What is a Ball Valve and How Does It Work?
A ball valve is a shut-off valve that allows, obstructs, and controls the flow of liquids, gases, and vapors in a piping system by rotating the ball having a bore inside the valve. The ball is mounted against two seats and has a shaft that connects it to the operating and control mechanism that rotates the ball. When the cross-section of the bore is perpendicular to the area of the flow, the fluid is not permitted to pass through the valve. The fluid flows through from the valve, and the fluid flow rate depends on the area of the bore exposed to the floor.
Ball valves are a type of quarter-turn valve along with plug valves and butterfly valves. They can be operated manually or by using an actuator. The simplest operation of a floating ball valve is through the use of a wrench or a lever manually turned by an operator. Torque is applied to rotate the lever arm by 90° by either clockwise or counterclockwise to open or close the valve. If the lever arm is parallel to the pipe, it indicates that the valve is open. If the lever arm is perpendicular to the pipe, it indicates that the valve is closed.
Ball valves come in many designs and features to satisfy various industrial needs. The standards and specifications for ball valves vary depending on the industry where it is utilized.
The ball is a sphere that has a hole in its center. The hole in its center is called the bore. The bore serves as the flow opening of the fluid when the cross-section of the fluid flow path and the bore is coplanar. Otherwise, the flow is throttled. A ball valve may have a solid ball or a hollow ball. A solid ball has a constant opening diameter throughout its structure, which helps the fluid to smoothly flow at a constant velocity. A hollow ball, on the other hand, has a hollow internal structure, and the space inside it allows more fluid to pass through the valve. However, the larger space creates turbulence and high velocities. A hollow ball is more lightweight and cheap compared to a solid ball.
The shaft connects the ball to the control mechanism that rotates the ball. The shaft has seals such as O-rings and packing rings to seal the shaft and the bonnet to avoid leakage of the fluid. The shaft may be manually operated by a lever or a handwheel or operated by an electric, pneumatic, or hydraulic actuation.
The bonnet is an extension of the valve housing that contains and protects the shaft and its packing. It may be welded or bolted to the body. It is also made of hard metal and it covers the opening made from connecting the shaft to the external control mechanism.
The valve seats provide sealing between the ball and its body. The upstream seat is adjacent to the inlet side of the valve. The downstream seat is found on the opposite side of the upstream seat which is adjacent to the discharge side of the valve.
A one-piece ball valve has a single-piece cast body that houses the internal components of the trunnion mounted ball valve. This eliminates the risk of leakage of the fluid from the valve. One-piece ball valves are the cheapest ball valves and always have a reduced bore. A welded one-piece ball valve is more common but cannot be dismantled for cleaning and repaired once damaged; therefore, it is only used for applications with a low possibility of particle build-up, and where sanitation is not a major concern. On the other hand, screwed one-piece ball valves can be cleaned, serviced, and repaired, but dismantling requires special tools.
The floating ball is the most common ball design in ball valves. The ball is suspended inside the valve and free to move in a lateral direction when the valve is in a closed position. It is sandwiched between two seats that support the valve and hold it in place. The ball is connected to the shaft in a slot on one end while the other end is free. When the valve is in an open position, the shaft connection to the slot at the top of the ball prevents the ball from moving laterally.
The sealing action is only dependent on fluid pressure. During an operation of a floating ball valve, the inlet pressure of the fluid forces the ball to the outlet seat which prevents the fluid from escaping from the valve body. The fluid pressure on the ball and the seats are higher when the ball valve is in the closed position.
Floating ball valves have the simplest design. They come in smaller diameters and are suitable for liquids and gases operating under low to moderate pressures. The application of floating ball valves is limited by the amount of pressure the seats can handle. At high fluid pressure, the seats can be deformed from the pressure exerted by the ball which can affect the sealing characteristics of the valve under low pressure. Furthermore, the torque to rotate the stem depends on the force required to counteract the same fluid force acting on the ball and seals.
In a trunnion ball valve, the ball is supported by an additional shaft at its bottom which is called the trunnion. This holds the ball in its place and limits the movement of the ball to its axis. The ball can only move if the valve shaft rotates. Trunnion ball valves also feature spring-loaded seats. The inlet fluid pressure activates the springs towards the ball held by the trunnion, which creates a tight sealing.