Pipe Fusion Machine Makes Jobs More Productive

Labor-saving tool makes pipe fusion a one-man job

Pipe Fusion Machine Makes Jobs More Productive

Manny Olivares, Harvey Plumbing technician, fabricates a section of chilled-water piping for a project using the McElroy Spider 125 socket fusion device. It allows the fusion of 2- to 4-inch-diameter polypropylene pipe. (Photo courtesy of Harvey Plumbing Inc.)

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When Scott Harvey opted to invest in a McElroy Spider 125 pipe fusion device a couple of years ago, the general manager of Harvey Plumbing made the decision based on a simple equation: One man performing a job site task is better than two.

“It was a no-brainer,” says Harvey of the tool, which cuts in half the manpower needed to fuse runs of polyethylene pipe together. “We were impressed with the tool right away.

“We use Aquatherm polypropylene pipe,” continues Harvey, whose father, Tom Harvey, founded the company in 1987 in Sierra Vista, Arizona. “Theoretically, you can pull Aquatherm together by hand to fuse it. But in reality, if you do it that way, it takes two technicians shoving the pipes together as hard as they can.”

Using just one technician to fuse pipes allows the younger Harvey to allocate manpower more efficiently and profitably on job sites. Instead of fusing pipes, that second technician can work ahead and install hangers, prep pipe or move/deliver materials to other technicians. “The Spider creates a positive ripple effect throughout a project,” Harvey says.

Moreover, manual pipe fusion also exposes technicians to muscle strains because it takes a lot of strength to pull the pipes together. “Employees are valuable, so the last thing we want is back injuries,” he says. “Plumbing is not an easy business physically, so if we can find a tool that makes the job easier on the guys’ bodies, it’s a great benefit.”

Furthermore, it’s hard to keep pipes perfectly straight while fusing. But the Spider’s self-centering jaws pull the pipes together in perfect alignment. “That really improves the look of a job,” Harvey adds. “We want our jobs to look like professional installations.”

EASY AND EFFICIENT

Harvey Plumbing employs 18 people and runs eight service trucks. The company’s primary focus is commercial work for customers throughout southeastern Arizona. (Sierra Vista is located about 75 miles southeast of Tucson.)

Made primarily of aluminum, the Spider 125 weighs about 18 pounds and is used throughout the fusion process, from aligning and heating the pipe to fusing it and allowing it to cool.

Designed to fuse 2- to 4-inch-diameter pipe, the tool is easy to use. “There’s no big learning curve,” Harvey says. “You essentially just clamp it on and turn a crank handle. You can figure it out in a few minutes.”

In a nutshell, here’s how the fusion process works: After using a heater (sold separately) to convert a pipe end and a coupling to a slightly molten state while held by the Spider’s jaws, a technician turns the tool’s handle. That engages a gearbox that pulls the pipe and the coupling together evenly. After that, the fused joint is left to cool; the cooling period varies according to pipe diameter and other factors.

The gearbox is non-back-drivable, which means it locks in place and maintains constant pressure on both pipe ends. “The Spider locks in place and holds the pipes while they cool off,” he explains. “That’s great because then you’re not paying someone to just stand there and hold things in place.”

The tool’s universal clamps can accommodate all brands of pipes and fittings, with no inserts or extra tool required.

HELPS WITH COMPETITIVE BIDDING

The Spider also makes it easy to fuse pipe in places where it otherwise would be difficult, such as amid ceiling rafters. “It’s great for working in tight spaces,” Harvey notes.

Furthermore, it enables the company to bid more competitively on jobs because it’s much more efficient and productive to work with Aquatherm compared to copper pipe. As an example, Harvey cites a recent large job at a U.S. Army barracks that involved replacing approximately 2,100 feet of failing copper pipe.

“If we didn’t have the Spider, we couldn’t have even considered using Aquatherm pipe,” Harvey says. “We would’ve been forced to use copper pipe, which would then be more time consuming and more expensive to install.

“But with a Spider, we were able to submit a more competitive bid,” he continues. “In fact, the reason we won that bid was our ability to use Aquatherm pipe, which the government really liked because it has a great warranty.”

Overall, the Spider 125 — which costs about $3,000 — has been a very valuable tool that technicians at Harvey Plumbing rave about. Even though it’s used only occasionally on certain projects during the course of a year, it’s a must-have tool for the company, Harvey says.

“When we do those kinds of projects, we’ve got to have the Spider 125,” he says. “I don’t know how we’d do that type of work without one. It’s been a worthwhile investment for sure.” 



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