Archive: Sep 2020

A Brief History of Valves & Valve Automation

Leave a Comment

While valves and valve automation may seem advanced, they are by no means new. In fact, these devices have existed for over two centuries and have played a part in some of civilization’s biggest technological leaps. There are many industries that rely on automated valves and equipment, including:

  • Food and Beverage
  • OEM Machinery
  • Oil and Gas

From ancient times through the Industrial Revolution and into the modern day, valves have served a vital role in society. Let’s explore the fascinating history behind these devices.

The Advent of Valves by the Romans to the Steam Engine

We can trace the first usage of valves back to the Romans, who engineered these devices as part of their intricate canal systems. These early valves were made of bronze and contained high amounts of lead, allowing them to be corrosion resistant, ductile, and very strong.

Romans used an early version of the diaphragm valve crafted out of leather to control the temperature and flow of water into household bathtubs. Evidence also suggests the use of mixing valves, angular valves, and check valves for use in preventing backflow.

The Rise of the Steam Engine

While valves continued to be used throughout the centuries, the Industrial Revolution marks the true start of using complex valves systems. In 1705, Thomas Newcomen transformed steam engine technology by using a cylinder to surround the vacuum and piston. The force generated by this system pumped the engine’s shaft, creating a new and innovative type of steam engine that is now considered one of the precursors to automobile travel.

Valves were a vital component in helping regulate the engine’s high-pressure steam, as they opened during each pump. Legend even has it that Newcomen’s workers helped invent valve automation by rigging a rope system to open the valves, so they didn’t have to do it themselves.

Several decades later, inventor James Watt set out to improve the efficiency of Newcomen’s steam engine. Watt’s take on the engine was significantly more complex than Newcomen’s, as it relied more heavily on valves. The inventor added valves above and below the piston to even out the strokes and developed a steam throttling valve to regulate steam flow.

industrial revolution steam engineThe Industrial Revolution Paves the Way for Valve Automation

Beginning in the 1700s, the Industrial Revolution marked a dramatic shift away from agrarian societies and toward an industrial, urban lifestyle. This historical era began in Britain and spread to many countries across the globe by the mid-19th century. It was largely enabled by advances in steam power, which came about with the improvement of complex valve systems.

The Industrial Revolution had a number of advantages. Technology such as automated valves, the spinning jenny, and electric appliances began to reduce the amount of labor it took to manufacture goods, which allowed workers to take on specialized professions. This not only sped up the manufacturing process, but also created specialist training jobs.

Now that factories could manufacture products with ease, these products suddenly became more accessible and affordable to the general population. Quality of life began to improve as people were easily able to acquire new appliances, clothes, shoes, and other desirables that were once considered luxuries.

The Electric Actuator

Another advancement in automated valve systems began in the 1970s when Brent Jensen began looking for ways to improve his family’s business. Jensen and an old friend created an electric actuator to adjust the height of a wheelchair. Up until this point, motors only functioned with a rotational motion; however, Jensen’s electric actuator made it possible for a motor to create linear movement. Many of today’s automated valve systems utilize both electric and pneumatic actuators.

BI-TORQ Valve Automation Is Here for You Today!

At BI-TORQ, our decades of experience enable us to supply cost-effective, high quality valves and valve automation equipment to clients across a wide range of industries. Our extensive product line includes butterfly valves, ball valves, actuators, and more. Contact us today to learn more and discuss your valve automation needs.