Heading full force into the second half of a year like no other the supply chain has seen before, manufacturers and suppliers within the piping sector are adapting and are ready for the new technology and trends ahead.
Supply and demand
Barry Campbell, vice president of marketing with Aquatherm, explains that the company is seeing higher demand for certain products this year. “We have been involved in several essential projects throughout the country, in some areas more than others. Manufacturing facilities have additional cooling demands because of higher demand for their products during COVID-19. Aquatherm has been able to provide much faster turnarounds thanks to the heat fusion process and the lighter weight of the product compared to metallic piping systems,” he says.
Greg Nahrgang, director of technical services and product development with Charlotte Pipe says that prior to COVID-19, the demand for pipes and fittings was robust and the economy had the piping sector set up for continued growth. “Going forward, demand for piping products is going to hinge largely on how quickly economies open back up in certain geographic areas,” he adds.
Challenges facing the supply chain
From the supplier side, Kevin Koehler, managing director at American Piping Products notes that the oil and gas market pricing has been one of the greatest challenges. “Oil and gas is dead right now with all of the layoffs, the world gas industry, etc. It’s pretty crippling. We hope to see an up-tick throughout the second half of the year,” he says.
Campbell also notes that Aquatherm has seen challenges for the piping sector due to current oil and gas prices. “The low price of oil and gas is having an effect as the energy sector is backing off major piping projects, and the manufacturers of those products look to other markets,” he explains.
Tariffs are another area of concern for the piping industry. Koehler says that inconsistent tariffs have been an issue for a couple of years now. “One quarter there are tariffs, and then they drop the tap and double the tariffs soon after. This makes it really difficult to navigate ordering pipe from overseas.”
As with virtually every other sector within the PHCP-PVF industry, lack of skilled labor is an ongoing challenge. “There has been a steady decline in the number of qualified workers who are willing to learn a trade. As an industry we have to work together to show promising young folks how you can earn a great living while doing a job that you can be proud of and enjoy,” says Nahrgang.
Technology is constantly developing in both product development and business management throughout the piping sector. Ease-of-install is something many manufacturers have at the top of their list when developing new products. “We’re seeing many industrial customers looking to retrofit their process heating and cooling systems, their facility heating and cooling systems and other piping systems,” says Campbell.
“As one global industrial customer told me last year, ‘Piping is our heartbeat; it’s what pumps the blood through our veins, and without it functioning at maximum capacity we don’t move.’ So, for customers like this one and many others, the notion that they can drastically condense the timeline – and downtime – of a swap out or new installation of large diameter piping by using polypropylene instead of metallic systems really makes a big difference. We are consistently training contractors who work with industrial clients, and the industrial clients themselves, to heat fuse polypropylene to save on installation time and make expansions and changes easier in the future,” he adds.
Manufacturers note that in terms of maintaining great relationships with distributors, things are also continuing to move in a more virtual direction. Charlotte Pipe notes that since face-to-face interactions are limited, the company is getting creative with communication. “As soon as we can safely have face-to-face meetings with customers, we will. Until then, we are getting creative with how we communicate. We are sending out weekly updates to our distributors, reps and associates to let them know what we see and anticipate in the market. Also, we are hosting virtual meeting,” notes Nahrgang.
Distributor relationships and keeping products moving
Thankfully, most manufacturers and suppliers report being able to move and receive product as usual, with the help of enhanced communication efforts from both sides. Campbell explains that it’s all about adapting to changes in the market and meeting customer needs.
“In general, the level of communication has increased substantially in terms of day-to-day changes in markets where projects can continue and those where it has slowed. We’re also seeing an increase in the design side as engineers are ramping up projects that had been sitting idle, as resources are being redirected to help fight the pandemic,” he says