Pipe and tubing extruder Rehau Inc. will more than double its cross-linked polyethylene pipe capacity at its Cullman, Ala., manufacturing facility with the construction of a 200,000-square-foot plant and the planned addition of 100 new workers during the next four years.
Leesburg, Va.-based Rehau will invest more than $20 million to meet growing demand in the heating and plumbing markets. Rehau officials declined to say how many new extruders the firm will add, but did say the new plant will fill the needs of Rehau's North American PEX pipe customers for at least the next three years.
Rehau, which also manufactures PVC and high density PE pipe, sees growing acceptance and use of PEX in various heating and plumbing applications - both in residential and commercial construction.
PEX pipe is flexible, which allows plumbers and heat-duct installers to manipulate the pipe more easily than pipe made with rigid materials, and to use fewer fittings. The result can mean reduced installation times.
The major building codes pertaining to pipe materials recently have included PEX in their language, which in turn has stimulated market demand for the material; PEX is known to handle substantial changes in pressure and temperature, said Bill Johansen, Rehau's business unit manager for heating and plumbing.
PVC and HDPE still have their place and should continue to grow in use, but in particular temperature-related applications, PEX is the material of choice, Johansen said. Also, competiting materials, like copper, are experiencing historically high pricing, further making inroads for PEX.
``In terms of plumbing and heating, metal prices in the market are quite strong,'' Johansen said. ``Along with the changes in code, it has given PEX an opportunity to gain market share.''
Bob Kordulak, code secretary for the National Standards Plumbing Code, said it's up to individual home or building designers to decide what pipe material should be used in a particular project. The determining factor sometimes is price, or in many instances, simply what material the designer prefers, he said.
Has PEX gained market share?
``Yes. I believe it has,'' Kordulak said.
Rehau will break ground on the new plant in Cullman this month. Rehau officials anticipate manufacturing in the new building to begin in December.
Other applications for PEX pipe include underground road, walkway and short-run transit snow- and ice-removal systems. Even National Football League venues like Cleveland Browns Stadium and Paul Brown Stadium, in Cincinnati, sport Rehau's underground heating systems for sod and field maintenance.
Using a controlled flow of warm water, PEX pipe can be used to heat roads and sidewalks enough to melt ice and snow, Johansen said. Rehau also manufactures pre-insulated pipe used in land development applications. Rehau's PEX pipe diameter runs typically from three-quarters of an inch to 6 inches.