With regards to structural integrity, these supports serve their purpose well, but they do present operational challenges. Steel is naturally prone to corrosion, which is managed across the network through inspections and remedial maintenance.
The design of these supports often make inspection difficult, requiring the concrete plinth to be broken so the support can be lowered away from the base of the pipe, allowing access to concealed areas. This is a difficult task, as the cradle itself can weigh well over 100kg, creating a manual handling risk.
In September 2012, we launched the first phase of the Composite Pipe Supports project. This investigated a new support design that used composite materials. Using a staged approach, the team – working alongside Capita – developed a suitable design and produced a working prototype.
This prototype was much lighter than the existing supports, allowing for safe manual handling. The composite solution also removed the risk of corrosion seen with the steel supports.
Following its development, the prototype was trialled at the National Grid Eakring training centre.
To gain full acceptance of the new pipe support design, a phase 2 project was launched in August 2016. This included Finite Element Analysis (FEA), where the composite pipe support was subjected to several tests that looked at its behaviour when subjected to different types of load. This allowed for any required design changes before a virtual field trial was conducted using a 3D model.
The project established a prototype composite pipe support design. This design was accepted in principle and two composite pipe supports were manufactured installed at a National Grid Compressor Station.
The composite pipe supports have some limitations when compared with traditional steel pipe supports, however they also offer many advantages including cost, lightweight design and avoidance of corrosion.