Actuator-driven pinch valves answer to an island's prayer

Guernsey Water had a problem. After only 18 months on the job, the purging valves at its two main water treatment plants were failing up to three times a week. Martin Hunt describes how some simple technology solved the problem.

As guernsey's only water company, Guernsey Water is tasked with supplying high quality drinking water to more than 24,000 households and businesses. Nearly 66,000 people rely on the company's daily output of about 12Ml - a figure that rises significantly during the summer months when tourists boost the island's population.

To maintain this level of supply from a water catchment area of just 43km2, Guernsey Water operates 16 reservoirs and water storage quarries with a total capacity of 4,425Ml - about ten months' supply - together with three water treatment plants and 409km of water mains. The water treatment plants are located at St Saviours, Longue Hougue and Kings Mills.

The St Saviours and Longue Hougue plants use the latest membrane filters while the Kings Mill plant, only used to meet summertime demand or as a back-up in the event of a failure at either of the other two plants, uses earlier-generation clarification and rapid gravity filtration treatment.

The St Saviours water treatment plant was built in the late 1940s, originally using chemical coagulation and rapid gravity filters. A substantial upgrade in 2004 led to the introduction of ultra-fine membrane filtration.

Fine-tube membranes
Membrane filter systems designed for water treatment plants provide a much more compact, higher performance filtration solution than traditional systems using chemical clarification and sand bed filter combinations, and are more cost-effective in use.

Most such systems comprise a series of removable modules, each containing a set of fine-tube membranes that allow the passage of water, but which prevent any suspended particulates and biological contaminants from passing through.

The impurities are left clinging to the outsides of the hollow-fibre membranes, and are removed by a series of regular purging, or scourging, routines.

The membrane filter system at St Saviours comprises four banks of filter modules, together with their associated valves and control unit. It operates completely automatically, using compressed air back-pulses to clean the filters every 15 seconds.

When the system was first installed, it performed much as expected, ensuring a high flow rate of quality drinking water for distribution to Guernsey Water's customers and load-balancing service reservoirs, with minimal maintenance requirements.

However, after about 18 months' operation, the system's purging valves began to fail, resulting in much higher maintenance overheads and unacceptable levels of system downtime. The valve supplier recommended installing an air lubrication system, but this merely served to compound the problem.

Andrew Benstead, water production manager for Guernsey Water, explains: "During a visit to a trade show last year, I happened to mention our ongoing valve issues to an automation specialist, who suggested that I should contact Festo - by then, we were experiencing up to three faults a week; some of these were genuine, while others were being flagged up erroneously due to signalling problems."

After conducting a thorough on-site survey, Festo ascertained that the principal cause of the purging valve problem was the choice of technology. The existing valves were butterfly type units, which typically have an operational life of between 500,000 to one million cycles.

Given that the membrane filters at the St Saviours plant are purged every 15 seconds, and that each bank of filter modules is generally in use for 200 days a year, the valves had actually done extremely well to last as long as they did - they could easily have failed about a year after installation.

Pinch valves
The St Saviours plant was also experiencing a high incidence of solenoid valve failures, which Festo discovered was caused by water ingress, exacerbated by incorrect valve orientation and inadequate environmental protection.

Another problem was that valve wear had damaged some of the actuator drive shafts, leading to errors in their end-position signals that culminated in false indication of operational status. To overcome the principal problem of premature failure of the air-purging valves, Festo recommended that they be replaced with more appropriate technology, in the form of actuator-driven pinch valves.

The type specified by Festo have a typical operational life of ten million cycles - equivalent to more than eight years' use with the duty cycle employed at the St Saviours plant.

Festo also recommended using non-contact end-position sensors on all the pinch valves, to eliminate the effect of drive shaft wear, and the installation of a suitable cabinet to help keep the solenoid valves clean and dry.

Further refinements included removal of the unnecessary air lubrication system, the addition of several Festo quarter-turn actuators and switch boxes, a new 10in butterfly valve for water flow control, and an additional high-performance silencer to further reduce the sound of exhaust air.

Trial basis
Guernsey Water decided to adopt all of Festo's recommendations, but to run them on a trial basis on one of the four membrane filter banks first, before proceeding with the other three if the results proved satisfactory.

Guernsey Water's engineers installed most of the hardware, while Festo helped with air connections, wiring - including connection to the site's PLC - and commissioning.

Benstead says he is more than pleased with the outcome: "Aside from a minor signalling issue back in September, which Festo promptly resolved, everything has worked flawlessly since switch-on. We have experienced no faults whatsoever, which means that maintenance overheads at the St Saviours plant have reduced significantly.

"In fact, we were so impressed with the system's performance that, at the beginning of this year, we ordered replacement valve systems for the other three membrane filter banks, and work is just about to start on installing these. We are also delighted to report that the new silencer system that Festo installed has restored peace to the neighbourhood."

Martin Hunt is Festo's industrial specialist for the process industry.
E: martin_hunt@festo.com

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