Advanced Valve Diagnostics in a Maintenance Tech’s Hands

Handheld field communicators have been the tool of maintenance technicians to configure and calibrate their smart field devices since the 1980s. With technology advancements and by taking a fresh look at handheld usability with a lens on the problems maintenance techs were trying to solve–the Emerson team developed a new application.

I caught wind of this application, ValveLink Mobile, which is included in the 475 and 375 Field Communicators with the v3.2 software and the Easy Upgrade utility. I went the source, Emerson’s Ken Hall, for a download of what maintenance technicians might find useful in their day-to-day work. Ken is a software product-marketing manager for the Fisher FIELDVUE team.

For those unfamiliar with AMS ValveLink software, it allows maintenance and operations folks to monitor control valve health and performance online and spot problems before they affect the process. Ken pointed out the news of more than one million FIELDVUE digital valve controllers sold, so that’s quite a number of valves to check on. Many are not connected on-line to an asset management software package such as AMS Device Manager or to a control system such as the DeltaV system. The way to communicate with these digital valve controllers is through the handheld device.

What maintenance techs were missing from these handheld devices was the ability to perform advanced diagnostics tests to see if the valve was sticking, sluggish, leaking, etc. These problems can impact the performance of the process, cause variability in what’s being produced, or even lead to unplanned shutdowns. These tests could be done with ruggedized PCs rated for the valve’s location with the AMS ValveLink software, but this approach was not ideal from a usability perspective. This is especially the case if the maintenance tech were on a ladder, catwalk, or other difficult position.

The ValveLink and AMS technologists worked to bring a subset of this functionality to the 375 and 475 handhelds, and even to Windows Mobile-based smart phones connected to the DVC6200 and DVC6000 controllers with a Bluetooth HART modem. The ValveLink Mobile software had to be accessible by a finger or thumb on the touch screen.

For the DVC6000 controller installed with the higher-level diagnostics, this application can perform tests such as valve signatures, dynamic error bands, and valve stroking. In fact, Ken noted that the tech can see the diagnostic graph built in real-time to spot where the problem might be occurring. When combined with the visual and audio feedback from being near the valve, this can help get to the root cause more quickly.

Ken also noted that the diagnostic tests performed on the handheld or smart phone can be downloaded back to the AMS Device Manager using Bluetooth, IrDA, or SD memory. Initially this application supports the HART-based DVC6200 and DVC6000 controllers and future versions will support Foundation fieldbus, the DVC2000 and DVC6000 SIS.

Here’s a 3 ½-minute “silent-movie” video, which shows the diagnostics running on the handheld device and Windows Mobile smart phone.

Given the control valve’s importance in the performance of the process, bringing these diagnostics into the hands of the maintenance technicians can go a long way in reducing abnormal situations, excessive variability, and unplanned shutdowns.

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