Typical mistakes when designing and installing pressure reducing stations.

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In episode eight of Controlling Water, we deep dive into common design and installation mistakes customers make in pressure reducing stations. This week we’re joined by Colin Kirkland, Bermad’s Air Valve Product Manager, to discuss four typical applications of pressure reducing valves, and how these valves meet their specific needs, concerns, and design problems. Tune in to learn about the importance of understanding different environments, how to avoid these common mistakes, and how Bermad’s interactive training facilities empower teams like yours across Australia.

Bermad Podcast - Colin Kirkland

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Sarah: Hello, and welcome to Controlling Water, a space for us to talk valves, water meters, and interesting insights about the water industry. Each episode, we are joined in conversation by industry professionals that specialize in all things valves, meters, and best practice knowledge in the water industry. We are here with Colin Kirkland, from Bermad Water Technologies, who is one of the product managers in the team.

Colin has many years of industry experience in working with pressure reducing stations. In this episode of Controlling Water, we are discussing with Colin, some of the typical mistakes many customers make when designing and installing new pressure reducing stations. Welcome Colin, it’s great to have you.

Colin: Thank you. Good to be here.
Sarah: So let’s dive right in. Is this a common problem that you see in many installations and are these problems only associated with a specific application, and are some applications more problematic than others?
Colin: Yes. It’s a good question. There’s lots of content there, but yes, in many of the different applications, there’s different design criteria that really matter to each of the applications. And what I thought might be useful was just to talk a little bit about maybe four of the applications, let’s say, take high rise buildings where we’ve had PRVs and then we might talk a little bit about, say a water supply network where we’ve had major issues, and then look at potentially a mine situation where a PRV and then irrigation.

Each one of those four applications have completely different needs, concerns, and different design problems that were there. And as an example, I thought I might start with in a high rise building, I was not long ago, it was in a hospital. The situation was, we had a pressure reducing valve in a hospital where it required maintenance, but there was no way of bypassing the water and the water was supplying a maternity ward. Now it turns out I had to maintain that valve at 12 o’clock at night, it took weeks to shut the water supply off. And it was a big issue, you know, that’s just not good design. We got it working and we got it all there and everyone was stressed.

But, in reality you just can’t turn water off in hospitals and in buildings, it’s just not practical, you know? So that was a big thing. Conversely, I can remember getting that panic phone call when a client rings and sort of says, Colin – and I can remember this was in central Victoria in a reasonably small town – and they said, Colin we’ve got this valve that’s jammed open and has broken the pipe in so many locations and we’re supplying a small country hospital at the same time.

Sarah: Oh wow.
Colin: We raced up and we had a look and it turns out that a lump of concrete had come off and jammed the valve open. If we had made some changes to the design, that would’ve been all nice, but again, they had to shut the water supply from an emergency and no bypass. It was panic stations, but we got it going in the end. It got me thinking too about mining, so in a mine, for example, I can always remember when I first started with the company, we had this panic phone call from our distributor in Tasmania where in this gold mine, a pressure reducing valve (PRV) had stopped working.

They basically said, Colin, I don’t care what it costs. Can you build one and get it to the airport now, and get it on next flight. Apparently it was costing millions of dollars a day to have this PRV, and if it wasn’t working, the mine stopped working. So everyone came out, there was no fire protection, there was no production, and everything stops.

Sarah: Oh my goodness.
Colin: And they said, Colin, the money doesn’t matter, we need this now. Good planning and everything else would’ve avoided that. And then conversely, the last one I was going to talk about was in irrigation. I can remember having this situation where we were using treated effluent to irrigate race tracks. Treated effluent is really good because it has lots of nutrients. I remember them saying, Colin we’ve had to shut down this pipeline, drain an entire pipeline of treated effluent in a community, which is not terrific that they didn’t have a place to put the water. And it turns out that turtles had been growing in the pipeline, and one of them was jammed under the valve.

The poor turtle. But in saying that, we had to displace a lot of treated effluent in an irrigation system, that was not terrific. So I was just trying to highlight a few different applications there where specific things are really specific to some industries. And I thought we could maybe just share some of the key things to think of and to think about how we can overcome some of those typical issues.

Sarah: Sounds great. I’m keen to go back to the first example you mentioned, the high rise buildings, and you mentioned pressure reducing valves in those types of buildings. I presume that these are used to balance the pressure to each resident, regardless of what level they run in the building. What are the installational design issues here that tend to give the most issues? The most problems?
Colin: In buildings, it’s a real challenge to engineers because if you think about the major cities and there are 20 or 30 floors, what they’re really looking at when they’re designing a building is to give as much room to the residents as possible to make the apartments or offices look as nice as possible. But there’s very little space to put all of the pipes that are going up and down the buildings and where to put them. What we found in some older buildings is that these valves, a lot of the times, are in lift wells or they’re in stairwells or they’re in very tricky locations to get to.

