Plastic rules fantastic world of piping

The harsh climatic conditions in the Middle East have forced a material evolution in the piping sector as manufacturers and suppliers battle against corrosion, and high prices, in the metals sector. Zoe Naylor reports on the growth of plastic piping solutions and their advantages over the competition.

  • E-Mail
By  Zoe Naylor Published  September 16, 2006

|~|137prod200.gif|~|The plastic pipe sector is enjoying a renaissance as corrosion and cost issues influence purchasing decisions. Manufacturers in the UAE market are also producing composite pipes using plastic with steel/aluminium reinforcement.|~|The influx of tourists to the UAE, not to mention the growing number of people who are drawn to live and work here, mean the country’s drainage and irrigation networks are coming under pressure to cope with increased usage.

Last year alone, Dubai Municipality announced four drainage projects worth US $18 million (AED66.12 million) to help improve the emirate’s drainage and irrigation network and dispose of wastewater safely. The result is the region’s pipe manufacturers are finding a booming market for their wares.

“Around 80% of potable water pipes in the UAE are now PPR [polypropylene], whereas before people used galvanised and copper pipes,” says Hassnain Waqar, sales and marketing manager, RAKtherm. “It’s not possible to use galvanised pipes now because of their harmful effects and corrosion. Copper pipe is also very expensive.”

Based in Sharjah, RAKtherm has a 40,000m2 manufacturing facility in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah from where it produces a range of products including PPR pipes used for transporting potable water.

“Soon we’ll be a market leader for PPR in this region,” adds Waqar. “We currently supply to various projects in Dubai such as International City, Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Lake Towers, Sky Gardens and the Burj Dubai site, plus we export to more than 16 countries.”

RAKtherm also claims to be the only manufacturer in this region to produce PPR pipes with an integrated aluminium layer. “Beforehand, clients had to import it from Germany, Turkey and Italy, but now it’s available [here] with the same quality.”

According to Waqar, there are many benefits of using PPR pipes: “Firstly, the material: polypropylene is extensively used for the food and medical industry because of its safe properties. It also has excellent physical and chemical properties – compression strength, elasticity, corrosion, chemical and heat resistance,” adds Waqar.

In addition, PPR pipes are seen as being more environmentally friendly when compared to the traditional metal components. “As heavy metals such as nickel and chrome negatively impact the environment, plated metal inserts [previously used in fittings] no longer find their way into the RAKtherm product line.”

Waqir adds that RAKtherm’s pipes and fitting material can be 100% recycled and used again in other plastic products.

While RAKtherm is well established here with a solid client base, newcomer Al Dhafra Pipes (ADP) is getting ready to make its mark by introducing Australian technology to the region’s pipe manufacturing sector.

From its custom-built factory in Mussafah, Abu Dhabi, ADP claims to be the first pipe company in the Middle East to supply steel reinforced plastic (SRP) pipes which can be used for a range of non-pressure applications including storm water, gravity sewers, drainage and perforated pipes for areas of high groundwater.

“We will be producing pipes made from a composite of polyethylene and steel,” says Jason Thomas, general manager, ADP. “The factory is built, the machines are installed and commissioned, and we’re now training the staff.”

Manufacturing is expected to commence on site this month and will begin with pipes ranging from 200mm up to 1,600mm in diameter, and will have a production capacity of around 150km of pipe per year. The facility will also be equipped to manufacture pipes up to 2.25m in diameter.

According to Thomas, a key advantage of using polyethelene pipes with steel reinforcment is the strength to weight ratio.
“When you make a large diameter pipe out of polyethelene,
the wall thickness is very high which makes it heavy and expensive. But we’re able to make the pipe wall very thin and strengthen it with the steel reinforcing, so it’s still strong but light and easy to handle.

“When you compare it in weight to a concrete or GRP [glass reinforced plastic] pipe, for example, it is a lot lighter – a 1,200mm pipe of ours will weigh around 70kg per metre, as opposed to around 2 tonnes per metre for concrete.”

This huge saving in weight means that contractors don’t need as much heavy equipment on site when it comes to laying the pipes. “In addition, the weight of large-diameter concrete pipes means they only come in 2m lengths, whereas ours come in 6m lengths. This means they have fewer joints and are quicker to install and lay,” adds Thomas.

One of the region’s biggest – and most unusual – piping contracts to have recently been awarded went to Septech, the Sharjah-based process engineering company. Working in joint venture with the UK’s Ashbrook Simon Hartley, the firm won the $30 million contract to supply and install water process equipment to Atlantis, The Palm, which is located on the crescent of the Palm Jumeirah and will include one of the largest man-made marine habitats.

One element of the project will require the installation of approximately 480,000kg of uPVC (unplasticised polyvinyl chloride) pipe to service a fish tank measuring 60m long by 20m wide, with a water depth of about 10m.

“We are supplying all the water treatment equipment for the pools and the fish exhibits on Atlantis,” says Steve Smith, engineering manager, Atlantis project, for Septech Simon Hartley. “There will also be a shark tank and a dolphin experience, plus we’re also doing all the water pumping equipment for the slides, rides and the water park and all the treatment that goes with it.”

In terms of pipes, the project will require a variety of different materials, says Smith. “We’ll be using mostly plastic pipes – we’re using HDP [high density polyethelene] for any pipes outside of the building, and for inside the building we’re using uPVC.”

One reason for using plastic pipes is that they are very resistant to corrosion, which is a big factor when working on a project like the Palm. “There are two circuits of water on the site – one is a closed loop of fresh water that will be used for the swimming pools, the other is an open loop of seawater,” says Smith.

“This means we’ll be pumping water in straight from the sea, treating it, and it will be cycled around the fish exhibits and then pumped back out to sea. So all those systems have to be corrosion-resistant to seawater.”

But perhaps the deciding factor for specifying plastic for the pipes as opposed to metal is that the water carried in the pipes will circulate to the fish tanks. “It’s an absolute ‘no’ to use steel pipes because we’re treating water for fish,” explains Smith. “If there was any contamination with iron oxide then the fish would die.”

Smith says the installation of the pipes for the Atlantis project is expected to begin on site within the next few weeks, with the full opening of the water park scheduled for September 2008.

When it comes to installing the pipes on site, the saline Gulf environment once again affects the process. “The uPVC pipe has to be solvent glued to assemble it on site, and the temperature does have an impact of our installation methods,” says Smith. “We have to set up air-conditioned tents on site so we can carry out the gluing operations in a cooler environment.”

As more of the UAE’s large-scale construction projects come online, so does the need for pipelines that can handle the demand for clean water supply as well as the safe disposal of wastewater. This, combined with the region’s harsh saline environment, means that business is brisk for pipe manufactures and suppliers that can keep one step ahead of the pack in terms of technological innovation.

While the material used for manufacturing pipes will vary according to the application, durability, along with ease and speed of installation, remain key factors. ||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code