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ANALYTICAL TESTING OF ADVANCED BUTT FUSION TECHNOLOGY FOR HDPE PIPE

Steve D. Sandstrum ISCO Industries, LLC Dick McKinley Fast Fusion, LLC

ABSTRACT: The market for high density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe continues to expand across a variety of end use applications. As this growth continues to accelerate, users within the market place have become more familiar with the traditional method of joining HDPE pipe, namely butt fusion, and have become more educated in the benefits, challenges and potential impact this joining method may have on project economics. In recent years, however, advancements in butt fusion technology have paved the way for improved efficiencies in the joining of HDPE pipe. This paper will focus on one of these advancements which has recently been introduced to the North American market and has become known as automated mobile fusion technology. The discussion which follows explains the technology associated with this joining technique and presents the analytical testing undertaken to verify the integrity of HDPE pipe joints made with this adaptation of the butt fusion procedure. The discussion shall conclude with example comparisons of the improvements in job site efficiency achieved with this technology as compared to the conventional butt fusion joining process. INTRODUCTION: High density polyethylene pipe (HDPE) has long been established in the market as a preferred material for demanding municipal and industrial piping systems. HDPEs surge capacity, light weight, and flexibility have made it a logical choice for direct burial or trenchless placement of potable water lines and force main sewers. The chemical and abrasion resistance of HDPE pipe combined with its overall toughness and durability have also made it an ideal candidate for industrial piping systems such as mine dewatering lines, gas and oil gathering, chemical and mineral processing, fines and slurries lines and many more highly aggressive applications. The butt fusion method of joining HDPE pipe and the leak-free joint performance which it affords has been inherent to its overall success in the broad array of applications for which it is utilized. Over the years, fusion joining technology and the equipment

involved has continued to evolve. This evolutionary process has held two key benefits for the industry. First, is the continued expansion in the recognition of the long-term integrity of the properly made butt fusion joint. The second benefit is the greater confidence and versatility of the butt fusion system of joining afforded by advancements in equipment technology. From the very early days of HDPE pipes first use in North America, the industry has witnessed tremendous strides in equipment durability and, hence, reliability in the field. More recent advancements have been focused on fusion mobility, process automation and computerized fusion parameter recording. This paper will examine yet another step in the evolution of the butt fusion process for HDPE pipe, automated mobile fusion technology, or AMFT. To facilitate this, we will briefly re-cap the general butt fusion procedure as it has been developed to this point in time, including advancements in automation and data recording. From this, the latest advancement in butt fusion technology referred to as automated mobile butt fusion will be introduced and reviewed. Industry recognized testing of butt fusions made using this technology will then be presented and discussed. This paper will then conclude with a brief summary of job site benefits associated with deployment of the automated mobile fusion technology and its overall impact on job-site productivity. TRADITIONAL BUTT FUSION: From the early days of its use in the oil and gas fields of the United States, the technique used to join HDPE pipe has been key to its continued growth and expansion. All along the way from those days of hot plate welding to todays self-contained and highly automated fusion equipment, the integrity and reliability of the butt fusion joint has paved the way for more creative and challenging uses of HDPE pipe. Through continued research and development, we now have butt fusion equipment that is highly sophisticated and, at the same time, extremely durable and capable of withstanding the rigors of nearly any pipeline construction setting.

Figure 1: Early Days of HDPE Fusion (Courtesy Phillips Driscopipe)

Figure 2: Todays Fusion Technology (Courtesy McElroy Manufacturing)

Notwithstanding the technological advancements that have been realized, the fundamental butt fusion method of joining HDPE pipe has not changed significantly. As noted within various industry publications, the butt fusion procedure is still comprised of the following basic steps. (1),(2) The Basic Steps of the Butt Fusion Method 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Clamp and align the pipes to be joined. Face the pipe ends to establish clean, parallel surfaces Align the pipe profiles Melt the pipe interfaces Join the two profiles together by applying the proper fusion force Hold under pressure until the joint is cool

