Cross-linked polyethylene pipe maker Uponor Inc. is casting a net to catch future, promising water management technologies.
Uponor's Uponor Innovations LLC business unit has invested a minority stake in a startup company that has developed a baffle system to attack sedimentation in storm sewers equipped with sumps. Upstream Technologies Inc., based in New Brighton, Minn., has licensed the baffle system technology from the University of Minnesota.
The baffle system is primarily made of stainless steel, Uponor North America President Bill Gray said in a phone interview from his firm's Apple Valley, Minn., office. The collapsible system knocks out sediment in the sewer system into the sump, where workers can remove it with a vacuum. Gray claims by localizing the sediment where it can be removed, pollution problems can be avoided. Sediment problems are most severe after heavy rainfall washes material into a sewer system.
Gray said Uponor Innovations could identify new technologies to help fuel sales of the parent company in the future.
“It allows us to strengthen our relationship with the University of Minnesota,” Gray explained. “Maybe we'll see more innovations from there.”
A side benefit is Uponor will help mitigate the environmental footprint of catchment systems. Sediment can contain toxins that can enter waterways.
Although Uponor is proficient in making and using PEX pipe, this departure from plastics won't detract it from its main business, Gray stressed. After all, the baffle system involves water management, which is an overarching momentum of the company.
“You have to be able to pivot in different directions,” according to Gray.
Uponor's joint venture with KWH Group, Uponor Infra, is well poised to help it capitalize on water system innovations, Gray said.
XLPE pipe still has lots of unrealized market opportunities, Gray noted. One area being explored is using such pipe to replace fluoropolymer and other types of pipe in aggressive environments.
Uponor Innovations was formed last year to open a path for diversification. Uponor Inc. is a subsidiary of Uponor Corp. of Vantaa, Finland.