With more than 90 different brands in its product lineup, Tyco Flow Control (TFC), a business segment of $17-billion (2009 revenue) industrial conglomerate Tyco International, considers itself the world’s largest supplier of products that move, control and sample a wide variety of flowable industrial materials ranging from heavy slurries to gases. Its portfolio of interest to mining includes several equipment brands widely used throughout the industry, including Clarkson, L&M and Rovalve knife gate slurry valves; Keystone butterfly valves and actuators; and Westlock instrumentation.

The Princeton, New-Jersey, USA-based business, which had fiscal-year 2010 first-quarter revenues of $923 million, also provides a range of valve actuator controls and instrumentation as well as steel, ductile iron and plastic (poly and ABS) pipe and pipeline systems.

In a telephone interview with E&MJ, Chris Stevens, general manager of TFC’s global mining business, described how a recent structural reorganization within the company will benefit its mining customers. He was joined by Johnny Ellis, sales director-Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa for TFC’s global mining portfolio.

Stevens explained a changeover from a regional organizational structure to one that focuses  on specific industrial sectors has enabled TFC to establish a business unit focused on the international mining industry. “We wanted to ensure we can tap into the expertise we’ve developed globally in order to bring all of it to focus on our mining customers,” he said. “We sell what I would describe as high-end, engineered products.

“Our mission is to solve customers’ problems in their most critical environments, which in mining often involves handling abrasive materials. Our goal is to help them improve safety, minimize downtime, and maximize the value of their operating assets,” said Stevens.

“Our biggest asset is the knowledge our employees have amassed and the credibility they carry when they arrive on site. Many of our specialists have global experience and know the process as well as the customer does. Because we are familiar with the [customer’s] process, we can become an operation’s “valve doctor” and we will prescribe the right solution for the application,” said Ellis.

In line with this philosophy, TFC has initiated a Valve Improvement Program—a consultative service that draws upon expertise throughout the company to solve specific challenges. The program sends industry specialists to work directly with customers in their facilities to investigate and target systemic problems using Six Sigma principles, with promised minimal disruption to the facility. 

Utilizing TFC’s application engineering knowledge base, the specialists provide recommendations and with the help of its R&D engineers, carry them out, right through to the maintenance and ongoing support these customers need. The goal: optimized valve life enhancement that leads to plants that run more efficiently, reliably and with less down time.

Ellis said the program is “a push for us is to move beyond just selling the project. We consider ourselves to be flow experts, because we get to see a broad view of applications and failures. This is a way to bring more of our engineering expertise and experience to the customer.

“We ask the customer, ‘what is your worst application and how can we help you improve on it?’ We often audit every valve in the plant, noting problems with abrasion, scaling, poor performance or service life. We then propose the scope of what we’d like to do for them, assign a team to assess the problem and propose a correct replacement valve product. We will install the product, monitor it and provide feedback analysis on cost savings to the customer,” Ellis said.

Ellis estimates that in well over half of the consultative audits, there is no upfront cost to the customer. TFC views the audits and consultation as a form of relationship-building to strengthen customer ties.

As an example of how the program can benefit TFC’s customers, Ellis said TFC has for several years worked with operators in the Alberta oil sands to overcome valve wear problems not only in the extraction plants, but also in the valves used  to control the flow and isolation of tailings. “They had situations where knife-gate valves had to be replaced or repaired every three months. We invited them to our facility in Reno where we used our Computational Fluid Dynamics tools to flow-model how and where the wear was taking place. We reached an agreement on what we wanted to design for them, and following installation of the recommended products they are now experiencing three years of service life with equipment that is totally refurbishable—and when refurbished will provide three more years of service.”

In another case—this one at a Nevada gold mine—knife gates in the plant’s original valves had been fabricated from titanium, which is resistant to corrosion but structurally weak. When the valves experienced water-hammer impacts from the plant’s piping system, the titanium gates would flex and not provide isolation. As replacements, TFC recommended high tensile strength, duplex-type stainless steel knife gates, coated with proprietary polymers that resisted the extremely high chloride content in the media. As a result, the new valves comfortably accommodate the required pressure rating, and the plant can expect substantial savings, plus up to three times the service life of the previous equipment.

Ellis also said TFC always has new products moving through the development pipeline. One of these involves a new actuated design for Clarkson slurry valves, which typically are fitted with linear actuators that push/pull the knife open or shut—and take up quite a bit of room above the valve body. The new design, according to Ellis, is a much more compact rotary actuator that can reduce a valve’s physical profile by as much as 40%, and will soon enter the market.