Motion Control & Drives

Digital transformation drives control valve market shift to electric actuators

April 2021 Motion Control & Drives

Like many other segments of the automation marketplace, control valves are increasingly becoming electric. Today, the global control valve actuators market for the process industries is predominantly pneumatically operated for both linear and rotary control valves. Pneumatic powered actuators have traditionally been the choice of technology, especially for light-duty modulating applications typical in process plants dealing with sensitive media, such as hydrocarbons and chemicals. However, ARC is witnessing a gradual uptick in demand for light-duty compact electric actuators as a viable option for precision linear modulating application over the conventional pneumatic spring and diaphragm actuators for globe-style control valve operation across several process industries.

The shift from mechanical to electrical

End users have also been steadily shifting away from conventional mechanical and electro-mechanical actuators to more sophisticated electronic actuating solutions for heavy-duty isolation applications. With a growing number of electric actuator suppliers now providing a solution for light-duty continuous modulating applications, end-users are also expected to gradually shift from pneumatic to electric actuation starting from their greenfield plants.

Earlier concerns associated with using electric motor operated control valves in process industries included accuracy, speed of control, endurance towards heavy-duty cycle, increasing threat of an explosion and fail-safe requirements. However, many of these have been put to rest using advanced technologies, such as brushless DC motors, explosion-proof containment and spring-assisted/reserve power sources for fulfilling SIL-3 failsafe requirements.

Initial upfront cost has also remained a challenge for end-users to opt for electric actuators over low-cost pneumatic counterparts. However, the aftereffect of Covid-19 shutdowns and the uptick of digital transformation initiatives in the process industries have further emphasised the need for automation, wireless and remote monitoring, and predictive maintenance. End-users are realising the benefits of intelligent electronic actuators, including lower operational and maintenance costs over the valve’s lifecycle, which often outweighs the associated up-front costs. Intelligent electronic actuators also eliminate the need for supplementary smart digital positioners, which are equally expensive, along with the instrumentation required to operate pneumatic lines.

Unlike commodity-based sales in the isolation valves market, control valves are traditionally sold as one assembly. The market’s competitive landscape is limited to control valve suppliers who also manufacture pneumatic actuators in-house. With the increasing number of end-users adopting intelligent modulating electronic actuators, several standalone electric actuator suppliers can penetrate the control valve market by partnering with willing valve body manufacturers.

A foundation for improved remote monitoring

Electric valve actuator upgrades can also help users cut costs on space, maintenance and unplanned downtime associated with the centralised fluid power units employed for valve actuation, especially in offshore plants. A fleet of intelligent electronic actuators can facilitate enterprise-wide asset data management, remote monitoring and eventually, wireless control.

Intelligent electric actuators with non-intrusive settings and commissioning, data logging and data transfer functionalities are a viable solution for demanding remote applications. The valve operating information can be recorded and transmitted, which allows for more effective realtime measurement of valve performance. This creates a foundation for a more efficient asset management program and allows for scheduling of intrusive maintenance only when necessary. Bidirectional communication also enables data to be retrieved and retransmitted to other actuators, offering to save time and cost when many valves require near identical commissioning.

As demand from the heavy process industries eventually begins to stabilise and return to pre-pandemic rates, ARC expects to see a higher surge for electric actuators over pneumatic actuators in both linear and rotary control valve applications. ARC’s report on ‘global control valves market’ and ‘global valve actuators market’ studies reveals which valve and actuator technologies represent the largest share of the market, provides a detailed forecast on which regions will see the fastest growth and explains how digitalisation can enhance the overall process of valve operation, in detail. Also, ARC would like to help owner-operators assess where they are on their ‘Digital Transformation Journey’.

As part of this effort, we have developed the following survey to help us quantify the adoption level of each respondent’s company, compared to their peers, to optimise the maintenance frequency, safety checks and performance of their plant’s industrial valves.

Please take a few minutes to respond to ARC’s survey. Everyone who responds can view the consolidated results

For more information contact Larry O’Brien, ARC Advisory Group, +1 339 793 3317,,

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