So the problem that exists with a lot of cases is that if you don’t think about, not only just putting a PRV in, but being really honest about what’s required, you’re going to have to maintain this. You may have to pull the valve apart, so you may have to shut the water supply off. Nope. We’re not going do that. Okay, so we need to bypass, or we need to bypass PRV. If you think about these buildings, which they’re getting taller and taller, to take a valve offline and take water off toeight floors of a building really isn’t practical. A lot of the time, the valves are in really hard to get to locations, they’re upside down, or they’re on their side, because there’s all sorts of pipes and electrics and everything else all around there.

One of the key things in a building, which is really critical that we’ve found that mistakes have been made is that there’s no bypass. That’s not practical. If you were in the penthouse in the top and you had a multimillion dollar property and you said, listen, we’re going to turn the water off for four hours, they’re not going to be very happy. This means getting that design done right at the start with the principals, consultants and engineers to make sure that you need to have this room to be able to move things in and out.

Little things like, Colin, we can’t have the valve standing upright because there’s so many pipes there, but we need that to get the air out. So there’s things that we can do, and we can talk about the little intricacies in buildings to make it really work well and make it manageable, which is the big thing. In a building, you need little fingers because you’re working in very tight confined spaces. And it’s got to be practical, you don’t want to be in a lift well, working somewhere where people are coming in and living their lives, and here’s you with your toolbox working and stuff. So it’s got to be practical to that degree. We have specific people that really focus on buildings and high-rise buildings. They have a lot of experience, and seen good installations and bad installations, and it’s all about experience in sharing what’s good, what’s practical and being honest with what you need to do to them so that you can plan for those things.

Sarah: Absolutely. That experience is so valuable.
Colin: It is. Yes.
Sarah: So what about hydraulic issues in a building? Are they the same issues as compared to other applications in pipelines?
Colin: Yes. The fundamentals are basically the same. When you come to size a pressure reducing valve, if you think about a high rise building, we may have, call it a hundred apartments in there. It’s brand new building and we might have a situation where there’s 10 residents to start with, and over that year, we’re going to sell more of it and the demand will get greater and greater.

So what the designers do is they size the pipes to suit the worst case situation. We need that to cope with a hundred percent residency, maximum flow and a bit more just to be sure, because we can’t go changing the pipes later. The key thing there is that a lot of the time the engineers will say, well look, we’ve got a hundred millimeter pipe, let’s just put a hundred millimeter valve in. Now, realistically, that valve is designed for maximum flow, can it cope with the low flows? So it’s very important to understand the lowest flow capability, the highest flow and what the hydraulics are going to look like because in buildings for example, noise is a very big thing.

When you’re breaking the pressure down in a pressure reducing station, there’s noise and harmonics, and fortunately Bermad have wonderful solutions to reduce that noise. Because if you’ve got a hundred millimeter valve and you’re working to one resident, it’s coming off the seat 0.2% and you get a little squealing noise. Now that squealing noise, if you have a young child and you’re listening to in the middle of the night, someone flushing a toilet and this valve squealing, you’re not going to be very happy. Today, there are great solutions that we’ve got to make sure that we can cope with virtually no flow up to maximum.

It’s all about sizing the valve correctly. That valve might be a 65 millimeter valve and a 100 millimeter pipeline. They’ll say no, no, no Colin, but we want to, but it’s all about the hydraulics. That goes for any application, it’s so important if you’re starting something off like this, get the hydraulics right, size the valve for flows and real life conditions, and it’ll work so much better. Rather than we’ve got a 150 millimeter pipe, we’ll just put a 150 millimeter valve in. The hydraulics are really important and the water quality too. It might be hot water, it might be cold water and there’s different aspects with all of that. So it’s important to understand everything or as much as possible.

Sarah: Absolutely. All the different moving parts. So if we were moving onto a water company that was supplying drinking water for residential purposes, obviously the installation is different to a building system. What are the key mistakes made here, and how do you overcome those?
Colin: In a residential situation, let’s take the example that I gave you where we had the failure in a smaller country community. Let’s say a thousand residents over maybe five or six kilometers spread out throughout the area. A lot of the time, when a lot of the designers are doing something like this, they’ll say, look, Colin, this is only a hundred millimeter valve, it’s a fairly small community. And I often hear them say, we just want something cheap and cheerful, because it’s small and not that important. But on a serious note, if they had a country hospital there or a doctor or something, and we didn’t design specific redundancies to take that water offline, what would you do?

