As butt welding is chemistry plus physics, operators need to have an understanding of the power and heat that are at work when plastic pipes are joined. Both equipment manufacturers and contractors have to train operators in the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of using equipment, a specialist from ROTHENBERGER says.
Odd as it may seem, increasing demand for butt welding equipment for pipe joining projects in African mining and associated sectors has occasioned a noticeable rise in concerns about the quality of the work produced, as well as the escalation of safety risks. With respect to safety, it is not uncommon to hear about injuries to technicians working on projects – at times fatal. Worryingly, there are also reports of costly and irreparable damage to pipes in butt welding tasks.
In an interview with African Mining Brief, Steven van Zyl, Managing Director South Africa of ROTHENBERGER, one of the world’s biggest suppliers of butt welding solutions for application in various industries, suggests some of the practical ways in which safety and efficiency in butt welding can be enhanced. He references how ROTHENBERGER manages these challenges.
While not ruling out the possibility that the quality of equipment might be the cause in some cases in both of these scenarios, the approach to butt welding should also be considered, Van Zyl notes. “Butt welding is a highly standardized and formalized process, because essentially, plastic forms new ties on a molecular basis through heat and pressure. Operators need to work with even and clean surfaces, keep preheating time, apply the correct pressure for welding so that the bead forms correctly, and allow time for cooling under a certain pressure. The welding process itself takes as long as it takes and cannot be speeded up mainly because of the material and of pipe thickness which define welding parameters – otherwise the connection will not and cannot be stable, because chemistry does not allow this.”
The effective approach is to provide training for butt welding machines and make welding parameters easy to follow in the overviews (manual) which comes with all machines, she suggests.
“We realised that when provided with welding parameters with every machine to support efficient butt welding, operators have a clear definition how to prepare and weld plastic pipes, considering pipe diameter and thickness as well as environmental conditions. Computerised semi-automated butt welding machines additionally facilitate adherence to these parameters, because the automation guides operators through the welding process,” says Van Zyl.
Moreover, fully automated machines enhance safety, because operators are at a distance from the machine for some of the operating time, but some work still needs to be done directly at the machine.
In manually-operated hydraulic machines, an upgrade with an app provides documentation services so that, as with fully and semi-automated machines, operators can double-check protocols which document the welding process.
All in all, Van Zyl suggests, fully automated butt welding machines or machines that can be partially operated by an app should be utilised as they simplify butt welding.
Van Zyl stresses the importance of training the end-user in handling butt-welding machines efficiently. “Training is the most reliable way to guarantee efficient and safe handling of the machines, as operators and workers surrounding them need to understand the power and heat that is at work in butt welding. That is why at ROTHENBERGER we offer training on site with the machines exactly for this reason.”
Butt welding is chemistry plus physics – operators need to have an understanding of the machine and the welding process. For this reason, Van Zyl has two pieces of advice to contractors who use butt welding in Africa – one a “don’t”, another a “do”.
“First, don’t shorten cooling times. We have seen operators hurried to achieve more connections in one day, so cooling time is shortened. This must not happen, because the joints are likely to break if cooling time is reduced. Only if operators adhere exactly to the welding process will the result be a durably stable connection – an essential aspect which will help prevent recourse claims against contractors, save them money and develop their businesses.