Piping Hot

Global Pipe

Global Pipe’s title pretty much tells the whole story. From its base in Victoria this company can supply a pipeline for just about any application you are ever likely to need. Global is essentially a sales and service organisation rather than a manufacturer, offering the ranges of two of the world’s top pipe makers in fibre reinforced plastic and another range of HDPE pipe.

According to Product Manager Luke Joyce, industrial customers for pipe are beginning to recognise brands – and the differences between them – when they come to specify products. This is particularly true of Global’s flagship Hobas brand, a very high end product from Europe described as the foremost pipe of its kind and at the forefront of design. Many clients, Luke says, ask specifically for Hobas if they need top performance and durability.

Hobas uses fibreglass for its piping. It all began quite modestly at the Basel Dye Works in Switzerland in 1957, where wooden cylinders were used for the dyeing process. They kept splintering and deforming after a relatively short time, putting the expensive textiles at risk. Seeking a suitable replacement for the cylinders, the factory’s engineers developed a centrifugal casting method using glassfibre reinforced plastics (GRP). Thanks to the method and material, they achieved perfectly concentric cylinders with a precise outer diameter and smooth surface.

GRP had previously been used in the shipbuilding, automobile and aircraft industries but its resistance to corrosion and chemicals also made the material highly suitable for other applications. The Swiss were soon using centrifugally cast pipes for conveying water (the pipes laid at that time are still in use today). Step by step, the pipes have been improved, the manufacturing process has been automated, the product range extended, and tailor-made fittings have been added during the subsequent years as production spread around the world – Hobas has plants in the US as well as several around central Europe. In 2013, the first carbon-neutral pipes produced by the company were sold – in Australia.

Hobas produces pipe systems with state of the art production technologies and markets them for application fields that include potable water supply, irrigation, sewage discharge, for road, tunnel and bridge drainage, to convey water to and from industries and for producing green energy. With the services and support available including dimensioning and routing pipelines through calculations to consultancy on site, Hobas products have been installed by all sorts of methods including open trench, jacking, microtunneling, sliplining and above ground in more than 80 countries.

At present, at least, it hardly makes sense to manufacture pipe in Australia, but the company is not just an importer of products – Global Pipe sees itself as a provider of solutions. “We can do everything the client might want, from concept through to finalised design and supply,” explains Luke. “We have not yet extended as far as installation, but we are much more than a ‘distribution’ company.” Dependence on products made on the other side of the world means exposure to the ups and downs of the currency, but it is part of Global’s approach to find ways of reducing cost overall.

Luke says the reputation of Hobas, and for fibreglass pipe in general, has lagged in Australia compared to many other markets, but now Global Pipe is helping to change all that. “The advantages are not new but they are not well known to industry here.” Fibreglass pipe has been used in Australia for some time, but (in part because it has never been a ‘mainstream’ product) “it is not well known for how to use it and how to design for its use.”

Global has something of a teaching task ahead and the company’s engineering skills are important in this regard. The team can advise on how to get the best out of the material as well as how best to install it, as there are some differences (and they are almost all advantageous) in comparison with plastic pipe and particularly when compared to steel pipe. Many clients across diverse industries are conservative and disinclined to think of themselves as early adopters of new techniques or materials, so Global is chipping away at the lack of knowledge and encouraging more users to take on a system that in real terms will almost certainly have numerous benefits down the line, not least in the projected life of a pipeline. “What we can see right now in the marketplace is that Australia is picking up the fibreglass option more and more and it is becoming a more mature choice for industries around the country.”

Certainly, the fibreglass sector is the ‘premium’ one in piping. It can handle pressures up to 240 bar and temperature up to 110 degrees Celsius, which makes it suitable for just about any application you can think of in this country. It is corrosion resistant and impervious to materials such as salt, and thus has a much longer lifespan than steel pipe. HDPE pipe shares much of fibreglass’s corrosion resistance but does not like high pressures and can suffer from UV degradation.

Although the details of installation differ, the basic principles don’t, says Luke. Essentially you join together 12m lengths of whatever pipe you have chosen – welding in the case of steel, bonding in the case of fibreglass. The bonding process is just as skilled, and just as closely inspected and regulated, as the welding process. However, fibreglass pipe weighs a lot less, and the handling and logistics aspects of a project have entirely different dimensions compared to lugging steel pipe around (including the fact you may not need to prepare a special road for a remote pipeline installation).

Global is involved in the massive Ichthys project in the Northern Territory, with an underground sewer drainage system that catches the run-off and clean-down from all the equipment in the gas compressor facility. This is a combination of GRP and GRE pipes and the system ranges from 25mm to 1.8 m in diameter. “This is a very complex system with many sizes and many accessories, many different levels and changes of direction. It has a minimum 25 years’ design life.” In this case, much of the design work was carried out in Japan, where they already have considerable experience of fibreglass pipe, but Luke’s team has been doing engineering work on aspects such as stress analysis.

As well as Hobas, Global Pipe also offers the products of Future Pipe, another leading European producer of fibreglass pipe. However, these two brands are not merely ‘me-too’: their products are made differently and therefore have differing performance. The Hobas products are centrifugally cast, while Future Pipe makes a filament-wound (helically wound) product. In practice, Global Pipe can advise on the optimum specification – the Hobas is stiffer, while the Future Pipe is able to take higher pressures, for example. The company even has a third range, for those clients whose requirements are covered by a conventional HDPE pipe: Jain, a range from India. Jain is one of the largest and one of the world’s most advanced makers of PE pipe. Because of the company’s high quality standards and use of only 100 per cent virgin premium raw material, Jain products have been accepted and used throughout the world, including markets with the toughest standards like the UK, Europe, US and Canada.

Stock of standard sizes are kept in the company’s Melbourne warehouse. Some other product is currently shipped in from a manufacturing facility in Abu Dhabi, but a Future Pipe factory is just coming on stream in Indonesia and in the future, this will supply Australia and reduce lead times. In addition, the Indonesian plant is actually close to many of the major resource projects in Australia’s north and west than even Melbourne, further reducing the logistics chain.

In essence, Luke believes Global has the largest range of pipe in Australia and is capable of partnering with clients in any industrial sector to select the most appropriate product for any application. It’s proving to be a winning formula.

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August 20, 2017, 10:22 AM AEST