Challenges, opportunities for local piping industry

Close to 200 delegates attended the PIPES IX conference hosted by the Southern African Plastic Pipe Manufacturers Association (SAPPMA) at the Bytes Conference Centre in Midrand.

Consulting engineers, pipe manufacturers, installers, international delegates, students and members of the media attended the keynote addresses and two plenary sessions that centred on HDPE and PVC pipe quality, production and manufacturing trends, installation standards, challenges and new international application trends.

“Despite the economic downturn and busy end of the year pace, we were very fortunate to once again have a capacity crowd in attendance and received with terrific support from sponsors and exhibitors alike,” says SAPPMA Chairman, Jan Venter, explaining that many of South Africa’s leading pipe manufacturers used the opportunity display some of their products on their stands and to network and share information about their solutions and services offered with the delegates in attendance.

SAPPMA represents more than 80% of the plastic pipe produced in South Africa, and focuses its efforts on ensuring pipe systems that are leak-free and durable for long-term use. It also focuses on the rehabilitation of old pipelines.

“As in previous years, this year’s conference attracted some international attention and we had delegates and speakers visit us from as far afield as Germany and Thailand,” Venter says.

Economist Mike Schüssler kicked off the day’s presentations as keynote speaker and offered insight into the current global economic situation and what the expected impacts and ripple effects will be on the plastic pipe industry, as well as on other manufacturing industries over the next few years to come. “Despite economic crashes and recessions, the average person is still better off today than a century ago,” Schüssler says. He showed that growth was picking up in advanced countries, whilst slowing down in developing countries.

“The quality of South Africa’s workforce is slowing improving, and with it also our productivity. However, this will make it harder for pipe manufacturers and other similar industries to employ people without skills in the future,” Schüssler warns. Although he predicts that the falling oil price will ultimately benefit South Africa in the long run, other challenges that will continue to have a direct impact on the industry in the next few years, include a growing lack of business confidence, South Africa’s energy crisis, weakening Rand and a diminishing return on investments.

Other presenters also reported on the negative impact South Africa’s failing infrastructure, deficiencies in investments by municipalities and governments, and vested interests continued to on the industry, echoing Schüssler sentiments made earlier this morning.

“Although the South African plastic pipe industry is relatively small, it is of extreme importance in the development and maintenance of the country’s infrastructure. It is also one of the most demanding industries, as plastic pipes and fittings are required to last in excess of a hundred years,” Venter says.

When comparing plastic pipe with steel, asbestos or cement pipes, the benefits are numerous:

• High impact strength;
• Resistance against chemicals, corrosion and abrasion;
• Chemically inert and unaffected by acidic soil conditions;
• Biologically inert against micro-organisms;
• Available in long lengths, reducing the number of joints;
• Flexibility and toughness;
• Inherent resistance to the effect of ground water movement;
• Excellent hydraulic properties with low friction resistance throughout life;
• Non-toxic and safe for drinking water;
• Low installation cost and maintenance free;
• Environmentally friendly;
• Can be fusion welded, ensuring absolutely leak free joints; and
• Very suitable for rehabilitation of old pipelines.

As a result, plastic pipes are widely used and have applications in mining (surface and underground), water supply, agriculture / irrigation, high temperature liquids and gases (usually not above 60°C), corrosive water and effluents, dewatering, drainage and sub-soil drainage, protection of electrical and telephone cables, hydraulic transport and pipeline rehabilitation.

“Pipelines lie at the heart of South Africa’s infrastructure as water distribution, waste disposal, irrigation and telecommunications all rely on pipelines to function. This year’s Pipes IX Conference has once again highlighted that our country’s skills base and expertise that can hold its own against the best in the world. We have developed applications and standards that are truly world-class.

However, we need government’s support to protect the future of this industry and the survival of local companies that have made huge investments in the country. From our side, SAPPMA will continue to engage with stakeholders such as the SABS to pipes entering the market comply with our standards of excellence.”

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