Mechanical Hub presents this multi-part series on pressing technology. Every week MH will feature a Q&A with the leaders in pressing technology. Press technology is gaining momentum as the preferred choice in pipe joining. Introduced into the North American market in 1999 by Viega, pressing is gaining acceptance as the most efficient and cost effective method of joining piping materials. Press currently makes up nearly 12% of the copper fitting market, and that number is expected to rise with contractor education and training.
Mechanical Hub recently talked with some of the major players in the press technology market to learn more about what they are doing in this growing market.
We start off the series with an exclusive interview with Corey Dickert, Senior Product Manager, Milwaukee Electric Tool.
MH: Name some of the applications in which pressing is ideal? (residential plumbing & radiant, large mechanical jobs, etc.)
CD: The market is searching for the best way to manage the rising cost of copper, and press offers an alternative that allows mechanical contractors and plumbers to make up the difference with speed and ease of installation. Every type of construction from residential, where you will see PEX pressing systems, to commercial and industrial, where you will see more copper and steel press systems, are benefitting from press technology. As this market continues to mature, it is becoming apparent that a knowledge and implementation of multiple different connection technologies will be what makes the mechanical companies most competitive in coming years.
MH: What is the scope of press piping? Copper, PEX, Stainless, Iron, etc.?
CD: The limitations of press are only the creativity of the people who design the fittings and the systems. Currently pressing systems are being used on stainless steel, copper, PEX, and galvanized steel pipe.
MH: Are your pressing tools proprietary? Or can they be interchangeable with other manufacturer's pressing clamps and fittings?
CD: Our pressing tools will be approved and useable with most major press brands on copper. You will need to check with your fitting supplier before use. Also, our tools interface and output force are the same as the market leader in this category, making our tool useable with their jaws.
MH: Pressing is used predominantly in Europe. Why has it taken the North American market so long to catch on?
CD: In pockets, North America has adopted press technology very quickly. In areas where it has not, there is no one primary reason, but a number of barriers that need to be taken care of before something like press can take hold. Whether it be challenges with coding and specs acceptance with project engineers, trust of the installers, or lack of exposure, there have been many challenges in the US market. At this point though, there is tremendous momentum behind press, and those who have embraced it are starting to really reap the rewards in a challenging market.
MH: To that last point, can you guesstimate the pressing market in the U.S. as opposed to sweating and other pipe joining methods?
CD: On copper, Pressed joints make up 10%, while Sweat or Solder Joints make up 90%. Of the overall market, it is really tough to gauge when you calculate in roll grooving, PEX expansion, PEX crimping and welding. But with strong growth projections, pressed joints could be more than 50% of the connections in the next 5-10 years
MH: Is pressing technology continually evolving? (effectiveness, ergonomics, weight, cordless & battery efficiency, larger pipe diameters, etc.)
CD: This technology is going to continue to evolve and change as manufacturers of systems continue to adapt to the turbulent commodity market right now. Stainless steel systems are really at the forefront of where things are heading with the price of copper. Different sizes are also driving incremental demand.
From the tool side, the challenge remains to provide better value around press. The Milwaukee Force Logic™ Press tools offer a step forward in ergonomics, accessibility and weight from the gun style tools the market has been serviced with, and finally provide an intelligent tool with a battery platform that has products that make every step in a press installation easier. For the first time, the market can really cut, fasten and connect from one manufacturer and on one battery
MH: I have used the pressing tools so the obvious question would be, why wouldn't contractors use pressing technology?
CD:Great question. The primary reason press technology has not overwhelmed the market yet is because we need to do a better job of educating the contractors on the value that the system provides. The upfront cost of the tools being around $3K and the increased cost of the fittings, which are in many cases more than double a sweat fitting, doesn’t exactly speak cost savings to the plumber at first. A Force Logic Press tool will in many cases pays for itself on the first job for large contractors. For service contractors and medium size firms it is not just about speed of installation, but it is also the savings they see on not having to drain and dry a system. Quite frequently, a service plumber can get in and out to swap out a water heater faster than a soldering plumber can drain and dry the system. At that point they can get an extra job done in a day and more profitability in their pocket. Furthermore, on the service side it also provides better schedule control. Many times service plumbers or maintenance contractors have emergencies to handle late at night. Wouldn’t it be nice to get in and out in half the time? Now press has become a product that provides improved quality of life. Once the benefits are out and seen, the conversion to press is easy. For more information, www.milwaukeetool.com.
Corey Dickert is Senior Product Manager, Milwaukee Electric Tool