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Pipe and Conduit


The choice of pipe material is an important consideration when designing road, river and rail crossings and other trenchless installations. These materials have evolved to fulfil specific purposes in modern towns and cities.

The information below provides an overview of the various types of pipe available, history of the technology, the most common trenchless applications and where the technologies is most suitable.

Concrete pipe

Trenchless applications: microtunnelling, pipe jacking

Best suited for: storm sewer, waste water or culvert projects

The oldest recorded modern-day concrete pipe installation is a sanitary sewer constructed in 1842 at Mohawk in New York State, USA. It remained operational for over 100 years. The French were the first to incorporate steel-reinforcement in concrete pipe in 1896.

Concrete pipe is a rigid pipe system that is over 85 per cent dependent on the pipe strength and only 15 per cent dependent on the strength derived from the soil envelope. Pre-cast concrete drainage products have a reputation for strength and durability. They will not burn, corrode prematurely, deflect or move off grade to reduce hydraulic performance. Steel reinforcement in concrete pipe adds to its inherent strength. The steel is shaped into cages.

Concrete pipe is commonly joined using a confined O-ring gasket or profile gasketed joints. Common diameters range from 300 up to 3,600 mm.

Bodies such as the American Army Corp of Engineers recommend a design life of 70-100 years for precast concrete pipe.

Fibreglass reinforced pipe

Trenchless applications: microtunnelling, jacking, sliplining, tunnel lining and casings

Best suited for: water, waste water, irrigation and drainage

Fibreglass reinforced thermosetting plastic (‘fibreglass’) first became a viable alternative to protected steel, stainless steel and exotic materials in 1950. That year, centrifugal cast fibreglass piping was first used in the crude oil production industry as a solution to corrosion problems. It was during the 1960s that manufacturers began to develop nationally recognised standards and test methods for fibreglass storage and fibreglass piping systems.

Fibreglass piping contains glass fibre reinforcement embedded in cured thermosetting resin. This composite structure typically contains additives such as pigments and dyes. By selecting the proper combination of resin, glass fibres, additives and design, the fabricator can create a product that meets the equipment designer’s performance standard.

Fibreglass pipe is joined with push-together; gasket-sealed joints in common diameters of 450 up to 3,000 mm with larger diameters possible. The design life is in excess of fifty years.

Steel pipe

Trenchless applications: microtunnelling, directional drilling, pipe ramming

Best suited for: gas, water and wastewater.

Early development and expansion of steel pipe manufacturing was made possible by the development of a process for refining iron into steel. The Bessemer process developed in 1855 and the open-hearth process developed in 1861 were both techniques not only made steel, but also made it stronger, more ductile, and more cost effective. It was now possible to cold form steel sheets into large diameter pipes.

Virtually all the early steel pipes were produced by rolling lengths of steel plate, usually 4-8 feet long, into cylinders and riveting the seams and joints to fabricate lengths of steel pipe of up to 30 - feet in overall length. The first recorded installation of steel pipe with riveted seams occurred in Railroad Flat, California in 1858. Records show that some installations of steel pipe in San Francisco that were laid in 1863 are still in use today.

Steel pipe is joined by welding, threading-and-coupling or compression fittings. Common diameters range from 3 up to 1,500 mm.

The design life varies depending upon the size, grade and coating applications.

Polymer concrete pipe

Trenchless applications: microtunnelling, pipe jacking

Best suited for: wastewater

Polymer concrete is similar to conventional concrete in that it contains selected blends of aggregates and fillers that are held together using a binder. In polymer concrete the binder is high strength, corrosion resistant, thermosetting resin. This resin requires a curing agent which, when combined with the resin, transfers the resin and curing agent from a liquid to a solid that bonds the aggregate, various fillers and internal reinforcement.

Advantages of polymer concrete include rapid curing at ambient temperatures, good adhesion to most surfaces, good long term durability with respect to freeze and thaw cycles, good chemical resistance, lightweight and high tensile and flexural.

The standard joint for tunnelling and jacking installations incorporates a push-on stainless steel collar in common diameters of 200 up to 2,600 mm.