In a lot of cases, I’ve been to jobs where they go out there and they’re giving out bottled water to all the residents and saying, look, I’m very sorry, we are going to turn the water supply off; and it’s an issue. One of the key things with water supply, different to say a building, is that we’re not dealing with a 100 meters or 200 meters of pipe we’re dealing with in a building; we’re talking about kilometers of pipe. And when we’re designing those pipelines or when they were built maybe 50 years ago, when the pipes age, they become more brittle and sensitive. So accuracy, stability and really good operation of PRVs in aging infrastructure is really important that it works really well. Without bypasses and sufficient air release valves; and to take that example we spoke about earlier, where a lump of concrete came off. Now, the reason why the concrete came off the pipeline was that they were doing roadworks and they were using, they call it a wacker, which is what they compress the soil with and everything, and it damaged to the pipe and a lump of concrete came off and jammed the valve open.

Now when we are designing a pressure reducing station, if we put a strainer in before there, that would never have happened, because it would have jammed in the strainer and still would’ve worked, and everything would’ve been happy. Good advice in any of these applications, and it’s more so in water supply, is to do some risk analysis with designers and say, look, honestly, Colin, what are some of the things that can go wrong here?

And we can say, these are the potential problems and it doesn’t have to be the Rolls-Royce of stations, but we have to think practically. For example, what are you going to do if we have to turn the water off? Because what we generally recommend is that after 10 years of operation, we want to pull the guts of the valve out basically, inspect the critical components and put that back in. Now, if that means turning the water off, if the community is such that that’s not a big deal, fine, but if it is a big deal, we need to think of it now and what we’re going to do.

I can still remember 20 years ago, working in a very large water company where they didn’t have a bypass, so what they did was, they actually put in a temporary bypass around and they had an operator standing there with a hand wheel and a gate valve looking at a big pressure gauge. Now, I’ve never seen more fear in someone’s eyes. This poor chap had to modify this valve to watch this gauge and make sure it wasn’t going to break the pipeline.

And the guys were looking at me, saying speed is everything here Colin, we need to get this done quickly. I get that. So again, it comes back to the fundamentals. And because it’s water supply, you would think it’s drinking water, so it doesn’t need as much maintenance. However, it does. It doesn’t matter the brand or whatever. So it’s making sure you’ve got those fine tuning things in. So when they speak to some of our engineers that work in water authorities, they’ll basically say, let’s put in two line strainers in the valve so that we can open one up and we can take one offline and we can make it work without taking it offline. Now that costs another thousand dollars, but you might think, they don’t wanna spend that much money. That’s okay, it’s just being aware of what those issues are. A lot of the time, a thousand dollars in a 50 year design life is nothing, it makes it easy to maintain. So it’s making the installation, the design, and the ability for operators to work on it safe, practical and really just make it work reliably 24/7, because that’s what a building does, and that’s what a water supply does, it’s operating 24/7, you never turn it off.

Sarah: Yes, absolutely. Let’s take a short break. If you have any questions that you would like answered during this podcast, feel free to get in touch with us through our website, www.bermad.com.au, or send us an email, info.au@bermad.com, and Colin will be sure to answer them.

Now, back to the show. So I understand that irrigation then would be similar or are there specific differences? How does that work?

Colin: In irrigation there’s a very different mentality. So if you were a flower grower or you were growing vines, you’re spending the grower’s money, instead of partnering with a water company, you’re with a large community, they’ll spend the money to do it. Look, I’m Scottish and a bit miserable but when it comes to it, if they said Colin should we put an isolating valve before this pressure reducing valve? And they might sort of say, well, how often are you going to have to do this? Well, we’ll not worry about it. Sometimes there’s a lot of compromise that’s made in irrigation as compared to water supply, but the key thing with irrigation of course, is that in irrigation, you’re basically only irrigating when the natural rainfall is not keeping up. In a lot of that cases, it’s the peak of summer, but the critical nature of irrigation in summer is that you can be in locations where it’s 42 degrees for three days and if you stop watering the plants, they’re going to stress to the point where potentially they could die, you’re reducing the yields and everything else. Now, if we haven’t taken into consideration some of the design aspects of taking it offline and maintaining it, again with bypassers and all that sort of stuff, then we have to think about that.

