A Quantum Leap from Traditional Methods

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-By Aleisha Parr

Since the 1930s, the pipe industry in Australia has been going strong, using one tried and tested method of pipe construction to develop essential water infrastructure. Up until recently, this traditional method of pipe making has been adequate to meet the needs of the industry. However, as more of Australia develops its community infrastructure and the Government continues to pour money into extending pipelines into the barren interior, it has become essential for the industry to increase production while also cutting down on waste. Reinforced Concrete Pipes Australia has done just that – revolutionising the industry with its cutting-edge pipe making technology and blazing the way for faster, greener and more cohesive pipeline infrastructure throughout the country.

Says RCPA Managing Director, Nelson Ray, “We came in with brand new technology. We searched the world and found ourselves a technology which, as we saw it, was quite a quantum leap from the traditional methods.”

Due to the national focus on stimulus projects aimed at promoting the development of strategic infrastructure, especially in drought-ridden parts of Australia, as well as the demand for increased infrastructure and services in high density communities, the pipeline industry is currently thriving. Unfortunately, the standard method of pipe making involves spinning pipe moulds horizontally, with a long steam curing process to follow. This can take hours and is incredibly wasteful, with waste slurries from the pipe moulds falling to the ground as the pipes cure.

RCPA’s method has a strong technological basis, taking advantage of a vertical mould to pour pure concrete inside, where the computer program then compacts the concrete in less than a minute. The concrete mixture used is very dry, and because of the high compaction allowed by the vertical mould, the finished pipes are able to cure while freestanding, thereby freeing up the moulds for use on the next pipe. This rapid pipe mould turnover rate means that RCPA is able to cast pipes up to three or four times faster than competitors utilising the traditional methods.

Explains Mr Ray, “Pipes that we make at 9:00 am are on the floor at about 9:02 am. We have to cure it in place, but it means that we only ever need two moulds, because one mould takes the pipe to the floor for curing while the other mould is being filled up in the machine, so the two moulds circulate. Now because the traditional methods take three or four hours until they get the moulds back, they need three or four hours’ worth of moulds.”

The benefits passed down to clients from this new technique are impressive. Because RCPA is able to create multiple pipes so quickly while only using two pipe moulds, customers are able to receive the pipes they need exactly to spec and immediately, without a high overhead cost. Furthermore, even if the pipes a customer desires are not readily in stock, they may order them and in a matter of a week can have hundreds of the pipes they need. Obviously, this represents a tremendous benefit to the client, decreasing work delays and thereby saving time and money on projects.

Furthermore, the unique design of RCPA’s pipes is such that every pipe of a particular size has identical joining, regardless of its class. This detail ensures that a client can save time and money by simply swapping in one new pipe where needed instead of a whole new system, and also has the added benefit of not requiring a manhole to be placed in between pipes of two different classes.

The innovative techniques used by RCPA also assist in cutting down production waste, thereby offering significant environmental advantages. Explains Mr Ray, “Because it’s a super drying concrete mix, we don’t have waste slurries coming off it onto the floor that we have to get rid of. Also, the type of waste it makes is very friendly environmentally.”

While often an increase in production rate can mean that a process must sacrifice in quality, this is certainly not the case here. The pipes built by RCPA through this vertical, high-compression technique are just as strong and durable – if not more so – than pipes built using the traditional technique. Reports Mr Ray, “Everyone within the industry has got to make the pipes to AS 058. We always comply with that, so we have a very intensive system to ensure that our pipes comply with that.”

In fact, RCPA’s pipes also cut down on rust issues which are typically brought on by traditional methods of pipe making. When pipes are cast horizontally with a slow steam curing process, they must be supported from within by a steel reinforcing cage, which ensures that the pipe maintains its shape throughout the process. This reinforcing cage carries through from the interior to the exterior of the pipe via small steel nibs which space the cage off of the mould; these nibs inevitably rust and cause deterioration problems for the pipe over time. RCPA pipes do not suffer this same problem because the steel cage utilised in this process is only used on the interior, as the vertical setup does not require the same reinforcement techniques as a horizontal process does. The cage on an RCPA pipe is surrounded by the concrete, with no steel connection from the reinforcement to the exterior of the pipe. Due to this advancement, no avenue exists for rust to develop on the reinforcement.

Beyond the technical advancements of RCPA’s pipe making methods, Mr Ray also credits the company’s success to its approach to building staff and client relationships. He explains that each of the firm’s factories is run as though it were a small business, with each manager holding accountability and control of his own factory. He explains, “Our sort of psychology is to work as a team, but give our managers as much say in their own operations as we can.” Staff response to this level of trust and responsibility is positive, resulting in a very low turnover rate and a high retention period.

That same level of respect is then passed on to the client, where RCPA endeavours to provide open, honest answers to its clients on all issues. Says Mr Ray, “Within the industry, because of the large amount of stock that you are required to carry, you can often be caught in a situation where somebody wants something you don’t have. We try to be honest with the customer to give them a delivery [estimate] that we can meet, without giving him something that’s what he wants to hear but perhaps which we can’t do for him.”

Having recently experienced growth through the strategic merger of RCP and APP, two wholly owned Australian companies specialising in complementary pipe making solutions, RCPA is comfortable with its comprehensive efficiencies and strong market share. Nelson Ray says that the company plans to continue to build its reputation within the industry, pursuing growth naturally. “We are keen to expand, but only where it makes sense to us; we’re not going to expand just for the sake of moving into areas we’re not into, but if we see an opportunity then we want to expand and move into it.”

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January 25, 2021, 9:41 PM AEDT