Making Pipe Dreams a Reality
By Michael Legault
Having established itself as one of the leading pipe and plumbing system manufacturers in North America, Ipex is not about to rest on its laurels. It has just spent several years and a considerable investment developing a new product line f...
Having established itself as one of the leading pipe and plumbing system manufacturers in North America, Ipex is not about to rest on its laurels. It has just spent several years and a considerable investment developing a new product line for the residential and commercial plumbing markets, where the competition between plastic, metal and composite materials for market share is intense.
The new product, Q-Line Water Service Tubing, was launched this spring. Q-Line is a composite pipe constructed of flexible aluminum tubing permanently bonded between inner and outer layers of Dowlex 2344E high-temperature polyethylene. The main benefit of Q-Line, according to Ipex business development manager Trevor Johnston, lies in the inner and outer layers of polyethylene. Whereas typical composite and non-composite tubing uses cross-linked polyethylene, Dow Chemical’s Dowlex is a linear polymer, making Q-Line easier to handle.
“The reception to the product by installers has been good,” Johnston reported. “Because the polyethylene is not cross-linked, you can see that the tubing handles different. It’s less stiff, and keeps it shape, which makes it easier to install.”
Q-Line has been specially designed for aggressive water and soil environments. Johnston says the first applications are 3/4 in. underground municipal water service lines. The tubing is designed to provide better corrosion and permeation resistance compared to pure copper and pure plastic pipe in these applications. The Dowlex PE used in the inner and outer layers has excellent hydrostatic strength and stress crack resistance, as well as good conductivity and flexibility. The PE layers resist most acids, salt solutions and alkalines found in aggressive soil conditions. The aluminum core creates a natural permeation barrier, and Q-Line can be buried directly in the ground or encased in concrete without the need for protective sleeving.
Q-Line carries the NSF CL-TD chlorine resistance certification. The tubing has larger inside diameters than CTS polyethylene piping and smooth walls, offering the best flow rate in the industry for comparable piping, according to Ipex product literature. Q-Line has been approved for continuous operating pressures of 200 psi at 73F and 100 psi at 180F. Even though it is used to distribute cold water, Q-Line needed to have a hot water rating in order to meet the Canadian plumbing code, which includes the requirement as a safety precaution in the event of the backflow of hot water into the supply line.
“The Dowlex high-temperature linear polyethylene is ideally suited for this application,” said Johnston. “It meets all the performance requirements for the codes and allows us to differentiate our product line.”
CODES HOLD THE KEYS
A critical factor in getting a new product such as Q-Line to market in a timely fashion, says Johnston, is up-front code approval work. The effort often requires coordination and networking with numerous standards organizations and code-approval bodies.
“You have to consider plumbing codes across all of North America,” he said. Because Q-Line used a new high-temperature linear polyethylene in its composite structure, the body of some of the codes and testing standards had to be amended. Johnston said Ipex worked with The Plastic Pipe Institute, American Society of Testing Methods and the Canadian Standards Association in order to arrive at standards appropriate for the new pipe. Q-Line carries third-party ASTM F1282 and CSA B137.9 certification, as well as NSF-PW potable water certification. The tubing also meets the requirements of a new standard, AWWA C903, which IPEX helped champion. Meeting this standard satisfied the requirements of municipal regulatory authorities in the United States and allowed IPEX to launch the product across the U.S. this spring.
Ipex has added new equipment at its plant in Edmonton to manufacture Q-Line. It is planning on introducing larger diameter sizes of the tubing as the market demands, perhaps within the next year. The company is also planning to revamp its PlumbBetter line of hot and cold indoor plumbing systems to include a line of PE-AL-PE composite pipe, PlumbBetter XPA, with inner and outer layers made of the same Dowlex high-temperature PE used in Q-Line. The new line, which has already been introduced into the Eastern U.S., will eventually replace the original blue PlumbBetter PE-AL-PE pipe, which is not rated for hot water.
“We could only launch PlumbBetter XPA in the eastern portion of the U.S. because the code bodies across North America run on different code change cycles,” said Johnston. “The Western U.S. and Canadian launches will follow shortly.”
The company’s Kitec brand PEX-AL-PEX composite pipe, in which inner and outer layers are made of cross-linked polyethylene, will only be used for heating, such as radiant-floor heating applications. Johnston expects the product re-shuffle to be finalized within three to four months, once the code work is completed.
The PlumbBetter XPA pipe is manufactured in blue and red colors for hot and cold water plumbing line identification inside a building. New equipment Ipex purchased to manufacture Dowlex composite pipe products allows the company to co-extrude and color in only the outer layer, thus saving money on colorant.
Ipex, a privately held company, has a vast product line, which lends the company something of a buffer against narrow market sector down turns. The company extrudes pipe in sizes ranging from 9 mm to 1,200 mm for gravity and pressure applications. Product lines include pipe made from PE, PVC, ABS, CPVC, composites and specialized resins developed by in-house engineers. It also injection molds pipe fittings and valves, a product line that has been growing strongly, according to Johnston.
“Generally, as the construction market goes, we go. Yet we know we have so many new products coming out over the next 12 months, we are creating new opportunities. We feel we are in a strong position going into 2005 and beyond.”
THE MARK OF A SUCCESSFUL RESIN: A MILLION CLICKS AND COUNTING
The resin crucial to Ipex Inc.’s New Q-Line and PlumbBetter composite piping, Dowlex, achieved a noteworthy milestone last year when Dow Plastics announced that the resin had been used to produce over 1 million kilometers of piping, a length that would stretch around the earth 22 times.
Launched over 20 years ago, Dowlex has a track record for delivering superior performance and processability in hot and cold water pipe applications. One facet of the resin’s success has been its ability to grow as new plastic piping applications grow in areas such as floor heating, snow melt systems, heat exchangers and hot/cold domestic drinking water networks. The resin has also shown its mettle to meet an increasingly diverse and stringent array of safety, performance and building codes and standards.
“Use of Dowlex resins in pipes continues to grow because of the processing advantages, flexibility and economics versus other materials,” said Craig Arnold, market development manager, Dow Europe.
It is also a product portfolio that continues to grow, with several new grades of raised temperature resistant Dowlex (PE-RT) introduced in the past few years. These resins are ethylene-octene copolymers produced by a proprietary solution process, and feature a unique molecular structure with a controlled side chain. According to Dow, PE-RT resins are experiencing the highest growth rates of any polymer in hot and cold water pipe applications.