By: Michael Camber
PVC is lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to purchase at any local building supply store, making it all the more attractive when it comes to selecting piping materials for a compressed air system.
Using PVC, however, has its risks and in certain areas it may not be code compliant. It’s subject to bursting (yes bursting), and the adhesives used in installation are not compatible with all types of compressor oils. It can be a conduit for static charge which might cause electrical shock or even fire in environments with combustible vapors or dust. Despite the safety issues, many small shops and even some larger plants continue to use it.
A couple years back we were installing a compressor at a medical device manufacturer in Colorado, and we noted the plant’s wide use of PVC piping. I asked the shop manager (who was three weeks from retiring) whether they’d had any issues with PVC cracking or bursting under pressure. He said yes, many times. “Pieces fly across the room.” He would just replace them. “No one’s been hurt so far…”
In a room with 4 huge, expensive injection molding machines and many employees, he saw no need to change. Different strokes, I guess.
Here are two more examples:
1. The remains from a 2” PVC pipe burst at a manufacturing plant in Texas. Thankfully no injuries, but some unscheduled changing of underwear.
2. In a small custom paint shop in Texas, a large section of PVC pipe burst during normal operation. The high heat and vibration from the piston compressor probably played a part.
If you have PVC pipe in your shop or factory, make sure it’s pressure rated and regularly check it for signs of cracking.
For those of you considering using PVC pipe, I urge you not to—it’s really not worth the risk.