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The Importance Of PVC Pipe And Fittings To The World

Jul 24, 2008
As thermoplastic polymers go, PVC or polyvinyl chloride must be one of the most widely used all around the world. A wide variety of industries use PVC due to its durability and affordability. Nowhere is this truer than in the construction industry where PVC pipe and fittings are extensively used for plumbing systems in the building of new homes. The development of PVC has been somewhat chequered and the popularity we see today has taken a long time to come into fruition. The first PVC was developed by the B.F Goodrich Company around ninety years ago. The work of this company however had limitations, PVC at the time was not as versatile as it is now, and originally the material was regarded as being brittle and unworkable.

Thanks to the work of B.F Goodrich however the PVC pipe and fittings we see today came that little bit closer to existence. After combining plasticizing agents with the original material its uses became far more diverse. This combination of plastics and vinyl meant that this modern PVC was malleable and could be adapted to a variety of different purposes. In addition to malleability however, it was the long lasting nature and strength which led to the construction industry realising the benefits of this wonder material. Unlike copper and other metals, PVC pipe and its fittings will never rot, rust is not a problem and hence, after installation costs, maintenance costs are largely non-existent.

Even after the combination of plasticizing agents PVC did not become widely used for at least another decade. Many industries found it hard to find suitable applications for this material, despite its obvious qualities. The first uses for the material could not be further removed from the construction industry. Early tyre manufacturers started using PVC for the tread on tyres as they would last longer.

These early forays were soon abandoned for rubber however after vulcanisation had created a far more useful tyre material. The mid-century saw the first PVC pipe being developed. This was because a new machine allowed the PVC to be stretched into cylindrical pipes that were uniform and hence perfect for construction. This specialist piece of machinery made PVC pipe and fittings what they are today, the material of choice for building purposes. Thanks to its durability and low absorption properties, it was found to be perfect in piping systems.

This low absorption is due to the smooth surface of the material; thanks to this property the uses for carrying water were quickly realised. A smooth surface means the chances of bacterial contamination are reduced as they have nothing to cling onto. Water companies soon saw this as a major benefit over the existing materials such as copper.

As previously stated PVC pipe and fittings are extremely hardwearing and durable. This resistance of stress and tension has made them the piping material of choice in areas where earthquakes are a regular occurrence. Metal piping is easily ruptured in an earthquake meaning that water needed to fight fires and re-hydrate people is cut off. PVC however can resist the tensions of a quake and hence is a more popular and safer choice.

PVC pipe does have a weakness however, despite its strength if it is left out in the sun the material tends to warp and sag, making fittings and pipes completely unusable. In addition, when used to carry high pressure gas ruptures can occur.

Even with these problems PVC pipe remains one of the most widely use thermoplastic polymers in the world. Without the pipe and fittings made from PVC the construction industry would not be able to work as fast and maintenance costs of water systems would be astronomical. Ultimately PVC has been a vital building block in the creation of the modern world.
About the Author
Industry expert Thomas Pretty looks into the development of PVC pipe fittings and how they have become widely used in construction.
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