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HDPE’s History, Background and Supporting Organizations

By Logan Bridges

High density polyethylene (HDPE) popularity and usage continues to increase. The relationship HDPE products have with our everyday lives is symbiotic, so much so, it is hard to imagine a single day where someone would not encounter HDPE in some form or another. Whether you’re drinking water, watching TV, enjoying your warm home, or carrying groceries HDPE is part of each of those activities and countless more.

Since its creation almost 70 years ago, HDPE piping and conduit has become a preferred material for many applications in the construction, power, communications and energy industries and is growing in popularity in municipal and utility use. HDPE conduit is a flexible and versatile product well suited for usage in numerous industrial settings. Specific applications include conduit for telecommunications lines, casing power lines and fiberoptics; flowlines for oil, gas and mining; transmission or ‘cross-country pipelines; and municipal water and sewer lines.

Considering the number of unique HDPE conduit applications and product offerings available to the global market today, many consumers, engineers and designers might not know the HDPE conduit traces its roots from the famous and still popular hula hoop fad from the 1950s. While used for centuries by children and adults alike, the hula hoop craze did not take off until 1958, when mass production from plastic began.

The American Chemical Society article Discovery of Polypropylene and High-Density Polyethylene outlines milestones made along the journey which included Phillips Petroleum researchers Paul Hogan and Robert Banks developing the process for making HDPE in 1951. In 1954 Phillips Petroleum commercially introduced HDPE under the brand name Marlex. The company stockpiled Marlex until the hula hoop craze eventually consumed Phillips’ stockpile of Marlex and plant output for six months.

While numerous refinements and enhancements have been made during the last seven decades, it is worth going back to the original hula hoop design to envision a solution to many of today’s piping challenges.

HDPE, by definition

Considered a simple polymer, HPDE is plastic “made by the copolymerization of ethylene and a small amount of another hydrocarbon. The resulting base resin density, before additives or pigments, is greater than 0.941 g/cm.” (source: Plastics Pipe Institute). At the molecular level, low density polyethylene (LDPE) has many branches while HDPE is linear with very little branching. The branched LDPE is cheaper to produce and considerably more flexible. HDPE’s strength, durability and flexibility are a result of its linear molecular structure. HDPE resin is used to make different products, including piping, which is made through an extrusion process.

HDPE pipe has a service life of between 50 and 100 years. Fully recyclable and lighter in weight, HDPE is much stronger than conventional pipe. HDPE heat-fused joints are as strong as metal pipe, or stronger, and do not leak. HDPE pipe offers unmatched corrosion and chemical resistance as it will not corrode (rust), tuberculate or support biological growth. By comparison, HDPE piping is also lighter than alternative piping options.

Supporting Organizations and Resources for Advancing HDPE

Three organizations which have significant influence on the adoption and usage of HDPE piping, include the Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI), The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the International and American Water Works Association (AWWA).

Founded in 1950, PPI is the major trade association representing all segments of the plastics piping industry. The PPI mission is to advance the acceptance and use of plastic pipe systems through research, education, technical expertise and advocacy. According to the website, “PPI members share a common interest in broadening awareness and creating opportunities that expand market share and extend the use of plastics pipe in all its many applications…PPI focuses [on] collaborative efforts to accumulate data, concentrate facts and target resources toward advancements in applications and increases in widespread usage.”

The PPI’s publications index page linked here contains comprehensive reports related to specific areas of design, operation and manufacturing. It is intended to assist engineers, code officials, specifying groups and users with information on implementation of plastic pipe.

ASTM organized in 1898, is a non-profit, voluntary standards-developing organization covering global industries in 140 participating countries. Volunteer members serving on standards-writing committees develop technical documents for numerous industry sectors including plastics. ASTM’s plastics committee has over 500 members. According to the organization, “ASTM’s plastics standards are instrumental in specifying, testing, and assessing the physical, mechanical, and chemical properties of a wide variety of materials and products that are made of plastic and its polymeric derivatives.” Adding, “These plastics standards allow plastic manufacturers and end-users to examine and evaluate their material or product of concern to ensure quality and acceptability towards safe utilization.”

Founded in 1881 and headquartered in Denver, Colorado, The AWWA is an international, nonprofit, scientific and educational society dedicated to providing total water solutions assuring the effective management of water. According to the Associations’ policy and Advocacy page, “AWWA was formed to promote public health, safety, and welfare through the improvement of the quality and quantity of water.” Regarding HDPE piping, AWWA has created HDPE-related manuals and standards that assist engineers with design, specification, procurement, installation and understanding of HDPE pipe and fittings.  

About United Poly Systems

United Poly Systems produces quality HDPE pipe in diameters from ¾-in. to 26-in. IPS, 4-in. to 24-in. DIPS and ¾-in. to 2-in. CTS for use in many industries including telecommunications, power utility, water, electrical and oil and gas. The market for HDPE pipe continues to expand as initiatives to improve, repair and expand the country’s infrastructure are implemented.

Our off-the-shelf HDPE conduit/pipe is available in a variety of sizes, colors, dimensions and lengths, with or without stripes. We also offer fully customizable HDPE conduit options. In addition, piping can be customized with a ribbed interior (to maximize the distance cable may be pulled or jetted), pull tape, or a lubricated interior (for easier installation).

Success at UPS can be attributed to our vast experience, extensive client relationships, state-of-the-art manufacturing and quality processes. Our agile business model that allows UPS to quickly meet customers’ needs without the overhead expenses that are incurred by many of the larger producers in the industry.

Conveniently located in Springfield, Missouri and Albuquerque, New Mexico, United Poly Systems can provide quick delivery to a majority of the U.S. market.

 

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