Usually when they’ve had a fault once, then they’ll come in and put those things in, but there’s a lot of other different things in irrigation. A lot of times, the valves are not in nice concrete pits or they’re not in nice cabinets, they’re sitting on the ground. If they’re sitting on the ground, we may potentially have frost issues. If you’ve got a situation where you are in Tasmania and you’ve got an apple orchard and we use a lot of irrigation, as crazy as it sounds in frost protection that says, if we’re going to get a frost and that’s going to damage the fruit, we’ll spray water over the top of it to avoid the frost. Now if the valve freezes over, because we haven’t put a blanket over it or something, then that’s a big issue, and can cost thousands in a crop.

So there’s also things like, I might have a central pivot in and be working and irrigating poppies, wheat or potatoes. If we have cattle that come into that property and cattle love rubbing up against anything because they’re itchy. Well, if they rub up against the valve and it breaks, that’s catastrophic. I can remember being in Tasmania once, where we had a serious frost this one night and a grower had just planted out a whole section of medicinal poppies. And what had happened is the valve had frozen overnight. It had opened and it discharged onto the paddock and virtually destroyed a whole paddock, basically it washed off and it was a major problem. Now putting an empty roundup drum or putting a hessian bag over the top of the valve would have stopped all that.

So again, like the buildings and the water, speaking to irrigation people who truly understand the cost of money, the costs that are associated and that sort of thing, we explain to them that these are the fundamentals. And when you impart that information and you really train and educate people, they’re very appreciative. They’ll say that’s a good point, I wouldn’t have thought about that. Even things like, I’ve heard when it’s very dry, you have rabbits and hares come in and eat the tubes.

Sarah: No way. Really?
Colin: Yes, because they want water and they find something, and then the valve opens and all of a sudden, you’ve got all sorts of problems. You’ve got a horse stud with million dollar horses being freaked out by valves that have opened because of all this. I’m just trying to give you specific types of issues that tend to happen in those cases. Again, the important thing there is not to talk to one of the building services engineers, but speak to one of the irrigation managers that really understand this, with 30 years experience on getting those horrible phone calls where things go wrong.
Sarah: Absolutely. It’s really interesting how there’s so much specificity in each example that you’re describing as well.
Colin: Fundamentally the valves do the same thing, but all with different needs, wants and concerns.
Sarah: Absolutely. I’m keen to turn to the fourth example that you mentioned in mining. It seems like these issues would be an amalgamation of all these applications. Is that correct?
Colin: Yes, absolutely. Mining is a really interesting one because, sometimes when a mine is operational, it’s because they can mine the product and make money in it. But if the commodity price drops, the mine stops. A lot of the time they’ll basically say, look, this mine has a six year design life and we want the infrastructure to last six years, and if it wears out, so what. So they’re not looking at the long long term that a water supply might be using or a building; because a building, you know, we want that there for a long time.

But at the same time, the costs in having a valve breakdown, that example I gave you of that mine where this wasn’t a decline. What we mean by that is you’re basically you’re going into a mountain 800 meters, you’re going three kilometers down below ground, and the water is used for fire suppression that’s used for the processes in dust suppression. And it’s used for the whole mining operation. No water, no mine. Now that example I was giving you was is that when that PRV broke down because it wasn’t being maintained. It was like, okay, so go get one from the store. Well, we don’t have one. There’s conversations that go on that are absolute panic struck.

The thing is, do you want to put a secondary valve in next to it? Today, we find that for a lot of newer installations, yes they are. They’re putting in duty standby. They’re putting in strainers beforehand to avoid something coming in and blocking it. There’s a lot of things that mines do importantly today that they weren’t doing in the past, but a lot of mines might be taken offline for six years.

Commodity prices come back up for zinc or lithium or something, so it comes back online, but the aging infrastructure hasn’t updated with the process. With mining, the mentality is look Colin, we don’t care if it wears out in three years, we’ll just put another valve in and we’ll keep one. The important thing with mining is to be really honest. Look, you’ve sized this valve, and we’re going to use a 300 millimeter valve for this application. Normally we’d use a 400 millimeter for security. But look, we understand you’re not really interested in inefficiencies too much, but make it work to a cost, make it reasonably reliable and we’ll be happy with that.

What if it fails? It’s a very difficult conversation to have with a client where you want to bring up potential failure of a product, you’re bearing your underbelly a little bit and saying, I’m being honest with you here. You need to maintain this, and certain things can go wrong and will go wrong if you don’t maintain it.

