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FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF PILOT-OPERATED REGULATORS

Class 6030
Steve. Berry
Fisher Controls International, Inc.
Marshalltown, Iowa 50158

Pressure regulator valves have many variations.


They can be. balanced or unbalanced, single-ported
or double-ported.. But common, to. all. regulator valves
is a control inaccuracy caused, by "droop" or "offset"..

A pressure-reducing regulator must supply a quantity


of flow that matches a downstream, usage, demand.
If the required flow rate is small, the regulator plug or
disk should approach its seat and restrict the flow. If
the demand increases, the plug or disk should move
away to create a larger opening. Ideally, a regulator
should provide a constant downstream pressure
while delivering the required flow.
Therefore,
regulators automatically adjust the flow rate to meet
the downstream demand.

Offset effect occurs as the demand for gas in the


downstream system, increases. When the regulator
is required to. pass more gas to the downstream
system,, the regulator valve, plug must be. opened to
allow more flow.. To allow for this opening of the
valve, plug, the downstream pressure sensed by the
diaphragm must decrease.
By allowing the
downstream pressure, to. decrease, less force
opposes, the compressed spring and the valve, plug
is pushed farther open to meet the flow demand of
the system. The net effect is a decrease or offset of
downstream control, pressure from the desired set
pressure.

For all practical purposes, regulators, used by the gas.


distribution industry can. be. placed, in either of two
categories:
I..
I1.

Self-Operated or
Pilot-Operated

This categorizing of all regulators (plus all


construction modifications) tends to be an
oversimplification,, but exceptions are r a r e . Let's
examine each of them. closely.

The. service type of regulator is a variation of the selfoperated regulator that deserves separate mention,
see Figure 2 . It operates, the same as the simple
self-operated regulator except that a lever is used to
gain mechanical advantage and. provide a high
shutoff force.. In order to. overcome droop effect,
boosting, measures are employed, but these tend to.
make the unit unstable..

Self-Operated Regulators
An. example of a self-operated regulator is a springopened valve directly opposed by a diaphragm
assembly, see Figure 1.
Gas,. at increasing
downstream pressure, acts on the diaphragm
assembly to overcome the force of the. spring,.
closing, the valve.. When downstream, pressure falls,
spring force is. greater than the force of the gas
acting on. the diaphragm, and the valve opens.

F'

IIi l l

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F/gure 2

Self-Operated Service Type Regulator


Most service, regulators are also cursed with. an
unbalance problem. In fact, outlet pressure will. vary
for every inlet pressure. The only way to minimize
the. inherent drawbacks, of service regulators is to
use. the smallest practical orifice. One doesn't get

Figure 1
Self-Operated Regulator- Basic Design

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"more. for his money" by specifying a large orifice in. a


service regulator except by sacrificing safety,
accuracy and stability..

Self-Operated Regulators Pressure-Loaded


Our search leads, us to. a form. of the. self-operated
regulator that is. pressure-loaded. A pressure-loaded
regulator, see Figure 3,. operates, the same. as. the
spring loaded unit except rather than. relying upon.
the. force, of the. spring, to. push the. valve open, an.
auxiliary regulator is used. to. replace, the mechanical.
spring with. an. "air spring".

F/gure 4

Self-Operated, Pressure Loaded Regulator with


Downstream Bleed
If loading gas. can be. bled to atmosphere,, the. unit
can be spring, or pressure opened. If a downstream.
bleed, is required, then. a spring must be installed,.
which, tends to close, the. valve... The. atmospheric
bleed, type. of a pressure-loaded regulator has.
excellent shock characteristics .... The. downstream.
bleed type of a pressure-loaded regulator is. severely
limited in its ability to. cope with fast closing load.
valves, in industrial applications.. This limitation
results from. the equalization, that must finally occur
through, the. small downstream bleed orifice..

