Valve Training Overcomes Bad Habits

Instrument technicians at the Chevron Oil Co. refinery in El Paso, TX, have a thirst for knowledge, but sources of technical information in the west Texas city have been scarce, and not always accurate.

According to Hector Pedregon, an instrument technician at the refinery for more than 15 years, Until 1997, we never had any formal training on valves. We learned from the "old-timers"; they taught us their bad habits. When a technician transferred here from another refinery and started questioning some of our procedures, our only answer was, "that's the way they told us to do it." Come to find out, we were doing a lot of things wrong, which resulted in inefficient process control and extra valve wear. Thats a hard way to learn.

Another person who recognized that the maintenance technicians needed more knowledge was Pat Carroll, account manager for Vinson Process Controls, the Fisher-Rosemount representative covering west Texas. Carroll began holding informal classes with technicians in a section of the refinery where some of the valves were so old the instruction manuals were long gone.

Those guys were starving for information, Carroll said, but I couldn't convince management to bring professional instruction to El Paso. That attitude changed after the true condition of some valves was revealed.

Valve evaluation
In preparation for a shutdown period early in 1996, Carroll arranged to have an outside technician bring equipment to the refinery to evaluate several control valves identified as problems by various operators.

Most of the valves were located in the crude oil unit, where severe service conditions can be very hard on valve components. The test results showed that more than half the valves tested were suffering from calibration problems that could be corrected by knowledgeable technicians without costly, time-consuming valve repairs.

That was a big win for valve testing, Carroll said. Refinery officials now intend to have all, troublesome, valves scanned prior to major shutdowns. Also, some process engineers began to realize that many of their control problems stemmed from inadequate valve maintenance. As a result, we were able to schedule a valve instrumentation course in El Paso for the first time.

On-site training
Because little money had been budgeted for training, the on-site school for all instrument technicians and some of the process engineers was pared down to just 2 days. The normal 4 1/2 day Fisher-Rosemount Educational Services valve instrument technician course was tailored to address the company's most urgent needs, as determined by the number of complaints received on various pieces of equipment. Valve actuators and the calibration of positioners were to be emphasized.

A good deal of information was presented in lecture format, and the technicians then had an opportunity to practice correct procedures for calibrating different types of valve positioners in the hands-on laboratory sessions.

Positive reactions
Pedregon, who was convinced that a number of incorrect procedures had been followed in the past, was happy with the formal training and is looking forward to more of the same. It was a very good course, especially the hands-on instruction, he said. The procedures we learned are making our jobs easier and faster today. Sometimes the right procedures involve more steps, but everything comes out better in the end, and we don't have to go back and repeat as often.

Rick Spano, the technician from the other refinery who pointed out faults in local instrument calibration procedures, felt the training was good, but a little quick. I'd like to have more time to play with the stuff. It was good that they brought in a lot of equipment, because the best way to learn is to practice doing things the right way on the same equipment we have in the refinery.

Steve Lemmon, another technician who spends most of his time working on control valves, said, The course was tailored nicely to our needs. It was very informative; we need more of this type of training.

It looks as if Lemmon and some of the others will have their wishes answered. Carroll now meets regularly with refinery officials to discuss valve-related issues, and he said that training, not just for technicians but for process and project engineers, as well, is near the top of the list.

We're trying to devise a formal training program, Carroll said. We're slowly proving that training is necessary to overcome some of the old ways and lay the groundwork for more efficient valve operation in the future. MT

Ed Boehm is an instructor with Fisher-Rosemount Educational Services, P.O. Box 190, Marshalltown, IA 50158-0190; (800) 338-8158; e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Training Meets Challenge Of Change

By Joseph M. Morris, Fisher-Rosemount Educational Services

Preparing for change may be the biggest challenge maintenance personnel face today. Because change threatens to bring the unknown and the unexpected, many workers fear it. Yet, to resist change is to delay enjoying the opportunities of the future.

The challenge of change comes in various forms:

  • New technologies. Plant instrumentation has gone from pneumatic to analog to digital to smart in a few short years. The full benefits of automation and high-tech production can be realized only when those who maintain these increasingly complex systems learn new procedures and practices.
  • Multi-craft organization. Electricians and other technicians must broaden their skills to be competitive in today''s job market where craft consolidation is widely practiced.
  • Downsizing. As their numbers shrink, maintenance workers must display a wider spectrum of knowledge and skills than ever before. One person may need to assume the duties fulfilled by two or three people in the past.
  • Problem-solving. A thorough knowledge of equipment and the production process is essential in quickly solving high-speed production problems where a shutdown can cost thousands of dollars per minute.
  • A changing society. Gone are the days when workers expect to stay with one company long enough to earn a gold watch. When the most knowledgeable troubleshooter in the plant decides to go elsewhere, others must be ready to fill the void.

Training is the only answer to changes that companies and their employees are experiencing. As motivational speaker and corporate advisor, Zig Ziglar, once observed, If you think training employees to do things correctly and losing them is expensive, try not training them and keeping them.

In many cases, general training can be provided internally by corporate instructors and by maintenance supervisors. But technical training often requires professionally developed programs, delivered by instructors who know the subjects and how to teach others what they must learn to maintain and manage advanced industrial systems.

Areas where training is most needed today include:

  • Smart field instruments. Microprocessor-based measurement and analytical devices transmit not only control signals but also information about their own status and condition. Those who master these devices have a ticket to the world of automation and all its benefits.
  • Control valves. Technicians who understand valves, actuators, and positioners and how to make basic adjustments can prevent really large losses due to improper tuning.
  • Control systems. Maintaining the new webbed control systems requires advanced training to fully enable the open architecture.

An aggressive, on-going training program keeps employees alert and motivated, enabling them to be more efficient, solve production problems, increase equipment longevity, avoid unnecessary downtime, and improve plant safety. In return, the company is able to remain competitive, producing more and better products with less downtime. MT

Joseph M. Morris is marketing and development manager at Fisher-Rosemount Educational Services, P.O. Box 190, Marshalltown, IA 50158-0190; (800) 338-8158; e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .