Of all the benefits offered by press-fitting copper, plastic and stainless-steel pipe connections, jobsite productivity heads the list. Safety, consistency and the ability to complete jobs in tight spaces follow right behind.
“This is a rapidly changing market, fueled by the need for improved consistency and efficiency on the job,” says Corey Dickert, director of product marketing for Milwaukee Tool. “All firms large and small are looking to maximize bids and service times, and minimize call backs.”
The latest pressing tools are getting lighter and smaller, while retaining high quality, says Marcus Borman, global marketing manager, for RIDGID. The newer tools can get into tighter spots than earlier models could. They are easier to hold and easier to take to and from jobsites.
“At RIDGID, our largest tool with a battery — that can make connections on 1/2-in. to 4-in. copper — weighs 8.5 lb.; 15 years ago, the tool was almost double that weight,” he says. “Not only is it easier to make the connection, but you do not have to worry about accidentally starting a fire, nor do you need to get a fire permit. Pressing is not just about tight spots, though. It will save time on each fitting, which frees up contractors to do more work on the jobsite and allows them to move to other jobsites faster.”
Traditional press tools could weigh up to 20 lb., Dickert says, but today Milwaukee Tool offers its M12 Force Logic press tool that weighs in at 3.8 lb. Its M18 Force Logic full-size press tool weighs 6.5 lb.
“Both tools are inline so users can navigate the pipe maze and press a fitting nearly anywhere they can reach their arm,” he says. “This translates to much more productivity while on the jobsite.”
Business owners across the country are seeing shorter down times and higher quality connection,Borman notes. For example, if a pipe bursts in a major hotel, or if the owner decides to expand, the hotel might have to shut down the water supply for a couple of hours in order to solder a system.
“Not only would this create a headache for the hotel, but it will lead to unhappy hotel patrons,” Borman says. “However, if the joints were pressed, the process could be done in a matter of minutes and the patrons will be unaware of any loss of water. This situation allows contractors to get in and out of locations quickly and efficiently, resulting in more jobsites, helping them to attract and retain more customers.”
Though press and expansion tools have been around since the 1990s, demand in the marketplace has broadened the capabilities of these systems, Dickert adds.
“Ten years ago press was primarily used in copper pipe joining,” he notes. “Today, it is used across many systems and there is a rapidly growing market for its use on black pipe. Jaw offerings are being expanded at a rapid rate to support these new systems.
“PEX, on the other hand, is working toward a stronger commercial plumbing position. With the introduction of the first PEX installation tool that goes up to 3 in., our M18 Force Logic Uponor ProPEX Expansion Tool, the commercial pipe market has the first product that can take PEX through an entire job from riser to fixture in many cases.”
Copper and PEX press-fit systems have found a particular niche in hydronic heating systems — both residential and commercial.
“Like other applications for pressing, hydronic systems have many tight spaces that require connections,” Borman says. “Hydronic systems with copper pipe typically have a few elbow connections that need to be made; if installers connect using a RIDGID tool and Viega elbow fitting, they will have a stable joint that has more material than the rest of the pipe, and this helps keep the system up and running longer.”
Press-fitting cannot be used in all pipe-joining applications. Three limitations encountered in pressing relate to size, temperature and pressure, Borman says.
“We can press copper and stainless steel from 1/2 in. to 4 in., black steel pipe goes from 1/2 in. to 2 in., and PEX can be connected from 1/2 in. to 2 in,” he says. “Press fittings are rated to withstand temperature between -32°F and 250°.”
Most press fittings are rated for systems with a maximum pressure of 200 psi, Borman notes. Certain applications may be above or below these size, temperature and pressure ranges. Before installing a system, users should reference manufacturers’ websites to determine the range of the system they are installing.
“There are systems that these markets are not applicable for today, but for most of them it is just a matter of time,” Dickert says. “I’m confident we’ll continue to see expansion of applications.”
Featured press-fit tools
Milwaukee Tool M18 Force Logic: With a lightweight, in-line design this press tool allows for one-handed pressing and access to make connections in tight spaces. The tool and its compatible jaws are designed to work with all major fitting manufacturers and are currently compatible with 13 unique systems. It is powered by Milwaukee REDLITHIUM batteries.
Vic-Press PFT510: This press tool offers an industrial-grade solution for quickly and reliably joining off-the-shelf ASTM A-312 Schedule 10S stainless steel for small-diameter piping systems. The handheld pressing tool is used to press a Victaulic coupling, fitting or valve onto the pipe-end, providing a positive mechanical interlock and creating a rigid, permanent, leak-tight joint.
DEWALT DCE200: This tool can press pipe fittings from 1/2 in. to 4 in. in copper and stainless steel. The head of the tool pivots 320° to maneuver in tight spaces. It features an LED work light to illuminate the workspace and an LED panel that powers the tool on or off, indicates battery state of charge, cycle completion, and if recalibration or service of the tool is needed.
Greenlee Gorilla Press: Both the inline and pistol grip pressing tools are designed with auto-stop technology, precise pressing force and diagnostics. The inline tool’s 350° rotating head fits into tight spaces, and a single button controls all tool functions including the immediate stop of the piston when it is released. The pistol grip tool’s twist-and-release locking pin enables quick exchange of pressing jaws.
RIDGID RP 200-B: This press tool line can join copper, stainless steel or PEX. The inline design allows access into tighter spaces, enabling press connections in difficult to reach areas. The tool kit comes standard with two 18-volt Advanced Lithium 2 batteries. Large-capacity 18-volt Advanced Lithium 4 batteries are available.
Editor’s note: Portions of this article originally appeared in PM’s sister publication, Reeves Journal, in the article “Tight Connections: Press-fit joining expands the possibilities.” Allison Deerr is a freelance writer based in Anaheim, Calif.
This article was originally titled “Productivity press” in the September 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.