A valve is a device that regulates the flow of a fluid (gases, fluidized solids, slurries, or liquids) by opening, closing, or partially obstructing various passageways. Valves are technically pipe fittings, but are usually discussed as a separate category.
Valves are also found in the human body. For example, there are several which control the flow of blood in the chambers of the heart and maintain the correct pumping action (see heart valve article).
Valves are used in a variety of contexts, including industrial, military, commercial, residential, and transportation.
Oil and gas, power generation, mining, water reticulation, sewerage and chemical manufacturing are the industries in which the majority of valves are used.
Plumbing valves, such as taps for hot and cold water are the most noticeable types of valves. Other valves encountered on a daily basis include gas control valves on cookers and barbecues, small valves fitted to washing machines and dishwashers, and safety devices fitted to hot water systems.
Valves may be operated manually, either by a hand wheel, lever or pedal. Valves may also be automatic, driven by changes in pressure, temperature or flow. These changes may act upon a
diaphragm or a piston which in turn activates the valve, examples of this type of valve found commonly are safety valves fitted to hot water systems or steam boilers.
More complex control systems using valves requiring automatic control based on an external input (i.e., regulating flow through a pipe to a changing set point) require an actuator. An actuator will stroke the valve depending on its input and set-up, allowing the valve to be positioned accurately, and allowing control over a variety of requirements.
Valves are also found in the Otto cycle (internal combustion) engines driven by a camshaft, lifters and or push rods where they play a major role in engine cycle control.
A huge variety of valves are available, and valves have infinite applications and sizes ranging from .004" (0.1 mm) to 24" (600 mm). Special valves can be manufactured to have a diameter exceeding 200" (5000 mm).