At our recent Valve World Expo and Conference there was an interesting workshop on the future on the industrial valve. This is a wide ranging topic, which could have included a number of topics and presenters. Present at this particular workshop were panelists from two manufacturers, a stockist and an EPC. Here are my high-level observation from this interesting session.
Firstly, it seems that everyone is saying “we’re going through a lot of changes right now”. However, as one panelist put it, this has been evident for a very long time. Engineering was once a static case where procedures were developed which turned into rules. However the pace of change is accelerating and continuous and it doesn’t take long for some piece of work to become obsolete. The lesson here is not to get too married to one piece of technology or idea and be prepared somewhere along the line for wholesale change to a new platform.
As our EPC panelist put it, the engineering and construction business has always involved taking a client’s site and their desire to produce a product, and doing all the detail to make that happen. This will always continue. What will change, he said, is just about everything else (in fact, he cited a material control Rolodex card from the early 1970s). These days, data resides in databases that are connected and use for both procurement and engineering. Here there is a single point of entry and one piece of data feeds every type of user: from design, procurement, estimating and construction. Whilst some of these systems might be different, they are inter-connected. This can be made possible from a number of possible initiatives: 3D design systems, building a material system, building/buying data, hiring good people (systems, engineers, designers) and paying them to improve the system during project intervals.
Engineering and construction has seen an increase in project and corporate frame agreements, the seeking out of low cost producers and countries and the pressure on cost and competition is growing more intense over time. It is expected that this will continue, as well as much more modularisation as well as more diverse locations of fabrication, shortened delivery times and a larger varieties of valve design and trim.
Then it was the manufacturer’s turn to give their perspective. Highlights I heard were a focus on cost reduction by reducing over engineering, aiming to shrink new product development cycles (develop demand together with their partners) and to seek new technologies such as 3D printing and scrutinise their use of development tools. Further to this they saw room to improve technical support offerings with a technical advisor for all stakeholders and seek a seamless technical end-to-end solution from one source. They will develop strategic partnerships with key licensors, EPCs and end users. It seem clear that the information flow from all phases of valve development would help serve for a better development of industrial valves in the future (generally these phases are: process design > valve sizing > manufacturing > testing > shipping > commissioning > process on-line > shut down / maintenance > replacing & recycling).
The stockist perspective was also interesting - it is a ‘middle man’ position which serves both ends of the valve business. For this business model to work, he said, the integrator/distributor/stockist must add value. He observed three trends that offer both challenges and opportunities:
First, there are fewer subject matter experts, which means end users are increasingly relying upon the valve industry experts to meet technical support and quality assurance needs. Second, an increased level of data interchange is evident as E-commerce solutions offer an almost Amazon.com-like shopping experience. Thirdly, a broader supply chain has meant supplier have needed to change their business models. For example who invests in the inventory for maintenance repair and overall?
Many interesting challenges and questions indeed. If you’d like to share your thoughts please feel free to express your thoughts on the Valve World LinkedIn forum