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Foam Core PVC Pipe

Odell Albert, Jr., ATOFINA Chemicals, Inc. Because the foam core pipe wall thickness is the same as a solid
wall PVC pipe, a manufacturer produces substantially more
product from the same amount of PVC resin. On four inch pipe
running up to 1,200 lbs./hr.*, a foam core line can produce
In 1989 foamed PVC pipe sales of 27,500 metric tons were 75%
800-1,000 lineal feet of pipe versus 600 lineal ft. of solid PVC
of the total foamed PVC market (37,700 metric tons).
pipe at an equal output rate. Since the foam layer is 18 to 40%
Manufacturers of foam core PVC pipe estimated that foam PVC
lower density than solid PVC, weight savings for foam core PVC
DWV pipe had 10% of the market at the time. At present, 25%
pipe range from 10 to 35% lower than equal length and size of
of the PVC DWV market sales are foam core PVC pipe.
solid wall PVC pipe.
Equipment manufacturers of foam core systems predict that
foam core PVC pipe will capture 50% of the DWV market by
the end of the 1990’s. With interest in foam core PVC pipe
increasing, knowledge of the different PVC foam core extrusion Foam Processing Systems
processes is essential.
Presently three processes are commercially available for production
When foam core PVC pipe was first introduced to the domestic of foam core pipe. There are two systems which use two extruders.
DWV market, most pipe manufacturers took a wait and see One developed by Alphacan and is known as the Bipeau process,
attitude. They were not willing to abandon solid wall PVC pipe while the second is manufactured and marketed by American
production because they questioned the market acceptance of Maplan. The third system uses three extruders and the Genca
foam PVC pipe. A recent poll of several foam core PVC pipe die.
manufacturers indicates that the market for foam core pipe has
developed and is growing. The primary reason for investing in a Figure 1 is a diagram of the Bipeau extruder configuration. The
foam core system is to offset resin price increases and sell more Bipeau (two skin) process was developed by Alphacan, a sub-
product through increased production. The compound cost for sidiary of Atochem S.A. The Bipeau system is fed by two extrud-
foam core PVC pipe compound is not drastically different from ers connected to a Y block die. The foam core extruder can be
conventional pipe. The foam core formulation for PVC pipe smaller than the skin extruder. The Bipeau Y block, as seen in
contains blowing agent, stabilizer, impact modifier and process Figure 2,divides the solid skin melt into two streams, which
aid. Because the blowing agent undergoes an exothermic cover the foam melt from the second extruder. The extruders are
reaction, a slightly higher level of stabilizer is used. However, at right angles to the feed, as seen in Figure 1. The process
cost can be reduced some with the use of less titanium required two dies - one for pipe diameters below 4” and one for
dioxide (TiO2) pigment. The net result is that foam core PVC pipe diameters above 4”. Recent improvements by Alphacan
compounds cost from $.03/lb. to $.05/lb. more than conventional have minimized the need for separate tooling. The largest pipe
pipe compounds. currently made by this process is 12”. Plans are underway to
increase this to 15” - 18” shortly.

When first introduced, the Bipeau system gave a weight savings

Manufacturing Process of 25% over solid wall PVC pipe. It also claimed output increases
of 20%. These claims have been verified by several manufacturers
The foam, created by a blowing agent (azobiscarbonamide),
using the Bipeau system. Plans are underway to further decrease
replaces virgin PVC compound in the core, or middle layer, of
weight and increase output.
the pipe. Depending upon the extrusion set up, the primary
machine(s) feeds PVC compound into a feed or Y block, which
The American Maplan system generally uses two equal size
separates the PVC melt into two streams. A second extruder
extruders with their foam core die assembly. This assembly
feeds the foamed PVC compound into the same block through
requires additional floor space versus the Bipeau system.
a channel between what will become the inner and outer layer
However, a smaller version of their system is equivalent in floor
(skin). The three layer structure is then brought together in the
space compared to the Bipeau system. This particular system
uses a Cincinnati Milacron 62 mm. twin screw extruder to

Presented at SPE Vinyl RETEC 91 * Normal rates average 1,050 to 1,100 lbs./hr.
provide the skin. The coextrusion block design differs from a royalty based on a percentage of sales. The Maplan system
that of the Bipeau system, specifically in internal construction. does not require any fees, but requires that American Maplan
The angle of entry into the Y block for Maplan’s triple wall equipment is purchased. Details of the Genca system were not
tooling (Figure 3) is an acute angle. This system is patented for available. Table 1 summarrizes the costs of the Bipeau and
American Maplan. Maplan claims comparable weight savings Maplan systems.
and output versus the Bipeau system.

