Are Press Connect Systems the Answer to the Skilled Labor Shortage?
The plumbing industry has relied on brazing and soldering to create strong piping connections for centuries, but with a reported 70 percent of con- struction companies nationwide having trouble finding qualified workers, there is a need for fast, easy to install systems.
Fast installation systems have be- come popular among millennials and Generation Z’s entering the trades due in part to the labor shortage. Many flame-less systems are marketed as the cheaper, quicker installation option, but is “cheap” really what we want as our new industry standard?
Much of the time and skill involved in installing piping revolves around the joints, or connections. For many years this was dependent on the pipe mate- rial. Soldering and brazing copper required more skill and more time than glued or mechanical joints used for various plastic systems, but switching materials for the sake of the joints can come at a cost.
While plastics have gained market penetration because of their generally lower cost-per-foot, copper piping is made of 99.9 percent copper and offers reliability, quality and safety for the lifetime of a building. The metal is the only material with a 50-year limited warranty and it won’t give off toxic fumes during fire, won’t release chemicals into the water and won’t allow any substance to permeate through the pipe wall.
The advent of press-connect systems offers all of these qualities to building owners with the added benefit of slashing installation and labor costs.
Press-Connect: Strong and Swift
Copper press-connect is simple, quick and durable. One of the newest press-connect systems is specifically designed for HVAC systems operating at pressures up to 750 psig and temperatures up to 250°F. This will accommodate the pressures and temperatures of most new refrigerants being used for air conditioning applications. In demonstrations by the Copper Development Association (CDA), press-connect joints were made in as little as 2 minutes, proving building owners can obtain strong, leak-free copper joints quickly and easily and at lower cost than traditional methods.
Creating a quality, safe press-connect joint only requires some brief and simple steps:
1. Measure tubing accurately to insure it sockets completely to the base of the fitting cup.
4. Insert the tube into the fitting to the full depth of the fitting and mark the tube at the face of the fitting to give a visual mark to ensure that the tube remains inserted throughout the joining process.
2. Cut the tubing square, perpendicular to the run of tube, using an appropriate tube cutter and ensure that the end of the tube is round. Due to the malleable characteristics of soft or annealed copper you might need to re-round the tube to ensure a consistent fit and reduce the possibility of damaging the O-ring gasket.
5. With the tube inserted completely into the fitting, as evidenced by the insertion mark, place the properly sized pressing jaws over the bead on the fitting and ensure the tool and jaws are at a 90° angle (perpendicular) to the centerline of the tube.
3. Remove any burrs/sharp edges from the I.D. and O.D. of the cut tube end.
6. Depress the pressing tool trigger to begin the pressing cycle. When the pressing cycle is complete, release the pressing jaw and visually inspect the joint to ensure the tube has remained fully inserted, as evidenced by the visible insertion mark.
Reinvigorating the Trades
Becoming skilled in working with cop- per piping can help young tradesmen and women advance their careers since copper piping remains the material of choice for a wide variety of piping systems, especially in custom residential, non-single-family residential, commercial and industrial projects. With the decline of young men and women joining the trades, it’s likely that press technology will continue to grow in popularity and help to fill the void in the workforce.
To see a step-by-step guide of the press connect joining process, check out our new video, How to: Install Copper Press-Connect Systems. For more information about alternative joining systems, visit www.copper.org.