Expansion Management: Navigating HDPE Pipe Installations

Expansion Management: Navigating HDPE Pipe Installations

20 February 2024

Expansion Management: Navigating HDPE Pipe Installations

HDPE piping has rapidly gained popularity among engineers and project managers seeking adaptable, flexible, and rust-resistant piping solutions.

Whether for a temporary or permanent installation in the expansive space of regional mine sites or within a pipe gallery suspended from beams, HDPE pipe can provide the ideal solution for your above-ground project.

The flexibility of HDPE pipe stands as one of its major advantages and the associated additional movement of the pipe can be easily managed with careful planning, thoughtful installation, and ongoing maintenance.

Nathan Craig, Director at Advanced Piping Systems, has extensive experience with large-scale installations and has shared with us the key considerations for an above ground HDPE pipe installation. 

HDPE Installations in Australia

The unique Australian environment poses various challenges for local piping projects.

“We experience significant temperature fluctuations, particularly in remote areas where mining and milling operations are located,” Nathan explains. 

“From freezing cold temperatures to scorching summer heat, our pipes need to withstand these extremes and expand and contract as necessary.”

HDPE expands at a rate of 2.4 millimetres per metre per 10 degrees, which makes it an excellent solution in our unique conditions. 

However, this unique expansion factor necessitates careful planning to accommodate these changes.

“In full summer sun, black HDPE pipes can exceed 60 degrees, resulting in significant expansion. While it’s the perfect solution, its flexibility must be considered when planning your installation.”

Working in Open Spaces

Snaking HDPE pipe is a common solution for open spaces, helping to prevent pipe deformation, buckling, or damage during temperature fluctuations. 

This approach allows the pipe to expand or contract more easily without accumulating excessive stress, ultimately extending the pipe’s longevity and productivity.

However, measures to manage pipe movement need to be carefully selected to allow for natural expansion without damaging the pipe or affecting roads or other structures.

If the piping is embedded into a pipe into a block of concrete at multiple fixed points, the pipe will pull and push against the fixed structures as it expands or contracts. As a result, the piping at these points will need to be engineered to withstand the force.

Thrust blocks also offer an effective solution for managing these pipes while allowing for movement between these fixed points.

“For temporary or permanent cross-country pipelines that you don’t want to bury, concrete thrust blocks are an excellent option for accommodating pipe movement within certain limits,” Nathan suggests. 

“They can be cost-effective, easy to maintain, and adaptable to different situations and environments.”

When determining how many thrust blocks are needed, Nathan advises erring on the side of caution. 

“Each installation is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all rule. 

“Balancing space for pipe expansion and contraction while minimising friction loss and accommodating roads or other obstructions requires early planning with all involved parties to achieve the right result for your project.”

Working within a Structure

While snaking is a great option for mines with ample space, a different solution is required when HDPE pipe is used within a pipe gallery, such as a processing plant or mill.

Using heavy-duty expansion joints or bellows as an inline compensating device is an ideal way to support the pipe and allow for expansion when needed. 

Advanced Piping Systems can also engineer telescopic expansion joints that absorb expansion in line without the need for expansion loops and deflection legs.

“If the customer provides us with the pipeline length and the expected temperature range, we can engineer telescopic expansion joints tailored to their application,” Nathan explains. 

“These are custom-engineered devices, so have a higher upfront cost, but they enhance pipeline performance by reducing friction loss and turbulence, ultimately saving energy in the long run.”

HDPE Pipe Planning for success

Based on his experience, Nathan emphasises the importance of a comprehensive plan and its complete implementation for successful installations.

“One of the main challenges we’ve seen with large above-ground installations is under-engineering, leading to an underestimation of what’s required for a smooth operation. 

“Time is money, especially in a 24/7 mine or mill operation, and you need reliable piping services,” Nathan stresses.

“It’s not just about repair costs; it’s also the cost of downtime. Doing it right the first time pays off. 

“The best results come from early collaboration, where we can work closely with project engineers to determine precise project needs and plan accordingly.”

“We deal with these types of projects every day and may have insights you haven’t considered – we want to help you design a system that meets your needs the first time.”

Advanced Piping Systems is Australia’s number one polyethylene (PE) pipe and fittings specialist.

For more information about a HDPE solution for your project, please click here to speak to one of our expert consultants.


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