The History of the Diaphragm Valve
The diaphragm valve traces its origins back to the ancient Roman and Greek times, where it was used to control the water and temperature of the hot baths. With a crude leather diaphragm, that was manually closed over a weir, it was a primitive but effective control valve.
In the early 1900s, a South African mining engineer by the name of P. K. Saunders was charged with the project to cut the costly power losses due to faulty, leaking seats and stuffing boxes of the valves used to supply air and water in the underground mines. Saunders was interested in ancient history and archaeology as a hobby, and stumbled upon the use of the control valves used in the baths. He utilized this concept to develop the first modern diaphragm valve. Many patents were filed in his name for this valve and in1931, the Hills McCanna Company became the first licensee to manufacture the Saunders patent diaphragm valve in the United States. Soon after that, others entered the business such as Grinell (ITT Dia Flow), Dow Chemical, and Arco Winn.
With the advent of a variety of advanced plastics and elastomeric materials that could be used in the internal construction of this valve, its sales growth was remarkable; however, it soon became apparent that a reliable actuator to automate it efficiently was urgently required.
In 1950, the Century Instrument Company in Livonia, MI started business manufacturing a diaphragm type pneumatic operator which was rapidly accepted for its reliability and quality. Soon, Century was supplying this actuator as a private label to Hills McCanna, Saunders, and Dow Chemical (aka Saran Lined Piping Co.). This was a profitable arrangement for both Century and its private label customers and this relationship went on for many years.
In the mid 1980s, two of Centurys larger customers moved off in other directions. Hills concentrated on ball valves and other projects, and Dow decided to work with manual diaphragm valves only. This left a considerable hole in Centurys business, which prompted them to sell direct through sales representatives to its largest potential market, the water treatment industry, which they continue to supply to this day. Century has a long and impressive history and customers list in their own right, and many thousands of valves in service under other names as a private label. Century continues to supply actuators for Saunders world wide to this day and also on a smaller scale for Hills.
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