While the advancements in fusion technology over the years have been numerous, the basic process remains largely the same as it did in the early days. Place the pipe ends to be fusion joined in a suitably designed piece of equipment that can securely hold the respective pipes in a concentric fashion. Use a suitable device to square the pipe ends. That is, to clean them up or face them in a consistent fashion such that the resulting pipe faces are parallel in orientation. Once that is complete, a heat source is placed within the interface of the two pipe joints to achieve a uniform roll-back bead. The heat source is then removed and the pipe faces brought together at a suitable fusion pressure and held there until the joint is cool enough to be maneuvered out of the fusion equipment in a safe and efficient manner. The advancements or improvements in fusion technology have occurred principally in the area of equipment improvements such as pipe alignment and holding capacity, pipe diameter capability, mitered fitting capability, pressure control, heating and temperature control technology, job-site durability and portability of the fusion equipment itself and, of course, automated data recording. Clearly, each of the improvements has, in its own way advanced the technology by which we continue to join HDPE piping systems. However, the fundamental process by which we position and place the pipe in a fusion machine, grip it throughout the various steps of the butt fusion method, and, subsequently remove the completed pipe string from the fusion equipments has not changed significantly. AUTOMATED MOBILE FUSION TECHNOLOGY: Automated mobile fusion technology (AMFT) represents the latest innovation in HDPE pipe joining technology. As shown in Figure 3, AMFT may appear to be a radically new approach to butt fusion joining technology when in reality it is based on the traditional six step approach previously described. What is different is the overall approach to the issues associated with the handling and conveyance of the pipe, the environment in which

the fusion joint is made and the approach to cooling and holding of the freshly made fusion joint.

Figure 3: Automated Mobile Fusion Machine on the Job Site (Courtesy Fast Fusion)

Figure 4: Automated Mobile Fusin Machine with Stinger Deployed (Courtesy Fast Fusion)

First and foremost, AMFT is a mobile, self-contained fusion apparatus that provides a climate controlled environment in which to make the pipe fusion joint. The AMFT fusion vehicle is driven down the pipeline right-of-way along which the HDPE pipe has been unloading and positioned for in-line joining. As the vehicle progresses along the right-of-way, the leading boom or stinger picks a piece of HDPE pipe off of the ground and the forward progression of the vehicle propels the pipe into the cab of the vehicle. As each pipe joint is fed into the cab it is loaded into an industry standard butt fusion apparatus which has been installed in an in-line orientation with the vehicles direction of travel and, hence, the pipeline right-of-way.

Figure 5: Interior of AMFT Cab Showing Fusion Configuration (Courtesy Fast Fusion) The standard butt fusion apparatus housed in the climate controlled cab is then utilized to make a typical butt fusion between two successive joints of HDPE pipe in an environment that is protected from the effects of wind-blown debris, moisture or inclement weather. This configuration allows for joining of the HDPE pipe string on an all-weather basis thereby assuring optimal productivity at any job site. Once the fusion joint has been fully cooled and considered complete, the operator in the AMFT vehicle releases the joint and then progresses down the right-of-way picking up the next joint of HDPE pipe and feeding it into the cab for fusion to the exiting pipe string. Simultaneously, the completed pipe string exits the rear of the AMFT vehicle feeding out along the right-of-way as the vehicle progresses forward. The result is a fusion joined, completed pipe string laid down along the right-of-way adjacent to the trench and ready for installation.

The AMFT vehicle is the industrys first attempt to address HDPE pipe fusion as an integrated step within the overall pipeline construction process. Some specific benefits of the AMFT system are as follows. Tracked vehicle design assures mobility in the most demanding pipeline construction environments. Climate controlled fusion environment that insures high quality fusion results despite aggressive weather conditions. Unique pipe handling capability minimizes the need for additional costly pipe handling equipment on the job-site during the fusion process Standard commercially available butt fusion equipment mounted in-line with vehicles direction of travel Proprietary technology provides for quick, uniform removal of heat from the butt fusion joint Absolute minimal disturbance of the butt fusion joint during the cooling and removal process Integrated butt fusion data logging of all fusion joints

