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Will traditional fitting methods go up in flames thanks to new advances?

October 2008

Is there an increasing move towards flame free jointing among contractors and professional installers? To what extent will this continue to be influenced by the current economic climate? David Odlin, UK Sales Director of IBP, a major manufacture of fittings for domestic, commercial and industrial plumbing; air conditioning; refrigeration and shipbuilding applications, looks at how the fittings market in the UK is changing.

At IBP Conex we have definitely seen a clear shift in the market over the past few years towards flame free jointing as the industry itself has changed. The key factor in this change is undoubtedly the increased health and safety legislation faced by contractors. It is becoming more and more difficult for contractors to get permits granted on site and this is compounded by the fact that commercial insurance costs for using naked flame on sites are high. Add to this the fact that the building industry is starting to feel the effects of the economic downturn with budgets under more scrutiny and the health and safety costs associated with flame free jointing are becoming more of an issue for contractors within the UK. This is undoubtedly opening up the market for alternative fittings such as push-fit, which offer a highly durable joint but without the disadvantages associated with flame.

Health and safety considerations have also led to some contractors encountering flame restrictions when undertaking re-fit projects. In particular, National Heritage, schools and hospitals will not allow flame to be used on site at all, especially if the re-fit is taking place while the buildings are still being used.

Labour requirements can also increase when working with flame. Health and Safety regulations require an increased number of workers per joint (even when working with small sizes of tube). This obviously has employment cost implications but can also present a skills issue as brazing and soldering are skilled undertakings.

There are also practical considerations when working with flame, soldering and brazing requires a water source to be present on site and can also prove restrictive on working conditions.

Mick Sutton, Managing Director of Capri mechanical Services Limited from Chelmsford Essex, commented: “We are under increasing pressure from Health and Safety to specify flame free alternatives. For us, the costs of insurance and accidents far outweigh the costs of flame free plumbing solutions.”

And it’s not just large contractors that are moving away from flame, independent professional plumbers are also turning to alternative jointing techniques.

Bob Jarvis, Business development Manager for TGLynes Ltd based in Enfield, Middlesex, commented: “The market for flame free fittings is growing. As well as being ideal to use in confined working spaces, flame free jointing can be quicker and can help speed up installation.”

An additional benefit of using flame free products is that although they offer as secure a fitting as brazing or soldering, unlike these permanent connections, flame free connections such as push-fit are often demountable. This can be a great benefit as there will often be times when fittings will need to be removed or adjusted. In addition, flame free products like the ranges offered by IBP, can often be used on more than one material, including plastic. A lighter and more streamlined toolbox is another advantage that is encouraging professional plumbers to look more and more to flame free alternatives.

IBP Conex has offered very successful flame free product ranges for some time now, but the demand is definitely on the increase and we have invested in research, design and development accordingly. Our current ranges offer a wide variety of products, offering a variety of different connection techniques. These range from compression fittings through to simple press fittings.

However, in line with the market’s demand for simpler fitting techniques and greater versatility we have just developed a new push-fit range. As well as being really simple to use, it will also connect many different types of tube including copper, carbon steel, stainless steel, PB and PE-X. The feedback from product trials is that this kind of flame free alternative is just what the market has been looking for.

The predictions are that the building market will face challenging times over the next few years. As contractors and professional plumbers continue to feel the effects of the economic downturn in the construction sector, it would seem that flame free solutions are the way forward for the industry.

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