The basic technology behind a manhole frame and cover has remained unchanged for quite a few generations. Saint Gobain is looking to make a few much-needed changes to that dated standard in the US.
This year, Saint-Gobain celebrates its 350th anniversary. The oldest company included on the CAC 40 French stock market index, Saint-Gobain is one of the oldest manufacturing companies in the world. With 15 generations of experience and 170,000+ employees worldwide, Saint-Gobain is turning its considerable attention to the US municipal castings market, starting with the vast network of access covers that span the country.
"The US market is very substantial due to its good infrastructure, but we still see a need...for improvement," says Gustavo Siqueira, CEO of Saint-Gobain's Brazilian Pipe Division. "When we look into the US and other international markets...you'll rarely see companies who differentiate themselves by focusing on the client values, offering the best solution for a fair price...and that is what Saint-Gobain is here to provide."
This past month, the domestic distributors of Saint-Gobain's Pam Access Covers line, along with Siqueira, and Felipe Porto, Saint-Gobain's Director of Export Sales and US Market Manager, all converged on the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for two days of discussion, idea exchange, and strategy. Central to the discussion was the US Market's overwhelming reliance on cast iron as the fundamental material for municipal access covers. This is at odds with the global trend as most larger nations have already moved on to the safer and more durable ductile iron as the principal component in the manufacture of access covers.
According to Siqueira, "Most of the problems faced in each job with access covers are related to cast iron." Cast iron's strength to weight ratio is primary culprit when it comes to the issues surrounding the use of cast iron in municipal castings. Typical 24" traffic rated cast iron manhole covers often weigh 225lbs - 275lbs, not including the frame. Due to cast iron's brittle and unpredictable nature, the only way to increase the strength of a casting is to add more material, which in turn adds proportionally more weight. In a world where back injury claims account for 32% of the cost of claims to US businesses*, adding more weight to municipal and utility castings is far from ideal.
Enter the Pam Access Covers line of products. The line includes the flagship Pamrex cover as well as the Pamtight pressure tight cover, Rexus gratings, and the recently released Rexus II cover. In addition to the much more favorable strength to weight ratio, ductile iron's predictability allows Saint-Gobain to design castings with the end user in mind.
"...today we have ductile iron light weight covers that can be hinged, with a locking mechanism, anti-theft system, inflow protetction, pressure tight, and very high quality, eco-friendly, and a fair price." Siqueira uses the flagship Pamrex cover as an example of what Saint-Gobain can do with a 100% ductile iron design. "The Pamrex line was designed to address inflow problems. It eliminates the need of a RainGuard, or any other complex or more costly short term solution. But not only that, it's a full cast ductile iron frame and cover, which allows up to a 50% weight savings compared to cast iron. It's also hinged, protecting field personnel from the risk of injury." The Pamrex's 24" cover weighs only 122 pounds and triples the traffic rating versus cast iron covers from 40,000 pounds to 120,000 pounds. The ergonomics of opening a hinged cover further reduces the effort, and risk, of operating the cover.
The ultimate in end-user ease of use is the recently released Rexus II cover, a cover Siqueira dubs "the most technologically innovative product that we have developed...". Like the Pamrex, the 24" Rexus II is 100% ductile iron, with a cover weight coming in at just under 60 pounds and total unit weight of only 106 pounds. While the Rexus II does not address inflow issues, the remaining features match up comparably with the Pamrex, including the hinge, optional locking mechanism, antitheft device, and load rating of 90,000 pounds.
The Rexus II was designed and developed utilizing feedback from Saint-Gobain's customer base. "Saint-Gobain is a company based on tradition, with more than 350 years of experience, and our goal is to keep looking to customers for solutions for another 350 years. In that way, we have been changing, evolving, and adapting for each new era, and that is why we are a reference in many of our product segments... just for being out there closer to our customers." Siqueira emphasizes that this approach will be evident in Saint-Gobain's involvement in the US market: "We are excited about the people. When you show them a good solution, and that you're listening in order to address their problem, then people are thankful and that is what keeps us motivated."
"So we will keep listening, and bringing new solutions to our customers and to the US market."
Backed by its experience and its capacity to continuously innovate, Saint-Gobain, the world leader in the habitat and construction market, designs, manufactures, and distributes high-performance and building materials providing innovative solutions to the challenges of growth, energy efficiency, and environmental protection. With 2015 sales of €39.6 billion, Saint-Gobain operates in 66 countries and has more than 170,000 employees. For more information about Saint-Gobain, visit www.saint-gobain.com and the twitter account @saintgobain or download the "Saint-Gobain Shareholder" app for tablet and smartphone.
*Liberty Mutual Research Institute of Safety, Hopkinton, MA