The three extruder system is offered by Kraus Maffei and Advantages of Foam Core
Battenfeld Extrusions Technik with Genca tooling. This system
(Figure 4) combines three extruders, each independently The cellular structure of the core PVC layer is the key to pro-
producing a separate layer, eliminating the need for the feed- ducing foam core PVC pipe of quality. To develop maximum
back flow divider. The key to this system is the die, made by savings and physical properties, the core must have uniform
Genca, a division of General Cable Co. The die has three flow cell structure. A feature of foam core pipe is the unique “I-Beam”
channels that separate the melt streams and does not require structure it assumes. The skin is designed to take the initial
spider supports. load, while the foam gives rigidity and maintains the shape of
the pipe under load. This is demonstrated in Figure 5. The pipe
on the left is typical of solid wall PVC under load and the type
Analysis of the Processes of distortion normally expected. The foam core pipe on the
right, under equal load, distributes the load more evenly and
The Bipeau and Maplan systems are similar in design and does not show the same amount of distortion. This is due to
weight savings, and are considered simple to operate. Since the the “I-Beam” structure of the cellular PVC pipe.
melt forming the inner and outer skin comes from the same
extruder, it is the same melt temperature, ensuring that the Aside from the weight advantage, it is believed that the foam pipe
viscosity of the extrudate is the same. In the three extruder has a flex life up to ten years longer than conventional PVC
system, opponents claim there is less control of the melts, pipe. The foam core’s insulating properties act to reduce noise,
while proponents claim better melt control and improved which would be beneficial in large buildings. The insulating
weld line strength between the layers, which yields a stronger foam core may aslo increase the pipe’s service temperature
product. A distinct disadvantage of Genca tooling is its inability range. Taking the differences between foam core PVC pipe and
to process tin stabilized PVC foam compounds. The use of tin solid wall PVC into account, producers agree that foam core
stabilized PVC compounds has resulted in unacceptable pipe is a better product than solid wall PVC pipe.
production, as the tin compounds cause severe corrosion of
the flow channels of the die. This limits the foam compounds
to non-tin stabilized formulations. Standards
Another distinct difference between the three systems is the The penetration of foam core PVC pipe into the DWV market
amount of floor space required for each. The Bipeau system forced the industry to determine how to regulate the pipe so
requires approximately 250 square feet. The Maplan system that it meets standard properties. Regulation is neccassary to
could require up to 450 square feet, depending on the size of ensure that inferior quiality pipe is not produced and sold in
the extruders, feedblock and die package. Surprisingly, the three the marketplace. The problem that faced the industry was that
extruder system takes up the least floor space - 200 square there was no standard available for foam core PVC pipe. After
feet. This compact set-up is accomplished by positioning the extensive testing, the industry finally developed a standard -
third extruder along the sizing tank (Figure 4). Neither system ASTM F-891. A copy of this standard is attatched.
requires anything special in the way of downstream equipment.
Depending on the size of the foam core PVC pipe produced,
longer water tanks may be necessary, since the foam core is an
insulator, and is harder to cool than solid PVC. Market

An advantage to the Bipeau system is that the choice of the Table 2 gives an overall view of foam core today. It takes into
size and manufacturer of the extruders used with the Bipeau consideration only the two most widely used systems for foam
die is left to the customer. Aplacan’s system is patented, and core PVC. Producers feel that this technology will rapidly
processors using this technology must pay a licensing fee and expand into the non-pressure, sewer market.
In 1989, PVC foam core was a technology waiting to take off.
In 1991, the countdown is over and foam core volume is starting
to rise. This is due to the acceptance of a proven technology by
pipe producers, and market acceptance of a new viable
alternative to the conventional solid wall pipe. As noted
before, volume expansion will come not only from DWV but
also sewer pipe.

I would like to thank Alphacan, American Maplan, Krauss
Maffei, Plastics World, Plastic Compounding, and all the
various manufacturers that contributed information for this
Table 1 — Foam Core Costs
Alphacan Maplan
Co-Ex Block $ 35,000 $ 80,000

Extruder 1 180,000* 180,000

Extruder 2 180,000* 180,000

Head 23,000 23,000

Total 418,000 463,000

Technology Fee 2% None

Production Rate 1.5X 1.5X

* Not Specified

Table II — Foam Core

Equipment Manufacturer • Alphacann

Paris, France
• American Maplan
McPherson, Kansas

Marketed by • ATOFINA Chemicals, Inc.

• American Maplan

Process Coextrusion of an inner and outer solid PVC

skin with a foam core center.

Advantage 25% - 30% Material Savings

Application • DWV Pipe

• Sewer Pipe
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5