June 2021, Vol. 248, No. 6


PVC Pipes Dominate South Africa Pipelines Market by Wide Margin

By Shem Oirere, Contributing Editor  

South Africa’s plastic pipes market is dominated by polyvinyl (PVC) pipes, according to a survey by industry lobby Southern African Plastic Pipe Manufacturers Association (SAPPMA). 

The Transnet Pipelines is a chief user of PVC pipe in Africa. (Photo: Transnet Pipelines)
The Transnet Pipelines is a chief user of PVC pipe in Africa. (Photo: Transnet Pipelines)

Production of the PVC pipes has risen to 78,000 tons based on the qualitative and quantitative survey carried out for SAPPMA by LHA Management Consultants. 

The bulk of the PVC pipes (72%) is used for pressure. Production of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipes falls behind PVC pipes at 48,000 tons, currently in use in the local market with 84% used for pressure, 4% non-pressure and 12% telecoms applications. 

The survey, released in the final quarter of 2020, was the third for the plastic pipelines standards body since 2009. Its results also showed that the market is supplied with 220,000 tons of concrete pipes, which are used for storm water (78%) and sewer (22%). 

Despite the findings on the status of the use of different types of pipes in South Africa, SAPPMA expresses concern at the dwindling investments by the government in infrastructure projects such as oil and gas, hence falling or stagnated uptake especially of plastic pipes. 

“What became clear from the research was that significantly fewer funds have been invested in infrastructure and building projects over the past six years – causing the pipe market to shrink by an alarming 15% since 2014,” the survey report indicates. 

“Although South Africa recorded average GDP growth of 0.8% per annum during the same period, the amount of money that was invested in building and construction projects as a percentage of GDP had declined sharply,” an SAPPMA spokesman said. They added, “Reliable infrastructure is desperately needed in our country to ensure the supply of clean drinking water, uninterrupted sewage services and the provision of electricity, telecommunication and gas services to communities around South Africa.” 

This decline according to SAPPMA’s Chief Executive Officer Jan Venter “is a clear indication that the taxpayer’s money is not being spent where it is supposed to go – despite the promises made by politicians.” 

Part of the reason SAPPMA carried out the survey was to hear from the industry concerning its training and communication, and to show its efforts are making an impact on the ground. 

“We were also eager to find out if any gaps exist and what we can do to offer more technical support or information to the decision makers,” Venter said. 

Plastic pipes industry stakeholders, the survey revealed, are keen on supporting the mission and activities of SAPPMA due to the increasing preference for high standards in the production of plastic pipes, not only by the industry lobby but also infrastructure project implementers. 

Amid the appreciation for certified plastic pipes in South Africa, there is still lack of clarity on the part of pipe manufacturers as to which certification a company should opt for. 

Currently, plastic pipes in South Africa are certified through either the South African Technical Auditing Services Pty. Ltd. (SATAS), South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) or South African National Standard (SANS) standards. 

SATAS is an independent auditing and certification body that is SANS ISO 17065 accredited through SANAS and issues certificates for relevant SANS standards. 

Leading market players such as Rare Plastics Ltd. have opted to go for accreditation from SATAS rather than SANS as was previously the case, and have insisted the certification change “does not change any aspects of the quality nor manufacturing process of the HDPE PE100 pipes,” since the “pipes still comply with SANS 4427, Part 2.” 

The use of alternate accreditation agencies other than SANS has been confusing in some instances. 

However, Rare Plastics explained that all plastic pipe manufacturers in South Africa are “subjected to unannounced inspections and audits by SATAS auditors to ensure compliance with SANS 4427.” 

The company attributes the trend to the industry’s desire to “ensure quality standards and procedures are adhered to on an ongoing basis.” It also acknowledges the trend in South Africa that many structural designers, local authorities and relevant state authorities prefer SATAS-certified plastic pipes. 

SAPPMA is expected to build on these findings, especially after the survey found out nearly 80% of the interviewees said they were aware of SAPPMA and understand the contribution SAPPMA makes to South Africa’s plastic pipes market. 

Survey respondents gave high ratings to SAPPMA on technical support (84%), professionalism (82%), neutrality (80%) and quality assurance (80%). 

In what appears to be growing appreciation for quality in the plastic pipes industry, nearly 54% of the respondents indicated that they give preference to suppliers that are accredited members of SAPPMA or carry the SAPPMA logo, albeit with some exceptions. 

Another 33% of the respondents confirmed exclusive use of plastic pipes exclusively manufactured by companies affiliated to SAPPMA. 

SAPPMA now says it intends to use the findings from the survey to “set its agenda and priorities for the next few years.” 

“It is clear that there is a need for ongoing training, communication and skills transfer in the industry.” 

SAPPMA is planning to use platforms such as pipes conferences, quality workshops and technical manuals to promote technology transfer, especially on pipe selection, pipes standards and pipeline design. 

Venter added that the organization will also offer “roadshows to the various provinces once the COVID-19 pandemic is over and life has returned to normal.” 

Recently, SAPPMA asked the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Pretoria about including basic technical information in the university curriculum for third-year students in recognition of the importance of educating future engineers with practical and relevant information about plastic pipe materials. 

Meanwhile, Venter is pessimistic on the possibility of the industry’s revival in the short-term saying, “implementation and roll-out” takes too long. 

“Even if the decisions are taken and approved today to invest in new infrastructure or to upgrade the existing pipe networks, it will still take several months before we start seeing the impact and results,” he said. “What is more concerning to us is that we also have not yet calculated the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s economy, infrastructure spend and on the pipe industry.” 

Venter said the South Africa plastic industry is preparing for a bumpy ride as rapid recovery is not expected until 2023 when the country is likely to experience some economic recovery to the 2019 levels. 

Recovery of South Africa’s economy would be a boon for Transnet Pipelines, formerly Petronet, the state-owned company that operates all the country’s strategic pipeline assets serving the fuel and gas industries. 

Currently, Transnet’s annual average throughout is estimated at 16 billion liters of liquid fuel and 450 million cubic meters of gases for its customers such as Caltex, Engen, Exel, Sasol Oil, Sasol Gas, Tepco, Shell and Total. 

Transnet Pipelines, which owns 2,361 miles (3,800 km) of petroleum and gas pipeline infrastructure, transports 100% of South Africa’s bulk petroleum products, with Natref inland being the recipient of all crude requirements from the company’s pipelines.   

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