It’s hard to fail to notice the growing popularity of thermoplastic pipes in brownfield and greenfield mining projects in Africa. In an interview with African Mining Brief, Willem Liebenberg, Technical Manager of South African Plastic Pipes Manufacturers Association (SAPPMA), Africa’s eminent plastic pipe manufacturers’ body, articulates critical factors behind this trend.
AMB: These days in Africa there is an overabundance of plastic products from all corners of the world, more especially the Far East. But if one keenly observes, in the past decade there has been a growing presence of thermoplastic pipes in industry, especially in mines. In which applications are thermoplastic pipes suitable in the mining environment?
WL: Yes your observation is right. Thermoplastics are now one of the most preferred pipe products in the mining sector. Thermoplastic pipes can be used in almost all (both above and underground) pressure, gravity, or normal conduit mining applications to transport water, chemicals, slurry and gas, amongst others. It is especially its resistance to chemical attack and its corrosive advantages that makes it a very appealing choice in the contemporary mining industry given the obligations on organisations. Of course, the advantages are inexhaustible.
AMB: One expert told us during a recent pipe manufacturers exhibition that a pipe is as effective as its installation. What installation advice can you tell us on thermoplastic pipes?
WL: Indeed, this is true as for any other product in the mining industry. With respect to thermoplastic pipes, regulations and proper installation procedures need to be adhered in order to ensure the system installed lives up to the standard of the product utilised. The initial purpose for what it was intended should be respected as for any other product in the mining industry. In addition, one should only use reputable contractors with qualified personnel. In fact, only qualified welders should be allowed to do abutt- weld / Electrofusion joint on HDPE pipe.
As SAPPMA, we have addressed this under IFPA (Installation and Fabrication Plastics Pipe Association). We have gone even further to promote the improvement of quality of workmanship on site, by enforcing correct installation procedures during pipe installations.
AMB: Pipe failure often occurs at times when least expected. What are possible causes of thermoplastic pipe failure in the rugged mining environment?
WL: Failure has to be expected but not when it could have been forestalled. The most common type of failure from what SAPPMA has observed is usually incorrect handling and over-pressure. Pipes are designed for a specific purpose, the same applies to any other product in mining and other sectors. If they are handled incorrectly or the purpose for which they were intended are not respected, then surely they will fail (as will any other product.) For instance, if an exposed, elevated, simply supported pipe is used as a lifting beam, or someone hangs on it, or the span between its supports are out of specification, then surely it will fail as it is handled outside of the scope that it was intended for.
AMB: Share with us the latest information on latest thermoplastic pipe innovations specific to the mining environment? What do they bring to in terms of safety, performance, durability and cost effectiveness?
WL: One can mention the latest improvements till hens come to roost. But to focus one of what is considered the most important one. he latest improvements in thermoplastic pipes; for instance the improved raw material properties used to manufacture PE 100 pipes that can now be installed together with the latest high pressure stubs and flange technologies and other improved jointing technologies such as high pressure butt-welds, electrofusion-welding etc. has placed plastic pipes on a much higher level in terms of performance and durability than in the past. Through improved third party inspections, users of thermoplastic pipes can rest assured that the durability and cost effectiveness, especially in terms of its operating life span (or life expectancy) will be met or exceeded. In terms of safety, the thermoplastic pipe is one of the preferred piping systems that can be used to deal with acid mine drainage due to its unique properties. In addition, the carbon footprint for thermoplastic pipes is much less than any other type of pipes.