While it is the combination of each of these benefits that bears a direct relationship on the overall productivity improvement potential of the AMFT equipment, there are two specific points that warrant further consideration as to their impact on the overall quality of the fusion joint produced using this technology. These are: the proprietary heat removal system and the integrated movement control system. Each of these points will be discussed briefly as follows. The AMFT apparatus utilizes proprietary technology to remove heat from the fusion joint in a uniform controlled fashion. It is important to understand that this unique approach does not actually cool the joint. Rather a patented apparatus is placed around the fusion joint at the time of cooling. This device then circulates ambient air around the joint to expedite the removal of heat without affecting the overall integrity of the joint. Again, all parameters relating to this step in the fusion process are recorded in the AMFT on-board computer system. In traditional butt fusion of HDPE pipe, a joint is made within the fusion apparatus and then allowed to cool to a non-specific temperature at which time it is removed from the machine. The removal process typically entails the pulling of the fused string of pipe out of the fusion equipment potentially placing considerable stress on the freshly made fusion joint. Depending on the temperature of the joint at the time that the pipe string is pulled from the fusion equipment, the associated forces may have an affect on the quality of the fusion joint just produced. With AMFT technology, the pipe is not pulled from the fusion apparatus. As each joint is produced and cooled using AMFT technology, the fusion apparatus is moved out from under the freshly made fusion joint as the vehicle proceeds along the pipeline right of way. In this way, the resulting stress imposed on the freshly made fusion joint is minimized to the extent possible as compared to conventional butt fusion.

TESTING AND TEST RESULTS: The fusion heat removal system utilized within the AMFT process is, in itself, a unique evolution in fusion joining technology. As such, testing has been performed to validate the overall AMFT fusion process and insure that the resulting joint integrity is not affected in any way. Hydrostatic testing of fusion joints produced using AMFT technology was undertaken in 2005 in accordance with the requirements of ASTM D2513-04a.(3) Three series of fusion joints were produced to facilitate testing; a) the first series was conventional PE3408, b) the second series was conventional PE2406 and c) the final series was produced from cross-fusions of PE3408 to PE100 piping products. Three specimens were produced from each series of pipe resulting in a total test regime of 9 specimens. Fusion conditions for each series of test specimens are detailed in Table 1 Table 1: Fusion Conditions for Each Series of Pipe to be Tested
Series I II III Material PE3408/PE3408 PE2406/PE2406 PE3408/PE100 Heart time, seconds 200 100 100 Fusion Time, seconds 16 16 16 Cooling Time, seconds 360 210 210

Each specimen was then placed on hydrostatic test in accordance with ASTM D1598-02 at 80 C and a fiber stress of 670 or 798 psi. The test results are summarized in Table 2 which follows. Table 2: ASTM 1598-02 80 C Testing of Pipe Specimens Produced with AMFT Technology
Specimen I-1/2 I-3/4 I-5/6 II-1/2 II-3/4 II-5/6 III-1/2 III-3/4 III-5/6 Material PE3408 PE3408 PE3408 PE2406 PE2406 PE2406 PE3408/PE100 PE3408/PE100 PE3408/PE100 OD, inches 18.250 18.250 18.250 12.733 12.733 12.733 12.750 12.750 12.750 Stress, psi 670 670 670 670 670 670 798 798 798 Minimum Time to Failure, hours 165 165 165 165 165 165 165 165 165 Test Results, hours Pass, removed after 170 Pass, removed after 170 Pass, removed after 400 Pass, removed after 170 Pass, removed after 170 Pass, removed after 170 Pass, removed after 165 Pass, removed after 165 Pass, removed after 165

From these results, we see that all specimens produced using the AMFT technology passed the elevated temperature sustained pressure test of ASTM D2513-04a. Due to test space limitation, all but one of the specimens was removed from test shortly after

exceeding the minimum number of hours required. The one exception was test specimen I-5/6 which was allowed to continue under stress until it was removed with over 400 hours of test time. All specimens completed or exceeded the recommended test time without failure and, hence, meet the requirements for sustained pressure testing of the pipe itself.

Figure 6: Photo of Test Specimens from (left to right) Series III, I and II DISCUSSION: The AMFT fusion procedure represents the next evolution in fusion joining of HDPE pipe. The proprietary technology involved produces a high quality butt fusion joint shown to meet or exceed the elevated temperature sustained pressure testing requirements of ASTM D2513 in a consistent manner. It should also be noted that additional comparative testing was conducted during 2003. These tests of fusion joints produced with AMFT technology versus those produced with standard butt fusion technology showed no difference in performance when tested for tensile strength, tensile elongation or bend back testing and all test specimens produced using both technologies surpassed the requirements of Title 49 CFR.(5) These test results presented in this discussion bear testament to the fact that the proprietary cooling mechanism associated with AMFT does not affect the integrity of the resulting fusion joint. Obviously, this heat removal mechanism inherent to the AMFT technology can be directly correlated to time savings at the job site.

