AN environmentally sensitive and safety-oriented polymer piping system, CalAir's Pro Pipe system, is about to be launched internationally.
The system is clean, easily installed and recyclable and was recently used by advanced metals and plastics engineering company, the Locker Group in Melbourne.
The Pro Pipe system will be introduced to the UK and later to the US markets after CalAir's September float on the Newcastle Stock Exchange.
With the accelerating pace of change sweeping through manufacturing in Australia, factories built today must also be designed to accommodate changes required of them tomorrow.
With this in mind, the Locker Group recently combined three of its previous plants in Melbourne into one 7,000sqm central plant in Dandenong, which was designed to respond rapidly and flexibly to the demands of national and export customers.
"To get the best out of multi-million dollar investments in modern factories it is not enough to perform outstandingly in jobs we have to handle today,” said Locker manufacturing engineer Jason Cassar.”
“You not only have to achieve top efficiency now, but also you also have to design for flexible manufacturing horizons 10 and 20 years out. This is because change is one of the few certainties in Australian industry today.”
Locker's new plant, opened this year by the Victorian Minister for Manufacturing and Export, Mr Andre Haermeyer, employs 120 people making products ranging from perforated and expanded metal architectural and building fittings and features (including the latest Pic Perf screens) through to wire mesh conveyor belt and materials handling systems.
Plant layout is configured so machinery, staff and resources can be redeployed to different areas at short notice, or particular areas expanded to cope with rising demand for items most needed at particular times.
The theme of commitment to manufacturing excellence and flexibility is carried over into office design and standarisation of management systems.
"From the finest to the broadest details, such as our sitting along Melbourne's South-Eastern corridor to slash travel times and reduce traffic congestion - we are future-focused," said Mr Cassar.
These services have been located conveniently out of harm's way (and where they are not a safety hazard) in a system of 600mm deep sub-surface conduits, complemented, in the case of compressed air, by overhead suspension systems that don't obstruct cranes and bulky equipment employed in metal and plastics processing.
A network of such conduit systems - the veins through which integral services can be easily and safely carried and accessed for maintenance - has been built into the plant to cater for present and future needs.
Central to the compressed air and water reticulation systems is the Australian-engineered Calair polymer piping system, which is one eighth the weight of galvanised steel equivalents and will never rust to impair energy efficiency or to clog pipes or valuable tools.
The polymer system is colour-coded for safety, thereby individual pipeline contents can be clearly identified. It is easily installed and easily altered without expensive specialist labour.
The product’s high insulation values means it is less prone to internal condensation resulting from changes in ambient temperatures. Moisture in pipelines was an issue with previous galvanized systems, said Mr Cassar.
The new system is also totally recyclable. Unlike metal welded systems, which frequently has to be junked when production facilities change location, the Calair system can be dismantled, cleanly packed away and reconverted to a new use.
Jason Cassar says the ongoing energy efficiency of the compressed air system is enhanced by the pipeline's low-friction, permanently smooth internal bores. The benefits of this smoothness are complemented by the ring configuration of the 590m main pipeline carrying compressed air to individual drops serving particular tools or workstations.
Like the 590m ring main for water, the circular mains system does not contain any sharp turns or dead ends to obstruct flows and impose a greater load than necessary on the compressor or pumps.
This saves energy, because the compressor or pump does not have to work harder to push its load past obstacles. To allow for future growth, Locker deliberately overspecified the 32mm (Calair A4) internal diameter of the compressed air pipeline, so more air can be delivered through it without excessive back pressure to the Cash Engineering T50 50hp compressor, which delivers air at 110kpa.
Further energy savings were achieved in the factory by use of a PLC-controlled automated lighting system known as C-bus. Using lighting sensors and automated on-off switching, excessive lighting is automatically turned off on a sunny day and turned on during a dark day, maintaining a constant 400lux lighting level and safe working conditions.
Locker's occupational health and safety policy is also enhanced by the Calair pipeline system's light weight and easy handling.
"If we need to cut into the Calair system to incorporate new airlines and tools, it's quick and clean,” said Mr Cassar.
“A single person can do it - without strain, mess or hazard. If people want extra services, a licensed plumber is not required. A maintenance fitter is the preferred trade to carry out any installations or modifications and therefore we keep a stock of joints on hand for additions and maintenance."
The Locker group’s Calair system was supplied by John Hilditch of Calair Pipe Systems North West Melbourne.
Mr Hilditch says the Calair system is simple, versatile and very flexible to use.
"You don't need special tools. The total Locker installation, completed in stages over a month, was not disruptive of other trades or services. We could have completed the job much more quickly if this had been required,” said Mr Hilditch.
The system is also very comprehensive, with a broad range of joints, cross-pieces, elbows, fasteners and fittings, according to Mr Hilditch. These fittings, combined with the system's lightness and rigidity, were an advantage when installing airlines suspended out of the way above overhead cranes, which were used extensively throughout the new plant.
The compressed airlines were readily suspended from the crane rails, says Mr Cassar, a job that was very easy to do with the clips supplied with the Calair system.
Locker's preference for low-maintenance, easily reconfigured materials was a major advantage in switching from metal to polymer piping.
"With metal there is always the issue of getting trades in if you want to make changes,” said Mr Cassar. “Then there is the time taken up threading or welding, plus the corrosion, of course."
Locker specified the Calair product to the builder quoting the installation.
"He traditionally used a plumber and a metal pipe system, but once quotes were compared, the builder agreed to use Calair because he saved thousands," said Mr Cassar.
"It was easy for me to draw up an efficient ring main showing where we wanted our droppers, in the knowledge that we could add to these as required, using locked valves for safety.
"It was helpful also to the builder that the system was colour-coded for system identification and, of course, we at Locker want all piping identified to the highest industry standards, added Mr Cassar.
CalAir's entire Pro Pipe II range is permanently colour-coded in accordance with AS 1345-1995, including aqua for compressed air, beige for gas, green for water, red for fire services, violet for acids and alkalines, brown for oil and black for waste.
The polymer system is available in sizes from 12.5mm-100mm (half-inch to four-inch nominal bore).
Locker's compressed air system has been very efficient and airtight in service, says Mr Cassar.
"At the previous plant we were always looking for leaks and tracing sources of wasted energy, but there's none of that now. Whether we are using their welded joint design or threaded compression joint design, there is not one leak in the Calair piping system throughout the entire new factory."