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/I

II

Figure 3
Self-Operated, Pressure-Loaded Regulator with
Atmospheric Bleed

Pilot-Operated Regulators
To obtain the. advantage, of both. the. spring-loaded
and the. pressure-loaded regulators,, one. must
explore, the use. of a "pilot-operated regulator". The.
pilot, also called, a relay, amplifier, multiplier,, etc.,
has the. ability to. multiply a small, change in
downstream, pressure into a large change, in
pressure, applied to the. regulator diaphragm... Due to.
the gain feature of the. pilot,, these types of regulators.
control, pressure, as. accurately as. the pressureloaded units, mentioned above,, but without some of
their limitations.

This air spring, the. output pressure of the auxiliary


regulator, maintains the. same unit force, on the
diaphragm regardless, of diaphragm position. (The
unit force remains constant. Total. diaphragm, force
changes because as. the. regulator strokes, the.
diaphragm, effective area changes.).. Consequently,.
the. air spring adds stability and. provides a relatively
constant outlet pressure.. In. fact,, if outlet pressure.
accuracy is. the. only criteria,, there, is no. need. to. look
for a superior regulator..
The. pressure-loaded regulator will maintain a
straight-line pressure, and. can. use. the total available
valve, travel for greater capacity... In. some cases,, it
uses the. identical valve, used by the. spring-loaded
regulator..

There. are three basic types, of


regulators.. They are:.
1.
2.
3.

The. advantages, of accuracy and. increased capacity


do not come. easily- they have their price. In the
pressure-loaded regulator, loading pressure, must
either be vented, to atmosphere, with the possibility of
creating a combustion hazard.

pilot-operated

the. two-path control. (loading system)


the unloading, system,, and
the instrument system

All. three, offer design and. operating personnel, some


versatility.. They all. employ a pilot and. are. capable of
very accurate control.. Almost all pilot-operated
regulators, have. downstream, control lines that
provide, versatility in controlling pressure at a. given.
point downstream, from. the. regulator... A valve, in the.
downstream, control line. can be. used. to create a. lag.
to. tune. the. stability of the unit.

If loading gas must be bled downstream, a small


bleed, orifice is required, see. Figure 4... The lock-up
of the total, regulator then becomes, the lock-up of the
loading regulator.

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by pilot action. A pilot unloading system, is typically


inlet pressure to open or spring to open, while the
two-path system is spring, to. close.. A common
unloading system design utilizes, an. elastomeric
diaphragm, as its primary control, element,, a fixed.
restriction, and the. unloading pilot,, see. Figure 6. Inlet
pressure, tends, to open. this. device by pushing, the.
elastomeric diaphragm, away from the. inlet and. outlet
flow slots.. Increasing loading, pressure. (pressure.
between, the. fixed restriction and. pilot) shuts, off flow
by pushing, the. elastomeric diaphragm against the
slots..

Let's. examine the three, modes, of pilot operation


more closely.
The Two-Path Control. System,. see Figure 5, has. the.
advantage, of changes in forces, associated with.
changes in. downstream pressure, acting quickly on
two. of the important elements of the regulator. The
quicker action would be. on. the. main operating
diaphragm,, tending to move the. main valve, in. the.
desired direction..
This is. a. highly inaccurate
movement and. would not be. satisfactory for final
control.. It is supplemented by pilot action, that occurs.
as soon as. the pilot senses, the change in
downstream pressure. Therefore,. the. combination.
of the rapid adjustment from. the. main. diaphragm
and the high gain,, but slower adjustment from. the
pilot provides accurate,, fast and. stable control.

Figure 6
Pilot-Operated Regulator
Unloading System
The operation or throttling of the main valve is
accomplished by the. pilot change loading pressure.
The. pilot lowers pressure. (main valve, opens), by
opening and exhausting, gas. downstream faster than.
the fixed restriction, supplies, it.. As the pilot closes,
the loading, pressure increases (main. valve closes),.
since, the fixed restriction, supplies, more gas to
loading, pressure than the. pilot is. exhausting
downstream.

Figure 5
Pilot-Operated Regulator
Two-Path Control System
The. pilot generally consists, of a fixed, and a variable.
orifice, with the operating, or loading pressure.
generated between them... This. loading pressure.
gives the. pilot its "gain", which permits, the. use. of the
total, available, travel of the. main valve... With. a small.
change, in. downstream pressure,, a high. gain. pilot
can completely position, the. main. operating valve
anywhere from. closed, to fully open..