However, the tangible benefits of the AMFT are not limited to the time savings associated with efficient heat removal from the fusion joint itself. Rather, it is the deployment of the full AMFT technology at the job-site that results in overall productivity improvement. Improved pipe handling capability and climate controlled fusion environment combined with efficient heat removal results in time and cost savings in the overall pipeline installation project. In April, 2004, pipe joining productivity measurements were recorded on a major pipeline construction project in Alberta, Canada. The results are presented in Table 3 below. This data was collected based on an average 8 hour work day, 50 foot HDPE pipe joints, a 50% reduction in the manufacturers recommended cooling time for SDR 11 and a 40% reduction in the manufacturers recommend cooling time for SDR 7 and utilizing all of the AMFT pipe handling and movement capability in open terrain. Table 3: AMFT Job-Site Productivity Data, April, 2004
Size OD, inches 3.500 3.500 4.500 4.500 6.625 6.625 8.625 8.625 10.750 10.750 12.750 12.750 16.000 16.000 18.000 18.000 20.000 20.000 SDR 11 7 11 7 11 7 11 7 11 7 11 7 11 7 11 7 11 7 Min Feet per Day 7600 6500 6500 5700 5500 4700 4300 3800 3600 3400 3100 2600 2400 2300 2100 1800 1300 1000 Max feet per Day 7900 6900 7000 6200 6100 5300 5100 4400 4200 4000 3600 3100 2800 2700 2600 2200 1600 1300

AMFT was the only fusion technology deployed on this particular job site thus making a direct comparison to traditional butt fusion in the same project impractical. However, experience with traditional butt fusion technology in similar size ranges and comparative terrain suggests that the productivity improvement (defined as feet of pipe joined per day) afforded by AMFT on this particular project is somewhere in the range of 35-50% depending the specific size of pipe being joined at the job site. The AMFT fusion technology can be deployed on nearly any job-site attesting to its versatility. However, as with any project, there is an appropriate tool for every job. AMFT is another of those tools for effectively joining HDPE at the job-site. It should be noted, that the AMFT technology is best-suited to net significant productivity

improvements on projects characterized by open terrain which afford long stretches of trench or right-of-way access. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION: This paper has introduced a new HDPE pipe joining technology knows as automated mobile fusion technology or AMFT. Through this discussion, this new technology has been addressed as yet another evolution in the predominant means by which to join HDPE piping systems. With two notable exceptions, this technology does not deviate from the traditional butt fusion protocol prevalent throughout North America. These two exceptions are the automated removal of heat during the cooling cycle of the butt fusion process and the movement of the completed fusion joint out of the fusion apparatus. We have shown that these two features pose no detriment to the integrity of the fusion joint produced using this technology and data was presented to verify that joints made using this technology surpass the elevated temperature testing requirements of ASTM D2513. There too, it was shown that these test results apply across the various pipe materials designations, PE2406, PE3408 and PE100 (soon to be PE4710 in North America). Finally, it was shown that these advancements in the fusion joining process combined with the climate controlled fusion environment and pipe handling capability of the AMFT apparatus pose tremendous potential in advancing job-site productivity when installing HDPE pipe. From this discussion, it is clear that automated mobile fusion technology will play an increasingly visible role in the design, installation and overall economics of HDPE piping systems.

REFERENCES: 1) Chapter 9, Polyethylene Joining Procedures, Handbook of Polyethylene Pipe, Plastics Pipe Institute, Washington DC, 2006. 2) PPI TR-33/2005, Generic Butt Fusion Joining Procedure for Filed Joining of Polyethylene Pipe, Plastics Pipe Institute, Washington DC, 2005 3) ASTM D2513-2004a, Standard Specification for Thermoplastic Gas Pressure Pipe, Tubing and Fittings, American Society for Testing and Materials, West Conshohocken, PA, 2004. 4) ASTM D1598, Standard Test Method for Time-to-Failure of Plastic Pipe Uner Constant Internal Pressure, American Society for Testing and Materials, West Conshohocken, PA, 2002. 5) Title 49, Part 192, Transportation of Natural and Other Gas Pipeline: Minimum Federal Safety Standards, Department of Transportation, Office of Pipeline Safety