Designer behind the success story

8th November 2013

All credit for industrial valve manufacturer, supplier and exporter Gunric Valves’ valve designs goes to joint MD Gunter Schmikal, who is, all at once, the company’s chief executive, designer and research and development department.

The features Schmikal has introduced into Gunric’s flagship product, in particular, its triple eccentric metal-seated butterfly valve – and to a lesser extent into some of its other exclusive products – has won it widespread acclaim and success.

Schmikal, who was born in Austria, came to South Africa in 1970 shortly after graduating with a mechanical engineering degree in Vienna. He met his future wife Lerina shortly after taking up a post as plant engi- neer at a paper mill south of Johannesburg. After marrying, they went to Europe with the intention of settling there, but soon decided they preferred to live in South Africa and returned about two years later.

On their return, while his wife pursued a career in stage and TV drama, in which she went on to make a name for herself in her own right as Lerina Erasmus, Schmikal took up a job as a plant engineer for a large civil engineering contracting company. A few years later, he set up his own design company, designing various types of mechanical equipment for local companies, including hydraulic presses, rock drills, cranes and valves. In this way, he met his future partner Eric Wilson, who was employed by a valve manufacturer, and together they established Gunric Valves in 1988.

Twenty-five years later, the company is recognised as a leading designer, manufacturer and supplier of specialised valves to major industries in South Africa and is also widely known in many countries abroad, particularly in the oil and gas industry.

When the company started, Schmikal had already designed the triple eccentric metal-seated butterfly valve, which would prove to be the key to the company’s success in subsequent years.

He was called upon to provide solutions for some unique applications.

One of the most important advantages of the metal seated over the nonmetal seated valve is that it requires no maintenance and can, therefore, be provided with a life-long guarantee. The most unusual application for which Schmikal was called upon to meet such a requirement was a water supply project in Germany for which Gunric Valves produced a triple eccentric metal-seated butterfly valve carrying a 40-year guarantee.

“This was a most extraordinary project because the valve had to be placed about 40 m below the surface of a large dam so that it would have access to the cleanest water,” Schmikal explains.

“For it to be installed at that depth, the whole dam had to be emptied into a lower dam. This meant that the animal and plant life in the dam was destroyed and our client wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t have to empty the dam again to replace the valve for at least 40 years,” says Schmikal.

For an oil refinery in Mexico, the company had to provide a fire-safe valve to ensure that if the plant caught fire, the fire would be unable to spread into the oil itself through a leak in the valve. “For this, our valve was sub- jected to an extremely strict fire-safe test,” Schmikal comments.

The company has also produced the largest high-pressure/ high-temperature triple eccen- tric metal-seated butterfly valve in the world – a 30-inch- (750-mm-) diameter-valve working at a pressure of 117 bar and 575 °C. It produced two of these in 2007 and another one in 2011 as turbine inlet valves for a Saudi Arabian power generation plant.

The company was recognised for this achievement as winner of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s “Exporter of the Year” award in 2009.

Also in 2007, it designed and produced a number of large- diameter valves for a Saudi Arabian petrochemicals plant that are opened and closed auto-matically. They are opened by means of hydraulic cylinders and closed on counterweights.

Another important innovation – literally a life-saving device – for which the company was responsible was a lockable disc to prevent unauthorised personnel from opening or closing valves on water pipelines. It first developed this at the request of a major water authority in South Africa in 1998.