The pilot unloading system does have. the. accuracy


associated, with pilot gain.. Response time is
somewhat less than two-path control, systems
because, of the absence, of direct action..

Two-path systems are equipped, with. springs, closing


the. main valve.. Increasing. force of downstream, gas
also closes the main valve. Force of the loading gas
must, therefore, overcome both the. force, of
downstream, gas and. the closing force of the. spring.
The. higher pressure, loading gas. bleeds, downstream.
to close, the. valve.. (When. the main. valve, locks up,.
the force of downstream, gas. also closes, the pilot.).
The presence of gas at downstream, and. loading
pressures, in. the spring cases adds an "actuator
stiffness" factor to this type of unit that makes, it
exceptionally stable.

The Instrument Control. System, see Figure 7,


although, commonly called, a. regulator, is. truly a
diaphragm control, valve and a pressure, controller.
These versatile, devices, are equipped, with. fixed, and.
variable orifices, and are characterized, by high. gain
operation.. Most are. equipped, with proportional and
reset adjustments, that provide, system, stability and
accuracy.. They have the disadvantage,, however,, of
having to vent gas. to atmosphere ....

The response, and control of the. main. regulator


element in a pilot unloading system is directed solely

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Occasionally,. one hears of the adoption, or the.


exclusion of a particular type of regulator because, it
is labeled "fail open", or "fail. closed". Such. labels are
easy to. assign if one makes, the basic assumption.
"We. can predict the failure, that will occur.". That's. a
tall order because anything made. by man can. fail.
and. possibly will., and at the worst possible time..
SUPPLY

If,. then,, any part of the regulator can. fail, will. the
regulator always, fail open or closed?
For analysis, purposes, some typical regulator
failures, are. listed in. Figure 8. (Instrument Control
Systems. are. omitted due. to. their many variations.)
Even. these. "failures" can be. modified to. show that
the. initial, tendency of the. regulator to open or close.
will be. temporary until the regulator controls a new
set point.. The lesson to. learn from. this. chart is. that
"in order to. predict the failure mode, one. must define.
the. failure." In fact, under close, examination, the
terms. "fail. open", and. "fail closed", require, so. much
qualification, they become meaningless..

Figure 7
Pilot Operated Regulator
Instrument Control System
Although many manufacturers have made. attempts
to. reduce the. amount of vented gas, the instrument
control system, has the same problem as the
atmospheric bleed, pressure-loading system.
The instrument control system encompasses, a
range of valves and instruments, broad enough to. be.
the subject of a separate discussion... Therefore,. we
will. not explore them further.

Conclusion
Every type of regulator represents, a compromise
involving such factors as price, capacity, accuracy,.
stability,, simplicity,, safety and speed of response.. A
careful analysis, of large volume gas control.
applications usually reveals that more of these.
factors are. available through the. use of pilotoperated, regulators.

Regulator Type Analysis


Every commercially available regulator falls into. one
of the. categories, previously mentioned... They may
not look like. the sketches, but the. essential, elements
. the restricting,, loading and measuring, elements.,
all. operate as shown. The sketches, depict pressure
reduction units only, not relief valves..

TYPES. OF FAILURE

Regulator Types
Self-Operated Basic Design.
Self-Operated Service Type.
Self-Operated.
Pressure Loaded. Atmospheric Bleed
Self-Operated
Pressure Loaded Downstream. Bleed.
Pilot-Operated 2-Path Control
Pilot-Operated Unloading

Pilot
Supply
Orifice.
Plugs.

Pilot
Exhaust
Orifice.
Plugs.

Opens.

Closes.

Opens

Opens

Opens

Closes

Closes.

Opens
Opens

Opens
Opens

Closes.
Opens

Opens
Closes.

Main.
Diaphragm.
Ruptures
Opens.
Opens.
Opens.

Main.
Spring
Breaks
Closes.
Closes.

Closes
Closes.
Closes.

Downstream
Control Line.
Breaks
Opens

Figure 8
Types of Regulator Failures and Initial Effects On

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