From abominable snowmen to Indiana Jones - Installation work offers curious and exciting experiences
Valves control lots of things, whether in industrial plants and machines or in a private household. They fulfil their duties as a matter of course and – for most of us – nearly invisibly. However, the stories that can be told about valves are not utterly boring, in some cases they are even real tales of adventure. Installing valves can often be extremely demanding for the technicians – and the valves themselves become “silent” stars.
Two abominable snowmen
Schroeder Valves can tell such as story. The design engineer and manufacturer of pump protection valves, automatic recirculation valves, control valves and throttles has sales offices around the globe. “The products are nearly entirely special designs, which sometimes can be as large as a room or weigh as much as an elephant,” explains Axel Muecher, CEO of Schroeder Valves. Not only are the valves special, but so are the different environments where they are installed. Schroeder Valves, for example, equips snow cannons in many skiing regions with its fittings. It can often happen that an employee has to work at over 3,000 meters altitude. However such work is only worth a weary smile…
“There is one job we’ll certainly never forget,” Axel Muecher remembers. He travelled to the Austrian town of Tauplitz with a colleague to repair a defect bypass in a valve. Heavy snowfall created pretty scenery down in the valley, yet also caused both mechanics to become anxious. They set off in a car fitted with snow chains, yet after driving half of the way the car couldn’t go any further. The customer arranged for a snow cat to bring them up to an altitude of 2,800 meters. Both thought that would be a great idea - until they noticed the snow cat’s cab was already occupied by two other men. “We had no other choice than to sit on the hood,” says Axel Mücher. Sitting outside at minus 10°C, the snow cat drove them one and a half kilometers through a near snow storm to their assignment. On arrival, Muecher and his colleague resembled abnominable snowmen. “And that’s exactly how we felt ourselves.” All is well that ends well – the bypass was repaired!
Installing in the wild
Nonetheless, things can be a lot more spectacular, as Frank Loeffler can tell. The mechanic working for VAG-Armaturen GmbH had to travel 18,000 kilometers to the wild outback of Tasmania. Far away from civilization, Loeffler had to struggle along a mountain, across rocky terrain and through bothersome vegetation to install a shut-off valve for a historical wooden water conduit at a dam. The conduit is a real historical beauty. Back in 1914, the Lyell Mining and Railway Company built a dam for a power station, right at the foot of Lake Margret, near Queenstown and its 2,000 inhabitants. A three kilometer long water conduit was built to supply a mine with electricity and water. Nearly nine decades later the entire construction was shut down temporarily so the wooden conduit could be renovated, because its wood had become porous.
Frank Loeffler wasn’t the only one who had to cope with the rocky path leading to the dam. VAG also had to come up with a way to transport the valve, since there was no road a truck could use to deliver it. A helicopter was the only solution. VAG disassembled the valve into its individual parts, because the 3.5 ton valve would have been too heavy for a helicopter. Body, valve disk and lift cylinder were to be transported to the dam in three flights. To make things worse, neither electricity nor a crane would be available, so exactly what tools, hoisting and alignment gear would be needed for this job had to be determined in advance. Due to bad weather, the flights were delayed several times. Finally, the shut-off valve was delivered. Loeffler now had to work quickly: the body had to be put into position on top of the new plateau anchored in the rock, the extremely heavy valve had to be aligned and the axle bearings installed. Finally, Frank Loeffler was able to install the hydraulic lift cylinder. It was precision work under the most difficult of circumstances, yet the experienced VAG-employee managed it all without problems. “That was an assignment with an adventure as a bonus,” said the mechanic enthusiastically. “I felt just like Indiana Jones!”