Ductile iron pipe

Trenchless applications: microtunnelling, HDD, pipe bursting, jacking and boring

Best suited for: water and wastewater

The strength, durability and long service life of ductile’s predecessor, gray Cast Iron pipe, are widely recognised. The first official record of Cast Iron pipe installation was in 1455 in Siegerland, Germany. In 1664, King Louis XIV ordered construction of a Cast Iron pipe main extending 15 miles from a pumping station at Marly-on-Seine to Versailles to supply water to the fountains and town. This pipe served the palace gardens for more than 330 years. Ductile Iron was introduced to the market place in 1955.

Ductile Iron pipe has high tensile strength, good elasticity and excellent ductility, making it suitable for high stress applications and where pressure surge may be experienced. It offers high corrosion resistance; hydraulic flow; high working pressure and ease of installation.

Ductile Iron is available in pressure ratings up to 350 psi in all diameters from 75 to 1,600 mm. It is joined by a variety of different rubber-gasketed joints, mechanical joints, flanged joint, grooved or shouldered joints, ball-and-socket joints are also available.

When properly installed Ductile Iron has a design life of over 100 years.

Vitrified clay pipe (VCP)

Trenchless applications: microtunnelling, pipe bursting, pilot tube tunnelling, HDD

Best suited for: waste water and storm sewers

Vitrified clay is a material that arises after firing high quality clay in controlled circumstances at a temperature of approximately 1,200 degrees Celsius. Vitrified clay is chemically and mechanically resistant and also, in part due to its excellent hydraulic characteristics, has a lifespan greater than 100 years.

New clay may be differentiated from old clay pipe by factory-applied flexible compression joints, no joint leakage, computerised drying and firing schedules that increases strength and reduce dimensional variation with vacuum de-airing during extrusion producing a denser body.

VCP is joined with a compression joint with a low profile stainless steel collar in common diameters of 100 up to 1,200 mm.

Project design life is greater than 100 years.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

Trenchless applications: sliplining, HDD, close fit pipe lining

Best suited for: water, waste water and storm water

Polyvinyl chloride was discovered late in the nineteenth century. Scientists observing the newly created chemical gas, vinyl chloride, also discovered that when the gas was exposed to sunlight, it underwent a chemical reaction (now recognised as polymerisation), resulting in an off-white solid material. But, this material was so difficult to work with that it was cast aside in favour of other materials.

Years later in the 1920s, rubber scientist Waldo Semon was hired by BFGoodrich to develop a synthetic rubber to replace increasingly costly natural rubber. His experiments eventually produced polyvinyl chloride. Although product developers began to use PVC in a variety of ways – in shoe heels, golf balls, and raincoats, to name just a few – its application increased significantly during World War II. PVC turned out to be an excellent replacement for rubber insulation in wiring and was used extensively on US military ships. After 1945, its peace-time usage exploded, first used for sanitary sewers in the 1930s.

Plastic pipe systems account for over 75 per cent of the pressure reticulation pipelines being installed across Australia today and over 90 per cent of the sewer reticulation pipelines. PVC slipliner pipe has a gasketed joint and close-fit is butt fused. HDD may be butt fused or a gasketed joint locked together with a spline or stainless steel pins. Common diameters for gasketed PVC pipe range from 40 up to 1,500 mm for gravity sewer and up to 1,200 mm for pressure pipe. A properly designed, installed and operated system will last in excess of 100 years.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE)

Trenchless applications: HDD, pipe bursting, microtunnelling, sliplining

Best suited for: water and wastewater, natural gas, fibre optics

Paul Hogan and Robert Banks discovered crystalline polypropylene, and a similar plastic that could be produced using ethylene in 1931. When Hogan and Banks first created a reaction between ethylene and benzaldehyde using two thousand atmospheres of internal pressure, their experiment went askew when all the pressure escaped due to a leak in the testing container. On opening the tube they found a white waxy substance that looked a lot like some form of plastic.

After repeating the experiment, they discovered that the loss of pressure was not due to a leak at all, but was a result of the polymerisation process. The residue polyethylene resin was a milky white, translucent substance derived from ethylene (CH2=CH2). Polyethylene was produced with either a low or high density. High-density polyethylene was developed in 1951.

HDPE is flexible, tough, lightweight and impact resistant for lower cost installation. HDPE has performed well during earthquakes, tsunamis and corrosive environments. HDPE can be either fused or mechanically joined and is commonly available in diameters 15 to 160 mm.

The life span of HDPE pipes is up to 100 years depending on design requirements and water quality.

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