American Cast Iron Pipe Company
Celebrating its 110-year anniversary in 2015, American Cast Iron Pipe Company (AMERICAN) manufactures ductile iron pipe for water, valves and fire hydrants for fire protection and public service, spiral welded steel pipe for water, as well as API steel pipe for energy. AMERICAN supplies its products to local municipalities from coast to coast and also to international customers.
The company was founded in 1905 by John J. Eagan. Looking to invest his wealth in what he deemed a noble cause, Eagan chose to build an iron pipe company to address the needs of clean water supply and sanitation in rapidly growing urban areas as the Industrial Revolution was gathering momentum.
“At the time, urbanization was exposing serious health and sanitation issues affecting the public,” says Maury D. Gaston, manager of marketing services for AMERICAN. “Clean water is the greatest advancement in public health in the history of the world, and Eagan saw iron pipe as a way of serving that noble cause by providing strong and durable pipe for the clean water.” Building a company around an emerging national necessity, Eagan’s cause grew into a decade-crossing industry leader.
AMERICAN spanned the years with numerous innovations and consistency of excellence in its products. “Compared to other pipe, we were there first, and we have been making the most advancements since,” Gaston details. “The iron pipe industry set the standard for water works products by literally having the first standards for industry products.”
Throughout the 20th century, the piping industry transformed with the times. In the teens through the ’30s, iron pipe became the standard. In the war years, substitute materials developed a presence. In the 1960s, asbestos cement pipe took the industry by storm.
“Asbestos cement piping was born when everyone was enamored by what was then considered to be high-tech materials,” says Gaston. Soon, however, the standard for asbestos-cement piping was retired in the 1980s. Today, Gaston says, the United States has many miles of asbestos-cement piping and pipe of similarly inferior material awaiting replacement.
“Soon afterwards, when plastic came around, everyone thought it was better because it was newer,” Gaston continues. “However, plastic pipe is susceptible to fatigue, and production of PVC resins sends cancer-causing dioxins into the air, among other concerns.”
Therefore, there must be a next step, as well. “I wonder what the next asbestos-cement may be,” he muses.
The only constant down through the years has been AMERICAN’s mainstay: iron pipe. “Iron pipe has been here decade after decade, and AMERICAN is proud to continue that legacy long into the future,” Gaston says confidently.
Iron pipe was the pipe material that established national dimensional standards. This resulted in a common outside diameter for various materials across the nation’s waterworks industry. With all pipe materials having the same outside diameter, today’s ductile iron pipe has a larger inside diameter than other materials that are not as strong and the larger inside diameter of ductile iron pipe results in significantly less power requirements to pump the same volume of water.
In a recent study published in Journal AWWA, the city of Huntsville, Alabama, was found to save $700,000 each year in power costs by using iron pipe instead of PVC pipe. This is over 7,000,000 kilowatt hours annually and the energy to power 690 homes for a year. With energy totaling nearly 30 percent of a utility’s operating costs, which is a 3 percent reduction in total operating expenses, is no small feat.
According to Gaston, several years ago, the ductile iron pipe industry recognized that inferior products were green-washing themselves, claiming to be green and sustainable when in fact they were not. “Knowing that iron pipe is made of recycled ferrous products, uses less energy to deliver water, lasts longer than other materials and is recyclable when taken out of service, the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association opened their processes to examination by the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability and received their coveted Gold rating,” he details. “Iron pipe is the only pressure pipe to be independently certified as a sustainable product.”
AMERICAN employs approximately 1,600 people in Birmingham, Alabama, and with a 2,000 acre site, operates the world’s largest iron pipe casting plant. AMERICAN also has 11 shipping depots across the country.
“Our depots have a green aspect by allowing us to ship our product via rail, which uses considerably less fuel to move freight than other means,” says Scott Norton, traffic director of AMERICAN. “The railroads make a great point when they say we can move a ton of freight more than 400 miles with only one gallon of fuel.”
The company’s reputation has grown nationally and internationally through its dependable product and industry innovations. AMERICAN’s innovation can be seen for the past century through cement lining, the mechanical joint, the push-on joint, ductile iron metallurgy, boltless restrained joints, flexible joints, the addition of valves, hydrants and steel pipe to its product offering, and other innovations.
More recently, AMERICAN has demonstrated innovation through pipe bursting and horizontal directional drilling, methods using a pulling head and attaching a pipe behind it, thereby avoiding open cuts and the digging up of streets. In Ramseur, North Carolina, AMERICAN recently upgraded a water line with this method, replacing an old line with a new, larger, Flex-Ring ductile iron line, all while not opening streets and disrupting local businesses.
The products of AMERICAN are not only cost-saving and durable, but also less inclined to corrode over time. “Most soils in the country are not corrosive,” Gaston explains. “Since iron is not far removed from the natural state, it is more resistant to corrosion than many other metals, and our annealing scale is also an effective deterrent.”
The industry also provides AWWA-endorsed polyethylene encasement that can be used over piping when the soil is known to be corrosive, and recent enhancements, such as infused biocides, further add to its effectiveness.
For a company that has already spanned decades as an industry leader, AMERICAN is looking to continue separating itself from any alternative material. “I think the greater awareness around sustainability will further set us apart,” says Gaston. “I believe the future is bright for iron pipe. Our water infrastructure needs replacing. Thank goodness for iron pipe 100 years ago. Otherwise, we would have faced a much larger problem much sooner.”
As projects continue to pour in for the company, there will be no shortage of clients looking for AMERICAN’s service, quality and expertise.
In the coming years, Gaston sees AMERICAN continuing to grow and lead the piping industry. “I see continued innovation in ductile iron pipe products and processes,” he says, “and innovative solutions that address underground construction needs, like horizontal directional drilling, pipe bursting, new joints, and even longer service life.”
As a company with over 100 years of industry leadership and innovation, American Cast Iron Pipe Company will continue to set the standard for quality, sustainable piping.
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