A flurry of flashbulbs
Sometimes there is enough excitement for a valve to hit the news. This was the case for large-diameter ball valves made by Schuck Armaturen. After receiving an express order, the company had to deliver ball valves weighing several tons by plane for the first time to Malaysia. A subsidiary of Petronas, the Malaysian oil and gas giant, had ordered ball valves with a diameter of up to 36” for the world’s largest liquid natural gas terminal. The valves had to be able to withstand 118 bars of pressure. Because the delivery period was rather short, a plane had to pick up the bodies in India where they were cast. Despite their weight of 19.5 tons, the valves were flown as air freight from Frankfurt to Malaysia after they had been assembled. Then it was time for the big show – for the first time ever, a Boeing 747 landed at the small airport of Bintulu in the state of Sarawak, a town with a population of 50,000. Reporters and television crews flocked to the event – no one had ever seen a Boeing before. And thus the ball valves became news in Malaysia, amidst a flurry of flashbulbs…
Vital and essential
On the other hand, valves can be a matter of life and death; for instance, for the inhabitants of Prague’s Old Town. Eight years ago, the Czech Republic witnessed the greatest natural disaster in its history. The waters of the flooded Moldau River pressed into Prague’s sewage, the old town was flooded - with fatal consequences. Seventeen people died, 40,000 had to be evacuated, a large portion of the inhabitants were without electricity, half of city’s subway stations were submerged and many animals drowned in the zoo.
In order to prevent such a disaster in the future, the Czech Republic decided to redesign Prague’s sewage system. VAG-Armaturen now ensures the metropolis‘ safety. The company from Germany shipped parallel slide gate valves and a backflow trap with a nominal diameter of DN 600. Both valves were installed right next to the Moldau. “In case of a flood, the flood water is kept from pressing back into the town’s sewage system,” explains Joachim Reichert of VAG. This not only keeps the citizens safe, but also keeps the subterranean pumping chamber from being damaged.
In addition to the automatic backflow flap, VAG also installed a slide gate valve. This security measure makes it possible to close the pipes if the backflow flap doesn‘t function properly. VAG developed this solution in collaboration with Prague’s water company. The result is essential for the city’s survival!
The world is not enough
In different cases however, the world is not enough for some fittings. Space can be a nice place, too. Stoehr rocketed 56 specially-made valves with nominal diameters ranging from DN 15 to DN 200 into space when they were built into South Korean carrier rocket Naro 1. The valves ensure the rocket is fuelled with liquid gases before lift-off and are an utterly vital part of the 30 meter tall and 141 ton heavy rocket with a diameter of 3.90 meters. The parts have to function absolutely precisely, as they ensure the highly complex fuelling process works without any problem whatsoever. Liquid gases, such as liquid oxygen with a temperature of -196°C, have to flow into their tanks in a matter of seconds. Due to security reasons, fuelling on the Naro Space Centre’s launch pad can only take place as part of the take-off process. Thanks to Stoehr, everything went smoothly. In the end, the space mission was not entirely a success, as the satellite was destroyed. An independent commission declared it was due to the nose cone – parts of it were not released as planned. The rocket didn’t make it into orbit.
Valves aren’t the only ones living dangerous lives, mechanics can also be exposed to serious dangers. Two employees working for Schroeder Valves found themselves ambushed in India while travelling by train from Calcutta to a steel plant in Raigarh, where they were supposed to give technical support. The journey was originally expected to last 16 hours. After around half the journey the train passed through the Bhalulata station in the state of Orissa. “We were suddenly woken up by a detonation and deafening noise,” one of the two Schroeder employees remembers. Chaos suddenly broke out. “People ran confused, panicking and shouting. We saw smoke rise.” 50 Maoist rebels had blown up the tracks - as well as parts of the train station – and taken railroad staff as hostages.
“Luckily, things went well for us,” says one of the men from Schroeder. Nonetheless, it was far from being a pleasant experience. Due to the attack, the train and both Germans were stuck in the middle of the jungle for an entire day. In the end, the train travelled backwards to the closest station, where they then had to return to Calcutta. The customer had to be helped by email and spare parts delivery.
So don’t say installation work can be a boring affair…
The latest products and technologies for the valve industry will be on display at the Valve World Expo 2010, to be held from November 30 – December 2 at the fairgrounds in Düsseldorf, Germany.
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