Prepping water infrastructure for future challenges

Iplex has a series of different pipes that can work for different situations

Over the past 80 years, Iplex has seen many changes and challenges within the water industry. The company has always been about delivering innovative, sustainable, practical water infrastructure solutions for potable water, wastewater, stormwater, and irrigation systems.

These water infrastructure challenges include climate change, population growth, and a variety of sustainability and carbon-neutral targets set by local, state and federal governments.

“We also have an enduring issue around our ageing infrastructure assets,” said Donelle Jones, Iplex’s Head of Customer Experience (CX), Marketing and Innovation. “Those are the things we will focus on as we move into the future. How do we provide more innovative, sustainable water solutions to the industry as we move forward?

According to Donelle, the pipe industry is reasonably conservative and risk-averse. Any solutions provided must be tested to the nth degree to meet high expectations. “The expectation from our clients is that whatever solutions we provide to the industry, including leak-resistant or leak-free products, will last for the intended service life of the product, which, these days, can be between 50 and 100 years.”

Iplex invests heavily in research and development as it creates new products with technology partners. It is not just about the practical solutions that can be offered but the product’s sustainability. Many procurement contracts now have sustainability clauses in them. While a solution may be fantastic, it might not be considered a solution if it does not hit the environmental mark.

Water infrastructure faces many challenges

“With sustainability, there are more considerations about what materials should be used as well as a lifecycle analysis of the product,” said Jones. “Then there are Environmental Product Declarations and Best Environmental Practices; so many things go into our research and development.”

Education is also key. Jones cites the bad rap that polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe gets. While it sometimes gets lumped into the single-use plastic category, PVC pipe can be expected to remain in service for many decades and has an outlet when it reaches end-of-life.

Jones also pointed out that a lot of ageing underground pipe infrastructure needs replacing as time goes on. Back in the day, conventional clay pipes were the norm. They were susceptible to cracking and ingress of tree roots causing major leaks. Plastic piping is more flexible and resistant to this type of failure. Then there are the asbestos cement pipes that are problematic and have issues that plastic pipes will never have regarding health impacts and complexity to replace. As it stands, there are many reasons why asset owners are looking at replacing older pipes.

“Relining pipes to rehabilitate old pipes is a common trenchless method. It is an area that’s growing in relevance all the time because of the ageing infrastructure in the ground,” said Jones. “From a sustainability perspective, it’s always going to be better to try to reline rather than dig up. Digging up old pipes introduces more carbon into the atmosphere through the construction process, and it’s also more disruptive to the surrounding community.”

What are some of the products that can meet these demands?


For a start, there is the EZIpit, which is designed for gravity sewer networks. As well as meeting stringent standards in terms of being water and corrosion-proof, there are a couple of other features that make it stand out.

“The speed and safety to install when compared to the conventional products are two of its main benefits,” said Nathan Swaffer, Iplex’s Product Marketing and Training Manager. “It is also very durable. Yes, it’s plastic, but it doesn’t mean it’s weak. Plastic is a very durable material in harsh environments where sewer pits can be exposed. Gases that come up through sewers have corroded traditional materials used in such applications.”

When EZIpit was being developed, product designers also considered the soil type, including coastal environments, which are often prevalent in Australia.

“The surrounding soils can be full of acids, which can attack conventional materials,” said Swaffer. “They are known as acid sulphate soils. Then we bump up against the coastline, so we can have a lot of salt in our environment, which can also harm many conventional materials. This makes EZIpit durable in that application, while its flexible corrugated riser design makes it durable from a structural sense.”


Iplex developed the Restrain sewer pipe for gravity sewer applications. It is a PVC-U pipe that can be installed using trenchless techniques. It’s when it’s used in this capacity that it comes into its own, according to Swaffer.

As he explains, a trenchless pipe must be pulled through a new or existing pipe. Usually, individual pipes need to be connected to make up the full length of the pipeline. This is where it can get tricky to ensure the integrity of the joints between the pipes is reliable and kept intact while being pulled through the hole. This isn’t an issue with the Restrain range. 

“If you think about a traditional pipe, it often just plugs into a spigot socket joint,” said Swaffer. “There is a rubber seal between the pipes, which can be pulled apart. So, to pull a run of traditional trenchless pipes through a hole, you need the joints to hold, which usually means welding or gluing the pipes together. And that’s okay. But welding on-site can require a lot of space; it can be expensive. It’s a specialty trade, and sometimes it goes wrong. 

“Restrain removes the welding and allows the installer to screw the pipes together at the joint as you push or pull them through the hole. That saves a lot of time and requires less space on site. The other benefit is that instead of digging a big start hole, you can keep that hole small. We can manufacture the pipe in smaller lengths to fit into an existing maintenance hole. That’s one less cost.”

Flowtite GRP jacking pipes

The Flowtite GRP jacking pipes are designed with trenchless installation in mind.

The Flowtite Jacking pipe has high axial compressive strength and stiffness, manufactured by RPC Pipe Systems in South Australia. Swaffer says that the Glass Reinforced Polymer (GRP) material that the pipe is made from is tough and can handle the high pressures and forces encountered in pipe jacking. He said it is proving popular among asset owners with large-scale infrastructure projects on the go. This includes new pipelines bringing the water supply into communities and cities or installing important sewer treatment lines.

“These pipes can be big or small in diameter,” said Swaffer. “They have a unique role in the large bore, large-diameter space. A big hole is bored or cuts away, and the pipes are then pushed into the ground. So once again, quite a niche, specialty space because you’re applying big loads onto these pipes as you jack them through the hole.

“The additional benefit of GRP is that its carbon emissions, compared to some other materials, are significantly lower,” said Swaffer.

Looking forward in water infrastructure

Jones believes designers will look at water infrastructure and wastewater systems differently as we head into the next couple of decades. Water conservation and sustainability will no longer be buzzwords but part of the vernacular.

“We’ll be thinking more about the greening of buildings and maybe some gardens on the sides of buildings,” said Jones. “All it will take is the efficient movement of water around buildings. These types of things will become part of what we think about when we’re designing buildings and infrastructure into
the future.” 

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