Working together for greater acceptance of plastic pipe

Plastics Pipe Institute spreads awareness, shares new tools

The Plastics Pipe Institute Inc. (PPI) is a nonprofit trade association that has been representing the plastics piping industry for well over six decades. It is a channel for information sharing, issue resolution, idea exploration, and guidance in laying the groundwork for usage and advancements of plastics infrastructure systems for the future. The team is excited to share information on recent developments within the plastics pipe industry, additions to their staff, and new tools and literature for engineers and designers.

PPI’s membership, like many member-driven organizations, allows people to get together and talk about trends, innovation, and how competitors can work together for the benefit of society, in terms of creating standards that will allow a greater acceptance of plastic pipe in the various applications where it can be used. Members also discuss ways to remain relevant and measure up against competing materials, and how the plastics industry can better position itself to demonstrate a greater value to the designer and end user.

“Plastic pipe, in some regards, is a relatively new material, and the growth has been substantial in many industries. We went from not being a player at all to being the dominant player in the gas and plumbing marketplaces,” said Tony Radoszewski, president of PPI. “Since homebuilders and building professionals recognized the ease of installation and the performance ability of the product, we’ve been able to maintain that market share going forward in all applications.”

Now trending

Radoszewski touched on recent trends gaining traction in plastic piping, including the influx in polypropylene (PP-R) and its success in Europe, which has lead to more interest in the North American markets.

“We are starting to see more interest now more than ever in polypropylene. Some of the polypropylenes that are coming out of Europe are making a mark in regards to the performance of the finished product, and are becoming a growth opportunity as another plastic in pressure applications,” Radoszewski said.

Other noteworthy developments in the plastic pipe arena focus on composite structures, which are composed of materials like steel, polyester, carbon and glass fiber and are woven and wrapped in a helical manner, and ultimately take a pipe from a 100 to 200 psi operating range to anywhere between 2000 to 3000 psi.

Another development gaining traction in plastics includes multi-layer technologies, which are made up of various polymers that are harnessed for their specific properties and the effects they have on a pipe. In plumbing and mechanical systems, engineers and designers are experimenting with materials such as nylon and glass structures that reduce longitudinal thermal expansion of pipes that see wide temperature ranges.

PPI’s Building & Construction Division (BCD)

PPI emphasizes that part of their technical reputation has to do with the organizations it interfaces with, such as those for gas, electricity and water industries.

“Since we represent multiple plastics and different markets, we have to have a team that can serve the needs of our members and the plastic pipe industry overall. Our team needs to have deep a knowledge within their respective specializations of engineering so that we can act as spokespeople for the various marketplaces that we focus on,” Radoszewski said. “We also have a strong relationship with the organizations we collaborate with, in order to connect the product better to the end user who will be using our products.”

PPI has five divisions: Building & Construction, Conduit, Corrugated Pipe, Energy Piping Systems and Municipal & Industrial. Most recently, PPI has been working to highlight the prominence of its Building & Construction division, which was created in order to promote high reliability plastic pressure pipe and tubing systems (PEX, CPVC, PE-RT, PP-R) in building and construction environments.

Lance MacNevin recently joined PPI as director of engineering, Building and Construction (BCD) and Conduit (CD) Divisions. MacNevin is a 22-year industry veteran who joined the organization from pipe manufacturer REHAU, where he worked on product development, systems design, and training for contractors, engineers and architects. For more than 15 years, he has participated in the technical committees of organizations such as ASME, ASTM, AWWA, CSA and NSF.

Though PPI has been well established and respected for nearly 65 years now, its Building and Construction Division is less known than other divisions. It is in MacNevin’s line of vision to expand the division's presence in plumbing and mechanical markets so that more people recognize PPI and its documents and training materials..

As the voice of BCD, MacNevin emphasizes the importance of applications of various products and expanding those applications. For instance, radiant heating and cooling has embraced PEX in North American applications now more than ever due to continued research and findings.

“Member companies that belong to PPI’s BCD,” MacNevin said, “are the companies who are really pushing the research and design methodologies for these combined radiant heating and cooling systems. As a matter of fact, all three of PPI’s 2014 Project of the Year BCD submissions from Uponor, Viega and REHAU showcased commercial radiant heating and cooling systems.”

MacNevin also discussed the strides in PEX for geothermal applications. This year, the standard CSA C448 is being revised to include all types of approved PEX to be used as ground loops for geothermal systems.

Finally, MacNevin says, there is a lot of opportunity for BCD products in commercial construction.

“As they are well known in the residential plumbing market, PEX and CPVC dominate. But in commercial buildings with larger diameter pipes, there is still a big market opportunity for plastic. Our member companies are working to expand their programs for commercial plumbing and also hydronic distribution piping. Plastic is a perfect material for that, so there’s a lot of effort to expand its use in those applications,” MacNevin said.

Tools and guides for builders, designers

Two of the most recent tools and literature on the radar that PPI has been excited to continue to share with designers, homebuilders and/or trade contractors include the PEX Plumbing Design Guide and Plastic Pipe Design Calculator.

PEX Plumbing Design Guide

The PEX Plumbing Design Guide was first published 2006 as a collaborative project with PPI, NAHB, PPFA and ICC, and it then was revised in 2013. The guide provides the information and resources necessary to design and install crosslinked polyethylene (PEX) water supply systems in residential buildings. It has been a popular download off PPI’s website, and PPI continues to spread its awareness by connecting it with different groups of builders.

The free guide includes comprehensive design concepts and installation guidelines to increase the acceptance and proper use of PEX. Targeted to homebuilders, designers, and contractors, the document’s purpose is to introduce potential users to PEX and to enable current users to optimize their plumbing performance and to minimize system costs. In addition, it will allow code inspectors and homeowners to become familiar with the applications, performance characteristics and benefits of PEX water distribution systems.

Plastic Pressure Pipe Design Calculator

In July, PPI’s BCD introduced the Plastic Pipe Design Calculator. Up until now, plumbing and mechanical system designers have had to use pipe manufacturers’ tables and graphs, or else do long calculations using the formulas themselves, which was tedious and allowed for the greater potential of miscalculating. Now, piping designers can simply go to to access new online software for doing these calculations instantaneously.

This free tool allows online users to calculate values such as pressure/head loss for PEX, PE-RT and CPVC pressure piping systems. The tool can also calculate hydraulic shock values, weight and volume and thermal expansion of these plastic pipes. It can even help designers specify the lengths of expansion arms or loops, especially important for larger diameter piping systems such as used in hydronic distribution systems.

Building pipelines and alliances for the future

PPI has built a reputation that balances on its technical ability and interconnectivity of various industries and communities. The organization stands as a rich resource for designers and builders in need of solutions that work and will stand the test of time.

“PPI is best known for its technical strengths," Radoszewski said. "The mission we have is to promote plastics as the material of choice in all pipe applications. So this makes us constantly focused on developing software, technical reports and notes that are based off research in terms of the long-term performance. We are a very dynamic industry and the advancements in plastic pipe technology are robust. As a result, look for continuing development of materials, structures and installation techniques — whether they’re enhancements to current ones or development to new ones."

MacNevin added, “We want builders and designers to know that whatever kind of questions they get in the field, they can come to us at PPI.” 

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