooner than normal, this can be a sign that the valve should be taken out of service for repair or even replacement.
- Old Age: Like athletes, even the best-performing valves are destined to lose the battle with Father Time. Keeping precise, up-to-date records regarding performance will help operators more easily identify incremental downturns in performance – whether they occur if the valve’s been operating exquisitely for 5, 10 or 20 years –that can indicate that it’s time for the valve to be retired.
For more information on Midland, and its complete portfolio of valves for use on all railcar styles, please visit midlandmfg.com. You can explore Midland’s Remanufacturing and Repair services for managing the end of a valve’s service life without replacement.