PolyHorse helps improve pipe handling efficiency

US-based McElroy has devised a system - PolyHorse - to eliminate inefficiencies and improve safety during job setup and pipe handling. Jim Craig takes a look at the system, and the benefits it offers.

Improving efficiency and safety on the job site is a primary focus for many contractors and utility companies. After studying high-density polyethylene pipe (HDPE) fusion job sites in a variety of markets, it was determined that a key to improving efficiency and safety is in job setup and pipe handling.

Usually, producing more pipe joints per day involves more machines and operators, thus increasing costs. With the information gathered from studies, McElroy developed a new pipe-handling system – PolyHorse. The system strategically stages the pipe on the job site, allowing you to increase the number of joints produced per day and eliminate some labour and loading equipment in the process.

There are various methods for setting up a job. One is to lay the pipe on the ground where the pipeline will be and move the fusion equipment for each joint. This method involves moving the pipe support stands and the fusion machine to each pipe to be joined which requires additional manpower on the job.

This was the chosen method on a Native American reservation in the US, where the owner did not want to drag the pipe and disturb the pipeline area any more than necessary. They had a piece of loading equipment and an operator following the fusion equipment from joint to joint to load the pipe.

This is the most inefficient method of laying pipe and is mainly used in constrained space applications.


More commonly, pipe is stacked on the ground next to the movable jaw side of a fusion machine. Pipe support stands are then set up on both sides of the fusion machine.

Loading equipment is used to individually pick up the pipe from the stack and load it in the fusion machine. After the operator completes the fusion operation, another piece of equipment is used to pull the pipe through the machine so that a new stick of pipe can be loaded. This arrangement requires two equipment operators and two pieces of equipment for pulling and loading pipe.

There are several things about this job setup that could be improved. First, stacking pipe on the ground leads to increased contamination and possible pipe damage. Second is the handling of the pipe into the machine. When using a piece of equipment to swing sticks of pipe from the pipe stack on the ground into the fusion machine all day, there is an increased probability for damage to the fusion machine and possible injury to the fusion operator.

If the loading equipment is not available, it is not uncommon to see the fusion machine operator and others on the job try to lift the pipe onto the pipe support stands. This can lead to one of the most common worker compensation claims — back strain.

The PolyHorse is a pipe-handling system, consisting of a series of adjustable pipe racks positioned on the movable jaw side of a fusion machine. Pipe (90mm to 500mm diameter) is stacked on the racks with loading equipment as it arrives from the delivery truck.

This positions the pipe off the ground, keeping it clean and protected, eliminating the need to move the pipe multiple times. The pipe is also kept straight, so it is easier to clamp and align in the machine during the fusion process.

The fusion machine operator rolls a stick of pipe onto a set of adjustable rollers and easily pulls it into the fusion machine and starts the fusion process. When the fusion joint is complete, pipe can be pulled through the machine and the fusion machine operator can load another piece of pipe.

The same piece of equipment can be used for both loading the pipe on the racks and for pulling the pipe out of the machine. This system eliminates one piece of equipment and one operator from a conventional setup.

This new job site method was used near Sugarloaf, Maine, for the Poland Spring Natural Spring Water Company. The job was located on a meadow of grass less than 12m above a natural aquifer. Surrounded by mostly untouched wilderness, the valley has been a drinking water source for more than 10,000 years.


Poland Spring built a pipeline through this meadow that pumps water from the aquifer to one of its nearby bottling factories. The whole project was designed with the natural environment’s protection in mind.

Additional measures were taken to ensure the construction site and its environment remained extremely clean.

“The largest environmental benefit we provided was the HDPE piping system,” says Bill Hanes, of VARI-TECH, which provided the pipe and the pipe-handling system.

Hanes is speaking of the PolyHorse, which eliminated a large piece of construction equipment and sped up the whole operation.

Because of the efficiency of the PolyHorse, the fusion machine operator is never waiting for pipe to be loaded, which ultimately results in more joints per day.

The chart below shows the estimated operating efficiency of the handling system operating under the United States’ American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) pipe fusion standards.

Using the improved system resulted in completing the job 1.5 days sooner with an increase in efficiency and a decrease in costs.

With the efficiency gains of this pipe-handling system using 90mm or 110mm pipe, the production can rival using coiled pipe.

Job site setup and pipe handling are the keys to improved efficiency and safety. Using a pipe-handling system will help make fusing polyethylene pipe more successful for everyone from the owner to the operator.

Jim Craig is industry relations manager at McElroy. W: www.mcelroy.com

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