Key makers of cross-linked polyethylene pipe introduced new products and chatted about expansion plans at the International Builders Show, held Jan. 21-24 in Las Vegas.
Despite general malaise in the PE pipe industry, PEX pipe manufacturers reported better performance overall and anticipation of increasing business as the material replaces copper and officials fight codes for broader product acceptance.
Here are the highlights.
Rehau Inc., based in Leesburg, Va., will begin manufacturing PEX pipe in North America for the first time in its 30-year history, at the end of March. The company will extrude PEX at its Cullman, Ala., facility. Rehau formerly extruded PEX at two facilities in Germany, officials said.
``We're well into this project,'' said Bill Johansen, heating and plumbing division marketing manager.
Johansen is encouraged by larger projects like the new Niagra Falls Casino/Gateway Project in Ontario, where its Raupex-brand pipe is being installed. Rehau created a hydronic snow- and ice-melting system featuring its PEX pipe. Officials said the 125,000-square-foot system will be installed in parking lots and walkways to melt the accumulation of snow and ice caused by the constant spray from Niagra Falls.
``We've got a lot of nice projects coming down the pike,'' Johansen said in a Feb. 10 telephone interview. ``When you see commercial projects starting to use PEX this way, there's a higher confidence level among specifiers.''
Rehau is owned by Fraenkische Plastiks GmbH, based in Rehau, Germany.
Uponor Wirsbo highlighted expansion plans and showcased products like an all-plastic manifold.
The Apple Valley, Minn.-based pipe extruder is expanding within existing facilities in its headquarters city and at an operation in St. John, New Brunswick. Officials declined to be more specific.
Its Aquacenter Valved Manifold is injection molded from advanced-engineered plastic. The company would not disclose the type of plastic.
The firm reported double-digit growth last year. ``We're expecting the same this year,'' said marketing director Dale Stroud.
Its sister firm, RTI Pex Piping Systems Inc. in Bellport, N.Y., will add one extrusion line at its production facility in Langley, British Columbia. The trend now is colored pipe for hot and cold potable water, said Todd Shaw, vice president.
``Red and blue color coding is really starting to take over,'' he said. ``It's a somewhat crowded marketplace, but there's plenty of room out there for all.''
Uponor North America Inc. reported $246 million in extrusion sales for 2002 with 895 employees and 80 extrusion lines. Uponor North America is owned by Uponor Oyj in Vantaa, Finland.
Vanguard Piping Systems Inc. in McPherson, Kan., is continuing to upgrade production at its headquarters plant, said John Fraser, vice president of sales and marketing. The firm also added an automated recoiler packaging machine in McPherson for re-coiling PEX product in January.
The company recently expanded extrusion capacity at its plant in Burnaby, British Columbia.
``We've got new products coming in, both in PE and PEX, due to be online by May 1,'' Fraser said.
Its product is used in residential and light commercial plumbing systems. In the spring, the firm will introduce a three-layer plumbing product called Vanguard Ultra.
Vanguard has been very active in California, Fraser said. Despite code challenges, the firm is moving forward.
``We're selling an increasing number of products in California,'' he said. ``We're waiting for the judge's decision to become final. Even without that, we see an increasing market potential [there]. It's a huge state and has a huge number of housing starts.''
Quality Plastics Ltd. of Cork, Ireland, made its debut at the show with its five-layer PEX pipe for radiant and potable applications. The pipe is distributed in the United States by Weil-McLain of Michigan City, Ind.