To hear Rick Wentzell tell it, buying – or selling – an actuated valve should be a simple matter. “The components of our actuated valve packages are married to one another,” says Wentzell, a marketing consultant with Bonomi North America, who set up the subsidiary for the Italy-based valve and actuator manufacturer Bonomi Group in 2003. “They’re designed around each other.”
According to Wentzell, the Bonomi Group is the only manufacturer of both low-torque, high-performance, direct-mount ball valves and pneumatic and electric actuators. As a result, Bonomi valves and actuators are easily mated together into automated valve packages.
That’s because the Bonomi Group is actually three businesses that make the valves and the actuators. (For more information, see sidebar “The Bonomi Group”)
Wentzell, a sales and marketing veteran who has worked for a number of well-known valve companies, didn’t know himself the extent of Bonomi’s capabilities when he originally got involved with the company. At first, he was happy finding a reliable source for ball valves. Only after traveling to Italy for training, did he discover the integrated approach the company was taking.
“I’m saying to myself, ‘Wow, they do it all,’ ” Wentzell says. “I think they took it for granted.”
The actuator operation was only started a handful of years before Wentzell’s arrival.
“They weren’t selling that much product at the time so they didn’t realize the power they had with these packages that were simpler to stock, sell and understand.”
For example, one of the company’s newest products, the 8E864 Series, is a lead-free electric automated shutoff ball valve package, powered by the Valbia VB010 “Mini” quarter-turn direct-mount electric actuator. The VB010 measures just 43/4 inches long by 23/4 inches wide.
An RB (short for “Rubinetterie Bresciane,” the oldest part of Bonomi, which started in 1901 making faucets) 250N LF full-port direct-mount ball valve completes the package and provides bubble-tight shutoff. It is built with a forged lead-free brass body made without the addition of bismuth or silicon to replace lead in the brass. Bismuth and silicon, often added by other manufacturers to improve machinability, have been associated with valve failures and installation problems.
The standard 110 VAC motor with Class II insulation meets CE standards and delivers 89 inch/pounds of torque in horizontal or vertical installations. The waterproof IP 65 housing of the VB010 is constructed of flame-resistant plastic with O-ring seals at critical points. A manual override, anti-condensation heater, a six-conductor extension and a 75 percent duty cycle motor are standard.
NPTF end connections are standard, as are the blowout-proof stem, PTFE seats and double O-ring stem seals for leak-free service. The 8E864 is 100 percent factory tested before shipping.
The old days
This unified approach is a far cry from how the actuated valve market got its start. Traditionally, the business began in the 1970s in the back of the PVF warehouse, with larger valves that were difficult to open and close manually. The average size of automated valves at that time was about 3 inches.
Wentzell, who spent decades in sales and marketing for other valve manufacturers prior to opening Bonomi North America (which was originally known as Bonomi USA), says manufacturers and wholesalers took a much more “ala carte” approach in the early days toward actuating valves.
“Typically, there’d be a guy in the back who served as the automation specialist,” he explains. “He’d be the one who decided which companies to buy from. So he’d buy the valves from one company and buy the actuators from another. Then, maybe, he had a friend down the street who made brackets in his machine shop.”
In the beginning, Wentzell says the valve was typically made in the United States, but the actuator was outsourced.
“You’re combining the two,” Wentzell adds, “and they’re not made for each other, but they need to work together as a team. It doesn’t always make for an effective package.”
Eventually, Wentzell says, it became common practice to outsource both the valve and the actuator.
“The traditional manufacturers have gotten away from it in the United States and have decided, rightly or wrongly, to de-emphasize automation capabilities and buy the actuator from some other company, whether it’s offshore, and generally it is offshore, and put their name on it and put it on the valve.”
The resulting actuated valve package could have 10 to 20 confusing part numbers.
On the other hand, Bonomi has simple part numbers, essentially one part number for each actuated valve package.
“Everyone knows our part numbers,” Wentzell says.
The company has also done away with the matrix other manufacturers commonly used that referred to other options and accessories that might have been part of a much more complicated order.
“ ‘Choose this, chose that,’ ” Wentzell explains. “We eliminated all of that. We took the actuator and the valve and put them together as a better unit. It’s a much more stream-lined decision-making process.”
More than coordination
Bonomi also offers more than just a coordinated automated valve package. The company found a way to lower the torque required to open and close the valves. Also, the company started putting the actuator directly on top of the valve, which helps the valve operate more efficiently and last longer.
In addition, the larger trend toward actuating valves follows in lockstep with other developments in the world today:
Reducing labor cost: Eliminating the labor cost of operating manual valves has driven the expansion of automated valve market. Traditionally, somebody had to physically turn valves on and off — and walk the hundreds of yards that might separate one from another.
“Automation allows you to press a button to make that happen no matter the distance,” Wentzell explains. This has made automation practical for smaller size valves in applications such as building automation. As a result, the average size of actuated valves has decreased from 3 inches to less than 3/4 inch.
Saving space: Low-torque direct-mount ball valves, like Bonomi’s, allow for smaller actuators, too, making the entire automated valve package more compact. This is important in all applications as space becomes more valuable.
Improving accountability: Since these products play a critical role in whatever application process, plenty can go wrong when an actuator fails. Or did the valve fail? As Wentzell relates, the finger pointing can never stop when the source of the actuator or valve (or both) is not the same company.
But a single-source narrows the accountability.
“The point is the buck stops here with Bonomi,” Wentzell says. “When you have a non-denominational or generic automated package, everyone else can go running and nothing gets solved. It’s more common than you think. We don’t have that problem; everybody’s covered by everything we produce.”