Mines are usually in very low remote locations. They’re in areas where you can’t just come to Sydney or Brisbane and get some training. These are in very remote locations, and it’s very difficult to impart all of that knowledge to a lot of people and understandings to make sure it works really well. The big thing in minds, of course too, if I was to take that example, if you were below ground, if a valve were to fail and you’re in a very confined space with exceptionally high pressures and this fails, it’s all about health and safety too.

You can flood a mine in a heartbeat and I can honestly tell you I’ve been into mines where they’ve said, Colin, we want you to come down into this mine and look at this valve and try and fix it for me. And I’ve looked at the gauges going ballistic, thinking this is scary. If this fails, we’ll flood this area and there’ll be people running and that’s not great. I’m not trying to be dramatic or scare people into thinking the valves don’t work and they need a lot of maintenance; but it’s about having due diligence about what potentially can go wrong, planning for that and putting an extra valve in, or a strainer or relief valve or whatever we need to make it work well. It’s the same with all of those applications, it’s being really honest and imparting information.

Sarah: Yes, and really understanding each environment and each situation very specifically, so that you can recommend the best solution.
Colin: That’s exactly right. That’s why we have people within our organisation that that’s their forte, they really understand mining well, they’ve done it before, and they’ve seen the problems. Whereas they really don’t know what happens in an apple orchard or in a vineyard, and some people might say, but surely it’s the same? Well it’s not, it’s similar but not the same.
Sarah: Yes exactly. I know we’ve spoken about the training facilities before in previous episodes. How do you suggest that potential customers might get in contact with you to obtain this information?
Colin: Yes, if you were to ask me the biggest thing and the most important thing on this podcast, it would be, irregardless of application, it’s all about imparting good information to people because there’s generally not a lot of these products out in the market, it’s not something they deal with every day. This means having really good information readily available to people is what really makes the risk of failure come down significantly. When we do a lot of commissioning, if we do commissioning at that point, we train people and we impart that knowledge. And this is why we spend so much emphasis on things like technical training seminars, video animations, articles, and other good resources so that people can get that information at a time when they want it.

The thing that we find really useful with our Bermad website for example, is that that’s our library. In the past, you’d produce a hard copy printed catalogue and you’d get that to the people and they put it on a shelf somewhere, but today, no one does that. They all look at the internet. For example, when I fix my lawnmower, I go watch a YouTube video.

So, we impart so much knowledge and honest information on all of our Bermad products and services on the BWT YouTube channel, and on our website, www.bermad.com.au, with all of these resources. Because in a lot of cases, when I was mentioning Mount Elizia or in central Tasmania or New South Wales or in the Pilborough, you can go to this source and get the information, or you can come to our training facilities.

I know we’ve spoken about it before, but the thing that I found that was probably the most critical thing with dealing with any of our products is actually touching the product, and learning to use it in a safe environment. I don’t want to go on and on about Bermad’s training facilities, but we do have them available in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and obviously our mobile training rig is available as well.

Doing that and spending the time to come to these interactive training sessions, because I know we’ve had feedback from mines, especially, when they’re very remote, that they’ve come to Perth, they’ve listened to Rod, Bermad’s Western Australian Sales Manager, talk about the valves, demonstrate how they work, and explain why they work. And they’ve said, look, this is so valuable. I know it’s a long flight to come into Perth and do this, but the knowledge they’ve gained is empowering people to really make the products work and work reliably.

I would really encourage people to go to our site, www.bermad.com.au, have a look at some of the extensive tools and resources we’ve published and be empowered.

Sarah: Sounds like an excellent next step Colin. Thank you so much for the chat.
Colin: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
Sarah: For more learnings about the water industry, including products, tips, installations, operation, and maintenance techniques, head over to www.bermad.com.au and subscribe to our industry newsletter. You’ll join more than 3000 industry professionals and learn from the experienced Bermad team of industry specialists.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Controlling Water. For more episodes, resources, and how-tos, head to www.bermad.com.au today.

  • A head-shot photo of Colin Kirkland, The Air Valve Product Manager & Victoria/Tasmania Technical Sales at BWT.


    by Colin Kirkland

    Air Valve Product Manager / Technical Training

    Colin has more than 40 years’ experience working in water supply and irrigation in Australia, including 24 years with BWT. He credits his training at Weir pumps in his native Scotland for providing him with a solid grounding in engineering.

    Colin is a mechanical engineer and a fitter and turner, who prides himself on taking a hands-on approach when designing and implementing successful installations across all aspects of BWT’s products and markets.

    As Air Valve Product Manager, Colin performs training seminars in pipeline design incorporating air release valves around Australia.

    Read more about Colin: Who’s who at BWT – Colin Kirkland

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