Composites to gradually replace traditional materials

8th June 2012 By: Reggie Sikhakhane

The global composites industry is expected to grow significantly over the next decade owing to the materials’ advantageous properties, compared with those of traditional materials, pipe manufacturer and systems solutions provider Fiberpipe MD Hein Momberg tells Engineering News.

“Composites are used in various industries and have numerous advantages, such as noncorrosive properties, as well as its light weight and high strength.”

Momberg highlights that the biggest benefit of using composite materials in the piping industry is its cost effectiveness. “One needs less input materials to achieve the same results as traditional materials.”

He points out that, as a result of the lower weight of composites, savings are extended to other aspects of a project, such as reduced installation costs. Cost savings, such as pumping and maintenance costs, are achieved as a result of low friction loss in the pipe owing to the smoothness of the materials.

“The smoothness of composites in our pipes eliminates any build-up associated with traditional materials and reduces maintenance costs,” adds Momberg.

Meanwhile, Fiberpipe Johan-nesburg branch manager Roy Caldeira concedes that, although composites are increasingly being used in manufacturing industries, such as the automotive and aerospace sectors, the level of awareness of composites in the piping and related industries needs to improve if the composites industry is to continue growing.

As a result of rising steel prices, the instability of fuel prices and the general expense of transporting goods, Fiberpipe is optimistic that there will be a shift in the perception of the people responsible for specifying project material.

“There will be a shift in how engineers perceive the properties of composites in the near future owing to factors that will result in companies reviewing the cost of materials to reduce overall costs.

“Engineers who are not aware of composites technology usually stick to traditional materials and making them aware of the advantages of composite pipes can be challenging at times. The association of fibreglass with composites is the result of a misinformed perception that composite pipes are fragile or brittle,” he says.

Fiberpipe is currently supply- ing 25 km of its composites manufactured pipe systems to the Sol Plaatje municipality, in Kimberley, for the Kamfers dam project.

“The three-stage project is in its second stage, which requires the supply of 8 km of piping. Engineering firm Aurecon, which is the engineering company facilitating the project, chose our pipes because of overall reduced costs, as well as the pipes’ longer life span,” says Caldeira.

The Kamfers dam, which was initially an ephemeral pan, has increased in size over the years. This increase has affected the stability of an important railway line. To stop the continuing expansion of the pan, it was decided to bypass the running effluent that is currently supplied to the dam into a reservoir and then by a gravity line into the Vaal River.

Meanwhile, Caldeira says it is unfortunate that water projects undertaken by municipalities are, at a later stage, put on hold, as a result of the materials specified for the project being too expensive.

“Water is a scarce resource and municipalities should consider using more cost-effective piping solutions like composite pipes. It is [disappointing] to see water projects put on hold because engineers and municipalities opted to use materials that cost so much that an entire planned project does not go ahead all owing to a lack of knowledge of composites.

“The people who are affected most are citizens, who end up not having one of the most basic needs – the right to clean water – met,” he argues.

He says municipalities and engineers need to consider using less expensive materials such as composites, especially for projects that entail a need such as water delivery.

Fiberpipe GM for Africa Dominic Sikuka says composites technology is suitable for the African market because of its properties, especially the cost benefit.

“Transportation in other African countries is extremely costly, and with the characteristics of glass-reinforced product (GRP) materials, including its lightness and ability to nest one pipe into another, we are seeing increasing interest in composites from the African market.”

Further, funding constraints for projects are driving African countries to seek cheaper alternatives to expensive materials. The use of Fiberpipe’s composite pipe systems are increasing in Africa, states Sikuka.

“We have supplied numerous African water projects, including projects in Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, with our composites manufactured piping systems.

“The biggest project we have undertaken in Zimbabwe, which is still under way, is the Pungwe to Mutare water supply project. We are supplying a 71-km-long GRP pipeline. Another pipeline is expected to be built in the near future,” he says.

The Pungwe to Mutare water supply project involves a man-made tunnel comprising pipelines that divert water from the Pungwe river to the town of Mutare.

Fiberpipe also recently completed a project for sugar producer Zam Sugar, in Nakambala, Zambia, which involved extracting water from the Kafue river to irrigate Zam Sugar’s sugar cane fields.

Momberg says Fiberpipe’s composite pipes have a 120-year life span. The pipes comprise materials such as fibreglass, sand and resin.

“Our product is well placed to take advantage of the growth in the composites industry over the next few years.”

He adds that it is inevitable that more industries will look at increasing the use of composites in the manufacture of products, as it is economically viable.

Momberg says one sector that will drive growth in the composites industry is water desalination.

“The earth’s water is made up of 98% seawater, 1% arctic ice and 1% fresh water. With population growth increasing and the amount of available fresh water decreasing, companies and governments will look at extract- ing salt from seawater in the event of severe freshwater shortages.

“The company is already involved in supplying piping solutions for seawater desalin- ation projects and we will continue to take advantage of this potential market,” says Momberg.