New Products # 1995 Edinburgh
This paper is conceived as a review of current trends in the market and in the technology for thermoplastic pressure pipes. The application of any technical development depends on that subtle combination of the pull of needs and the push of new ideas. For more than 25 years British Gas has been actively involved in both - as a specifier and large scale purchaser it has exerted considerable pull on this industry and, through its R&T work it has pushed many new developments to fruition. The company was one of the first to wholeheartedly embrace the use of polyethylene for renewal and extension of its low pressure distribution network. From that position of leadership it is now in a primary position to recognise the maturity of this technology and face the reduction of market opportunity that must occur as it begins to consolidate and complete the modernisation of its pipeline system. Such market maturity is inevitable and only the timing of changes in product demand is an issue. The restructuring of the UK gas industry, in response to regulatory pressure, has coincided with a pre-existing trend for plastic gas pipe usage to plateau and then down-turn. Whilst there is some growth potential in the UK water pipe market and enormous growth potential in infrastructural developments of gas and water supplies world-wide, it is perhaps not too soon for marketeers and research workers to look beyond present techno-economic horizons and attempt to anticipate new areas of application and the technologies they will demand.
A further objective of this paper is to stimulate the technical contributors within the plastics pipes community to address problems beyond the use of conventional PE or PVC pressure pipe. The "Plastics Pipes" series of conferences continues to attract high quality papers and presentations reflecting the strengths of, and the support for, research and development. However, in comparing the more recent conferences with the earlier ones it is possible to trace some narrowing of research interests into topics dominated by the high investment of the gas and water utilities. This is a natural result of their position as major customers and their generous sponsorship of R&D but this focused interest ought not to risk neglecting the seed corn of newer and wider applications. The tendency is also reflected in the on-going efforts that are being committed to securing European and International Standards. Surely there is no historic parallel with the scale of international technical co-operation devoted to the creation, consideration, and review of standards literature, that has been operating for the last five years or so. In the past, standards documentation evolved slowly as a natural adjunct to trade. Now, practically every technically capable contributor in Europe seems to be enmeshed in standards generation. The work is necessary and, eventually, much benefit will accrue from the free, competitive markets made possible; but there is a price consequent upon the deflection of effort away from new materials and product development. Standards, by their nature, defend a technological status quo and so we should also take steps to encourage fertile minds to think beyond such confines, in the interest of longer term progress.