By the time you read this, travelers going through Detroit Metro Airport should be enjoying the new $1.2 billion Midfield Terminal. The new Northwest Airlines terminal will feature 74 gates, 2,200 feet of moving walkways and even two automated trains that will whisk passengers from one end of the main concourse to the other in under three minutes.

But we know what you're thinking: What about the bathrooms? Well, there will be 475 restroom stalls, double the amount required by the building code. Add to that 420 sinks and about 10 miles of copper pipe and you've got a project so big that three mechanical contractors had to enter a joint venture to complete all the plumbing, heating and HVAC work for the new building.

Michigan pipe trades giants Stanley-Carter Co.; John E. Green Co.; and Case Co. put their muscle into Carter/Pace/Green Inc. for the duration of the project.

"The scope of this project is huge," says Bob Luxon, general foreman at CPG Inc., the mechanical contractors responsible for the plumbing and heating in the expansion project. "We've probably topped out at 200 plumbers and pipe fitters on this job." Just for the heck of it, CPG estimated that if it were left up to one contractor, it would take the man 29 years just to do the piping in the tunnel portion of the terminal alone. "And that's about one-third of the entire piping job."

CPG didn't have 29 years, and even if they did, they still found a quicker way to install the copper piping than tried-and-true soldering. After seeing a demo of ProPress System from Ridge Tool Co. and Viega at a local supply house, the contractors knew the crimping setup would save time. In this case, CPG had already soldered copper pipe in one zone of the terminal and crimping another comparable zone could give the crew a real apples-to-apples comparison between the two pipe-joining methods.

"The pipe fitter was extremely pleased with the quality of the joints," says Leroy Hahka, also a general foreman for CPG. "He liked that he didn't need to clean the pipe, flux the joints, heat up the joint and use soldering paste. He simply set up all his pipe and fittings, and then went back and crimped all the joints at one time."

After comparing the soldering zone and the crimped zone, Hahka estimated that the crimping cut one-third off the labor spent on the task. Afterward, CPG invested in three ProPress tools as well as about 4,000 special fittings to complete the rest of the copper pipe installation, which ranges in size from 4-inch to 1/2-inch lines.

The airport expansion is the kind of high-visibility project that may be the tipping point for more contractors to try the new crimping method, says Ed McKiernan, director of marketing, ProPress Systems, Ridge Tool Co., Elyria, Ohio.

"Last January's ASHRAE Show was our third year marketing the ProPress, and I must have met 50 contractors who were using it," McKiernan says. "And the rest of the contractors I met at the show were aware of it either through advertising or seeing it at a competitor's jobsite."

The latter factor is an important one for McKiernan since what the contractor down the street is doing is a big influence on buying habits. "Like anything else, contractors look at anything new with a cautious eye," McKiernan adds. "But when enough nonusers see something new being used by their competition that really pushes them over the edge."

The crimping technology originally came from Germany. This way of joining copper pipe has been around for about 10 years in Europe, and McKiernan says currently between 50 and 60 percent of copper pipe is crimped with the remaining share soldered.

PM readers may remember a column Julius Ballanco wrote after seeing the crimping system firsthand at an ISH Show:

"The press fit copper fittings look like normal copper fittings. The only difference is the little hump located in the socket of each joint. When you look inside the fitting, you will notice an o-ring inside . . . the press fit joining method is simple, fast and easy. You cut and ream the copper tubing as you normally would, then the pipe is inserted completely into the socket of the press fitting. Place the press tool over the humped area of the joint, and pull the trigger . . . "

The tool, which weighs about 15 pounds, applies up to 35,000 pounds of pressure to join the copper pipe and the fitting. It takes as little as 4 seconds to join the two pieces of pipe regardless of the size of the fitting.

Designed to join copper pipe types K, L or M, the 120-volt electro-hydraulic tool has nine interchangeable jaws. The jaws, which are able to fit into the tightest locations, quickly and easily change by removing a locking pin to handle different sizes of copper pipe. The ProPress fittings are available in 240 different configurations, including elbows, tees and coupling.

To assure the tool always provides consistent, reliable crimped connection, integrated electronic and mechanical components prevent the tool from disengaging from the fitting unless the joint has been completely crimped. Likewise, the tool will prevent the contractor from using a jaw set that is too small for the pipe.

"We've been testing the crimped joints at 100 psi, which is about one-and-a-half times the operating pressure," Luxon says. Additional tests done by NSF have rated the joints at 600 psi and working pressures of 200 psi.

At the moment, the ProPress System has made bigger inroads into the commercial market than the residential market. One reason may be the cost of the tool, which is more than $2,000. Commercial contractors may be a little more used to making investments in technology than residential contractors who may be operating on thinner margins. The time savings may be the key to commercial contractors.

"It's not just the soldering time itself, but projects of this size also include penalty clauses if the plumbing system isn't in by a certain date," McKiernan explains. "So driving time out of the schedule is a huge benefit."