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  • Writer's pictureCraig Drabyk

5 Common Control Valve Issues: Diagnostics and Solutions


Control valves are crucial components in industrial process control systems. While some valve issues are easily detectable, others require specific diagnostic tests. Before attempting to optimize loop performance through tuning, it's essential to identify and address these five common control valve problems:


Deadband (Hysteresis)


Deadband occurs when there's a lag between the control output signal and the actual valve position. This issue can manifest as:

  • Backlash in mechanical linkages

  • Excessive friction in moving parts

  • Loose connections in the actuator assembly


Consequences: Deadband can lead to oscillations in PI or PID control loops, reducing system stability and efficiency.


Diagnostics: Perform step tests or use specialized valve diagnostic software to measure the difference between increasing and decreasing input signals.


Solutions:

  • Adjust or replace worn mechanical components

  • Implement advanced control strategies like adaptive tuning or deadband compensation


Stiction (Static Friction)


Stiction causes a valve to remain stationary despite changes in the control signal, then suddenly "break free" and overshoot its target position.


Common causes include:

  • Over-tightened valve stem seals

  • Contamination or corrosion of valve internals

  • Undersized actuators

  • Malfunctioning positioners


Consequences: Stiction can result in erratic flow control, process variability, and increased wear on valve components.


Diagnostics: Look for a characteristic "stick-slip" pattern in valve position vs. time plots. Specialized stiction detection algorithms can also be employed.


Solutions:

  • Properly lubricate and clean valve internals

  • Replace worn seals or packing

  • Upgrade to an appropriately sized actuator

  • Implement advanced control techniques like stiction compensation or dither signals


Positioner Overshoot


This occurs when a valve positioner is defective or tuned too aggressively, causing the valve to repeatedly overshoot its target position.

Consequences: Positioner overshoot can lead to unstable control, increased wear on valve components, and reduced process efficiency.


Diagnostics: Analyze step response tests or valve signature plots to identify oscillatory behavior.


Solutions:

  • Retune the positioner using manufacturer guidelines

  • Replace faulty positioner components

  • Consider upgrading to a smart positioner with advanced diagnostic capabilities


Oversized Control Valves


Valves that are too large for their application can cause poor control performance. Ideally, full flow should be achieved at 70-90% valve opening, depending on specific process conditions.


Consequences: Oversized valves amplify other positioning problems and can lead to:

  • Reduced rangeability

  • Increased wear due to operation in low-lift positions

  • Poor control resolution, especially at low flow rates


Diagnostics: Analyze historical operating data to determine typical valve positions. If the valve rarely operates above 50-60% open, it may be oversized.


Solutions:

  • Replace with a properly sized valve

  • Install a reduced trim kit to decrease the effective flow area

  • Implement split-range control strategies for improved low-flow performance


Nonlinearity


Nonlinear valve flow characteristics can cause control loops to become sluggish or unstable as the valve position moves away from its typical operating point.


Consequences: Nonlinearity can result in:

  • Inconsistent loop tuning across the operating range

  • Difficulty in achieving precise control at certain setpoints

  • Increased process variability


Diagnostics: Perform valve stroking tests to map the relationship between valve position and flow rate. Compare results to the expected characteristic (e.g., equal percentage, linear, or quick opening).


Solutions:

  • Select valves with appropriate inherent flow characteristics for the application

  • Implement control valve linearization in the DCS or PLC

  • Use adaptive tuning strategies to compensate for varying process gains


Omni Instrumentation and Electrical is expert in control valve diagnostics. For more information please contact us at (908) 412-8130.

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