For Berry Global in Lawrence, KS, loss of production is not an option. The company specializes in plastic products and operates virtually 24/7. When faced with the need to replace a large portion of pipe used to transport cooling water to more than 20 injection-mold and thermoforming machines, Jacob Francis, facility maintenance supervisor at Berry Global, opted to transition the plant from carbon-steel pipe to Aquatherm polypropylene-random (PP-R) Blue Pipe®.
The existing carbon-steel piping, along with an undersized chilled-water storage tank, had to be replaced because of excessive corrosion. Cooling the molds is a critical, time-sensitive part of the injection-molding process. The plant had already incurred losses because rust and pipe scale was interfering with the cool-water flushing of the molds.
“Our [cooling] cycle time on some of the equipment had increased due to hot cores. This resulted in significant losses in production,” Francis said.
The system itself is simple. Chilled water leaves the chiller at 55°F and flows directly to the injection-molding equipment. Water exits through orifices in the aluminum or steel molding equipment and circulates to what was originally a 4,000-gallon holding tank before circulating back through the chiller. However, per Francis, at the required 3,800 gpm, the water never had an opportunity to “settle,” causing air to be absorbed within the system. The completely aerated system not only was rusting badly, but the excessive air also prevented water-treatment chemicals from adhering to and protecting the carbon-steel pipe effectively. Corrosion already had eaten two holes in the chilled-water tank.
The situation would only get worse until the piping was replaced, but that created an even greater challenge: How do you replace 300 ft of 10- and 16-in welded steel pipe for a manufacturing process that virtually never stops?
The plant in Lawrence operates 24/7 every day of the year, save Thanksgiving and Christmas. Shutting down operations for one hour comes at a high price.
Todd Mihalchik, industrial mechanical estimator and project manager for P1 Group in Lawrence, KS, came up with the idea of using Aquatherm PP-R. Even though no one from P1 Group had installed Aquatherm pipe in such large diameters, Mihalchik’s conversations with local representatives from Ferguson Enterprises, a wholesale distributor of plumbing and mechanical supplies, convinced him that the piping might be the answer.
According to Aquatherm, unlike metal pipe, Aquatherm pipe components are joined using a heat-fusion process to create virtually leak-proof connections. Because the product is lightweight, large sections can be fabricated offsite. Also, because Aquatherm PP-R is completely non-corroding, it will not break down or scale.
Francis gave P1 Group the green light for the installation, which included the construction of a new 10,400-gal outdoor chilled-water tank, 16-in supply and return piping to and from the tank, and assorted lengths of 12- and 10-in piping connecting a 16-in Aquatherm header to the various injection-mold presses. Nearly all the piping sections were fabricated in advance at P1 Group’s fabrication shop.
“At first, we were going to have three days for the actual installation, but that got whittled down to just 24 hours on Good Friday before Easter. The timeframe was really challenging, but Aquatherm made things a lot easier,” Mihalchik said.
The only glitch turned into a blessing. The installers discovered that two of the 10-in lines off the 16-in header had been cut too short. It might have been a panic-inducing discovery if not for Engle, Geyer, and Ferguson Enterprises’ Kent Cramer who was at the jobsite during the installation and was able to oversee some impromptu pipe fusion to adjust the length of the 10-in pipe.
“They showed us how easy a fix it really was. In a way, it was a fortunate mistake because now we know we can work through it easily on our own,,” Mihalchik said.
“The fact that we didn’t have to insulate the pipe is another huge benefit. None of the indoor pipe had to have any insulation, even though we are carrying 55°F water in an 80°F ambient space,” Francis said.
Francis added that despite some extremely warm, humid days since the pipe was installed, he has yet to see a drop of condensation on the Aquatherm pipe.
“I have one flange where carbon-steel pipe meets the Aquatherm. I can put a hand on each and feel that the Aquatherm is barely below room temperature while the carbon-steel pipe is really cold.”
The plant already has seen improvements in system performance, both in terms of chiller usage and pump efficiency. Perhaps even more important, the Berry plant has eliminated future downtime caused by pipe corrosion — at least where Aquatherm is installed. Furthermore, the company has all but eliminated the need for chemical treatment in its piping system.