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Pipes and Fittings: Does new technology sound death knell for traditional materials?

Adam Turk, business development director of Polypipe Commercial Buildings Systems, looks at the implications of the introduction of a new WRAS-approved Polypress system by Polypipe Commercial Building Systems, and asks whether it will herald the beginning of the end of traditional materials in the commercial m&e sector.
Pipes and Fittings: Does new technology sound death knell for traditional materials?
IN recent years, the battle to replace traditional materials with plastic has never been more keenly fought than in the plumbing arena where the emergence of plastic plumbing systems in the early 1990s coincided with changes in construction methods within the housing market.

The biggest change has been seen in house construction, with a number of plastic plumbing systems now widely used in most residential applications. A number of systems are available, all of which adopt push fit technology, typically with either Polybutylene or cross linked Polyethylene (Pex) pipes - the difference being that Polybutylene is a more flexible material and therefore easier to use from the coil.

While a number of advantages with the new plastic products quickly became apparent, such as speed and ease of installation, many hurdles had to be overcome, not least of which was changing the mindset of the tradesman brought up on traditional materials such as copper. The battle was fought by a number of high profile, national and international plastics companies. Retraining on site became a big issue and eventually, particularly with the advent of new building methods, such as composite I-beam technology, plastic products appear to have won the day.

Now ensconced as the favoured product of the house building industry, recent rises in the price of raw materials in the copper market will have reinforced their position and so what now for the commercial market?

While plastic has been successful in converting the traditionalist within the house building industry, it has not had the same success and impact within the commercial marketplace. The challenge to persuade the mechanical and electrical contractor to adopt plastic systems within a more complex and rigorous commercial application has seen the advent of new systems and new approaches, such as those now introduced by Polypipe Commercial Building Systems, which launched its WRAS approved Polypress system to the market this month.

Traditionally, the m&e contractor would use a crimp or press fitting on to a copper or stainless steel product, for all of the usual necessary work around bends and joints.

However, the new Multilayer systems of PEX/Al/PEX use a multi layer pipe which typically consists of an extruded core of cross-linked polyethylene pipe with an intermediate layer of aluminium, rolled and laser welded, and specially-bonded to both the inner and outer layer of cross-linked polyethylene pipes. Connection is performed with the traditional style and method of press fitting. All of the advantages of plastic prevail, with lightweight product, easy to bend (yet with memory combined) and easy to cut, combined with the integrity which the commercial contractor sees in a press fit connection.

Some of the systems on the market use only brass connections, while some offer a combination of resilient plastic and brass (eg. Polypress) and some use more traditional plastic pipes, such as Polybutylene or Pex. Most plastic and multilayer systems are available up to 63mm diameter also.

Across Europe, multi layer pipe is prevalent. In fact, Polypress comes from German subsidiary Gabo, where underfloor heating was first introduced for Polypipe.

For heating applications, the product is interchangeable between multi layer and Polybutylene pipe and a range of bsp adaptors are available to connect to push-fit fittings for awkward corners. For both heating and potable water applications in the UK, Polypress is now WRAS approved when used as a combined system of multi layer pipe and press fittings.

So is this the death for traditional materials in plumbing?

While the plumbing and heating industry is never quick to change, the reasons for using plastic plumbing systems do appear strong.

They are lighter, easier and simpler to install. However these attributes are not new to plastics. Nevertheless, improved product integrity for the commercial market, combining multi layer pipe and press fit technology together with the issues around price stability in today's uncertain markets for metals, are pushing plastic much higher up the agenda, and it is an agenda most m&e contractors are sure to keep their eyes on!


Polypipe Commercial Building Systems: T: 08452 700886
www.polypipecbs.com
1 January 2007

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