Everything about piping: Online resource reduces confusion, provides direct link to manufacturers

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This plumber/pipefitter is joining a number of different types of pipe with Viega ProPress.

By Simon Blake

This issue of Plumbing & HVAC was intended to include an article on mechanical pipe joining systems. It’s a broad topic that includes a myriad of different types of pipe, joining systems and the applications in which they can or cannot be used. Where does one start?

It’s a challenge for a writer, but it has also been a challenge for contractors and engineers over the years. The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C., decided to do something about it.

Working with manufacturers, MCAA’s Mechanical Contracting Education and Research Foundation (MCERF) developed the Online Piping and Usage Specification or OPUS. Found online at www.opuspiping.org, it is a guide to every type of piping currently approved for use in North America with applications and joining methods.

“OPUS really became a one-trick pony, though the trick was to provide a one-stop shop for the basic methods and materials and how they are joined with a link to the vendors of those products who can give you additional information. It also helps you develop actual living relationships with those people,” reported MCERF executive director Dennis Langley.

This worker is installing Victaulic couplings. Both Victaulic and Viega are participants in the OPUS program.

 

OPUS is designed to give the engineer or contractor enough information to make an informed decision. Click on an application, such as hydronic heating, for example, and it provides the different pipe materials that can be used in hydronic systems – carbon steel, PEX and copper. The user then clicks on the type of piping they want to use, and it provides considerable detail on benefits for the application, system application and material usage, joining methods and related suppliers.

Unfamiliar systems

Who uses OPUS? It may be a contractor or engineer looking for a different way to do a particular project.

Where contractors will find OPUS particularly useful is when they are called upon to work on an unfamiliar system. Perhaps they do hydronic heating and get called in to service a steam system. They would simply go under ‘Systems’ and click on ‘Steam’ to learn how they work, and the different components and pipe materials involved.

The OPUS site covers many different systems with detailed explanations of how they work and the piping materials that can be used.

And it’s not just piping. There are sections on hangers and supports, valves and fittings. The valves section includes, among many things, backflow prevention. There is a section on specialty items like air vents, expansion joints, pressure reducing valves, steam traps, vibration control, etc. Special topics include green construction and seismic (earthquake zone) piping.

Many contractors and engineering firms also use OPUS as a resource for new employees, said Langley. “(They may) have a lot of book smarts but maybe don’t know how materials can be joined, which materials can be joined, which materials can be used for what and who the vendors are – who would they can seek out for advice on certain materials.”

Many colleges and universities are using OPUS, including McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., he added. Professors give students assignments that require the use of OPUS to find the materials they would specify and defend those choices.

The big black book

OPUS started with a “big black book” titled The Guideline for Quality Piping Installation that MCAA used to produce for its members.

When joining different pipe materials, OPUS tells the contractor what materials are compatible and how to join them.

“It was the core body of knowledge in our industry of the materials we used, the way you joined them, what the basic components were. It had definitions, it had some pictures and a lot of diagrams. It was a lot of really super information and it was even better for the fact that it was a place where a number of our contractors who were typically competitors during the day and manufacturer suppliers who were obviously competitors got together, checked their egos at the door, and said we need to put together something for the industry that tells everybody what the basic methods and materials of our industry are, how you join those and where you go to find people who can help you,” said Langley.

But it was difficult and expensive to update. With the rapid expansion of the number of new products in the industry, it became almost impossible. And with everything going to the Internet, the Foundation wondered if people were going to keep using it. “The question was, are we going to reprint this,” said Langley.

In 2004 the Foundation put together a task force to move OPUS online. The initial thought was to simply scan it into PDF files and put it on the Internet. However, the organization received considerable feedback about many other things that could be added with an online resource.

“We could put in “what-if scenarios” – what if you have a requirement for stainless steel pipe, can you put glass with it; can you put copper with it? Which materials go together, what are the properties of given materials, what are the definitions and processes, what are the codes, and so forth?”

The simple little project was taking on a life of its own and becoming complicated. “We decided we would build all that, so we went to our friends at QuickPen,” a Denver, Colorado-based mechanical design software company.

They offered to develop and host an OPUS website. “They thought that was kind of a cool idea,” said Langley. They might not have been so enthusiastic had they realized how much work was going to be involved. One QuickPen employee basically ended up working full time on OPUS.

It’s not just about pipe. OPUS also includes considerable details on hangers, valves, vibration reduction and many other components and methods for building pipe systems.

All the information in the big black book was updated and uploaded. Drawings were replaced with photographs, and photographs were found for many products that didn’t have them.

Today, the OPUS website is updated with new information, new pictures and anything else that requires updating, about three times a year.

All information on the OPUS website is linked to the websites of manufacturers that make related products. Each manufacturer that participates in OPUS has a person responsible for updating that company’s material as new products are added or existing products are upgraded. “If it’s not the latest, it’s because the vendors haven’t done it,” he said.

Better than Google

At one point the Foundation almost stopped supporting OPUS because a number of members believed that everything that was in OPUS could be found on Google, reported Langley. “Low and behold, we had a lot of people asking where it was, why it hadn’t been updated and all of a sudden there was kind of a firestorm (to get it back on track).”

The Foundation started supporting it again and brought it all up to date. “It has not been supplanted by the Internet,” Langley added. “How many rabbit holes will you go down (on Google) before you get a solution that would take you five minutes on OPUS?

“And to get a direct linkage to the vendors who can answer any specific questions… you don’t get that from the Google search because this is a pretty specific industry and you are looking at some very specific things.”

“It may be a one-trick pony, but it does that trick very well,” says Langley, who retired on April 1. Mechanical pipe joining systems? It is covered in more detail at www.opuspiping.org than any single magazine article could hope to do.

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