Comment: The power of plastic


Durapipe PLX brand manager, David Naylor, advises hospitals to consider plastic pipework over steel for generators to ensure constant power supply

In this article, DAVID NAYLOR, PLX brand manager at Durapipe UK, discusses the importance of a reliable uninterruptible power supply in hospitals

The provision of uninterruptable power supplies and fuel-powered generators is a critical part of modern hospital buildings. Hospitals rely on this emergency power supply to avoid putting both staff and patients at risk in the event of a power cut. However, even though these emergency power supplies are indispensable, there is often little consideration given to the workings of these systems at the outset of a build project.

Fuel-powered generators are often used to provide power if the main power source fails. They function through a pipework system transporting fuel from underground or above-ground storage tanks to an emergency generator, which will then provide a temporary power supply while the main system is repaired or replaced.

Over the last 12 months, there has been widespread media coverage of several hospitals that have suffered power failures, causing major disruption to hospital services and putting patients at risk.

In such circumstances, a reliable back-up power system is crucial. However, due to careless installation or low performance, emergency power systems themselves have also been known to fail, causing hospitals major complications. One such example reports a hospital experiencing a power failure and when the emergency back-up generators failed to kick in, theatres and an intensive care unit were left in the dark, forcing a surgeon to operate by torchlight.

David Naylor of Durapipe

David Naylor of Durapipe

A common cause of generators failing is because the fuel has not reached the generator, meaning the system cannot operate. It is important to install a reliable pipework system that can safely and effectively deliver fuel to generators if called upon.

Traditionally, steel pipework has been used to provide the generators with the fuel they need to function, although frustratingly, as highlighted above, these traditional pipework solutions are prone to failure. Over time steel pipework can corrode and create leak paths that not only harm the environment, but also provide inadequate and inefficient supply of fuel. This corrosion and subsequent pipe wall erosion can lead to contamination of the fuel and an inner-pipe bore build up and clogging of the pipe. This reduces the dimension of the pipe bore, restricting the flow of fuel, often causing long-term damage to the generator itself. These issues highlight the need for rigorous and frequent quality control checks on pipework systems and the reliance on continuous maintenance checks.

Durapipe UK is advising that, for fuel supply applications, it is important contractors consider all options and wherever possible specify secondary containment systems to provide additional pipework protection against damage to the environment and to prevent accidental fuel loss into the atmosphere.

Acceptance of plastic pipework fuel systems is growing rapidly. In addition to the performance characteristics, pipework selection can also impact on the installation process and the time and costs involved. The installation of plastic pipework for fuel can significantly reduce the time and costs of an emergency power supply installation compared with a steel equivalent, whether below or above ground. Fusion welding a purpose-designed secondary contained plastics system is also significantly quicker. This generates the question as to why innovative plastics systems are not being readily exploited by contractors and specifiers.

With widespread budget cuts within the NHS, plastic pipework is a cost-effective solution for hospitals. The lightweight nature of the products, combined with the quick and easy jointing technique saves considerable labour time and costs.

In an industry that is continuously looking for higher performing and more reliable products, it calls for a re-assessment of just how well traditional materials such as steel, are working within the healthcare sector and why alternatives are not being explored at the outset of projects.