When we consider the possible applications for plastics pipes and fittings in the area of utilities, it is worth just considering the role of utility services in our daily lives. By utilities we mean the service providers that deliver infrastructure to all buildings and areas of commercial, recreational and domestic purpose. 

Essentially service utilities can be broken down into categories, Water, Energy, Electricity and Telecommunications. These four utility services are the backbone of modern life in our domestic and business lives. 
 

Drinking Water and Sanitation
 

Plastic pipe systems are used in every aspect of the water cycle, from abstraction, to treatment, to distribution, to collection and back to treatment.

 

Abstraction
 

Raw water from ground sources or reservoirs remains one of the world's most precious resources. 

Plastic pipe systems play a vital role in the process of abstraction. They enable collection, transport and protection to the area of treatment. Where water is abstracted from ground boreholes, then plastic pipes are usually utilised in two specific areas. Firstly as a sleeve to prevent borehole collapse and secondly, as a conduit for transporting the raw water either directly to consumers where treatment is not necessary or to the treatment plant prior to chemical dosing and eventual distribution. 

The most commonly used plastics in this area would be PP. PVC-U would be used in the case of the borehole sleeves/casings and Polyethylene and PVC-U for the transport and distribution pipelines. 

Treatment

Within this area of the cycle, plastic pipes display their chemical and corrosion resistance to great benefit. 

The treatment of raw water involves purification which encompasses extraction of unwanted elements and chemical dosing in order to make the water fit for human consumption. Plastic pipes are often the first choice for delivering various chemicals and reagents to the treatment areas.

At times, these treatment processes involve some highly corrosive and aggressive treatments. The maintenance of this treatment process is vital for the continuous flow of potable water to cities and homes. Plastic pipes deliver this reliability. 

Typical plastic pipe materials for this purpose are PP, PVC-U and PVDF with specific choices being made depending on the particular chemical or reagent being used. 
 

Distribution

Clean drinking water is a vital and scarce resource requiring only the best protection on its journey from source to consumer. 

Plastic pipe systems are used by water supply companies for transporting water, right into the heart of our homes, business and recreational areas. They are used to transport water to the kitchen, bathroom, laundry and to the taps, showers, baths, washing machines, toilets etc. In addition to the household environment, they are needed by industry for processing, bottling, cooling and many varied application areas. 

Historically, many different materials have transported drinking water from the source to the consumer. The most visible signs of the water distribution systems of former times are the aqueducts that were once part of the Roman Empire. Later, wood, cast iron and cement pipes were used. But these are gradually being replaced or even rehabilitated by plastic pipes. They have become the material of choice in most European countries. 

They offer the best possible solution for conveying valuable drinking water. It is all about avoiding water loss (leakage) and protecting the water quality from potential pollution (ingress). Furthermore, they combine the advantages of longevity and durability with ease of installation and handling. They really offer a long-term cost-effective solution. 

Plastic pipe systems used for the distribution of drinking water outside of buildings are mostly made from PVC-U and PE. 
 

Collection/Waste Water Disposal

It goes without saying that pipes for transporting non potable water services need to be leak free. But they also have to be other things such as long lasting, hydraulically efficient and corrosion resistant. Plastic pipes fulfil this list of requirements perfectly. 

The collection of foul or waste water is just as important as that for raw water. Safeguarding our environment and protecting public health and hygiene are serious responsibilities. 

Plastic sewer pipe systems have other advantages when it comes to the transport of wastewater. Their flexibility allows them to adjust to inevitable ground movements, thereby reducing the risk of leakage. Flow properties inherent in the physical design and structure of these systems are excellent. And during their service lives, they will require very little maintenance. Once buried, they become long-term assets.

Plastic pipes are therefore in great demand for gravity or pressured sewer mains, pipeline rehabilitation, split storm and sanitary sewer lines, sludge lines and vacuum systems. 

Typical and therefore common materials would be PVC-U and PE. 
 

Energy/Gas

Distributing gas from shippers/suppliers to consumers requires very high integrity, leak-free piping systems. This is the principal reason why more and more gas companies choose the safe and reliable long-term solution offered by plastic pipe systems. The fact that plastic pipe systems are not subject to corrosion makes them the best economical solution for the long term. 

They are light-weight, flexible and available in straight lengths or in long lengths on coils. Just the job for easy installation and for minimising the number of joints in the piping system. Safety is improved. And when the ground moves, their flexibility will safeguard their contents even during the most intense earthquakes. In Japan, their track is superlative for they have been tested on the upper scale of Richter!

Also phenomenal is their long-term resistance to a variety of service conditions such as abrasion, temperature, bending, weathering and internal pressure, etc. These advantages underpin the confidence shared by gas engineers all over the world. Major gas suppliers and utilities in Europe rely exclusively on plastic pipe systems for gas distribution and delivery to the home. 

Communications

Fibre Optic Networks/Cable TV/Data & Telephone Communications

From Internet backbone to the home and from signalman to station master, the communication that flashes though underground cables and fibre optics is usually protected by plastic pipes. 

A cross-section of a normal house or street would reveal a labyrinth of countless cables. Even a standard one-family house is home to up to 200 metres of cable: hidden behind walls and under floors. It seems that the world of instant communication has disrupted subterranean life for ever. Fibre optics for communications, television and Internet are infiltrating the most hidden spaces and the demand for convenient cable protection systems is almost voracious. 

Plastic pipes offer excellent protection. So much so that cable and fibre optics installed in plastic pipe systems give fewer failures than directly buried cables. 

Damage from subsequent excavations, road construction, hurricanes and even rodents is most unlikely. It also makes a lot of sense economically. Cable replacement or addition of new cables is much easier and thus cheaper. 

Less public inconvenience is also ensured. Cables may be renewed, repaired or added without digging up the street. In this instance, the pipes used for cable protection may even have a low-friction coating on the inside. Several hundred metres of cable can therefore be introduced at a time. 

PVC and PE are the materials most commonly used for cable protection systems.