Engineered plastic fittings making connections across U.S.
BY MARY JO MARTIN
Fairfield, N.J. — Wholesalers and plumbing contractors across America are beginning to learn about and install a new product to the American market — fittings made of engineered plastic for partial and whole house plumbing connections. Speedfit® is a signature brand from John Guest Ltd., a distinguished British company that pioneered the use of plastic fittings, valves and tube. Its products are used in a wide variety of applications, from water treatment and filtration systems to automotive, and now plumbing and heating.
For the residential and light commercial plumbing market, Speedfit fittings and PEX are used in hot/cold water services, hydronic heating systems and radiant in-floor heating systems. This alternative plumbing product – already used in millions of homes outside of America – is easy to install and requires no tools, is a less-expensive alternative to copper, is lead free, and provides leak-proof connections due to its patented and fail-safe Twist & Lock push-fit technology.
Speedfit’s introduction into the U.S. plumbing and heating market comes as its John Guest USA subsidiary celebrates 25 years in business. Based in Fairfield, N.J., the company operates a 46,541-square-foot facility housing administration, operations and warehousing, with 36 employees.
“Twenty-five years is quite a milestone for John Guest USA,” said Stan Artman, president of the sales & marketing group. “The American market for our products continues to grow. Plumbing and heating – a relatively new market for us in the U.S. – looks especially promising because we offer top-quality products that meet the strictest lead content standards. John Guest USA is responsible for sales to North and South America, including the Caribbean. We have field sales teams around the country that are broken out by segment — a plumbing and industrial team, a retail team, an OEM team, and an export team. It’s the ability to focus on these segments that will enable our business to grow and further keep us closer to the needs of our diverse customer base.”
Parent John Guest Ltd. — which will celebrate its 50th year in business in 2011 — is a privately owned, third-generation company that manufactures its products entirely in Great Britain. BS EN ISO9001 certified, it is a preferred supplier to many international companies servicing a wide range of industries and applications, and has earned a world-class reputation for delivering products of total quality (the company earned its third Queen’s Enterprise Innovation Award in 2005). The organization is dedicated to service, quality and engineered performance. Through a strong commitment to growth and innovation, and a policy of continuous reinvestment, John Guest constantly upgrades its products and manufacturing capabilities, and more than 10% of its workforce is dedicated to R&D efforts.
“Our founder John Guest — whom I add with great regret passed away recently — was an engineer and machinist who invented push-to-connect fittings,” explained Artman. “We actually pre-date the other brands of push-to-connect fittings in the U.S. market, but here in the U.S., our product was initially sold into water filtration, auto and other OEM applications. We sell to companies such as Ford, GM, Mercedes, 3M Filtration (formerly Cuno), Whirlpool and Maytag It’s the type of product that’s in most homes but until recently hasn’t had the same the type of brand recognition as similar products because we were selling through the OEM market.”
Artman, who has been in the industry since 1984, has worked with a number of organizations, beginning as an independent rep, which allowed him to learn the business, before moving on to Kohler, Elkhart Products and Delta Faucet. He was very impressed by the Guest family’s long term commitment to the organization and industry — a key reason he took on this position.
“One of the things I like most about John Guest is that they have that same long-term generational view, a willingness on the part of our board of directors to invest in the business and its employees and the strong focus on quality and conducting our business in a highly ethical manner,” Artman noted. “It’s a family owned company and they know what they stand for. It is a special opportunity to be working in this type of environment.”
All of John Guest’s products continue to be manufactured in Great Britain. The operation is very vertically integrated, with the company doing all of its own machining, tooling, etc.
Benefits of Speedfit system
When it comes to the Speedfit product line, the key feature is its patented twist & lock technology. This involves the use of a specially designed collet, invented by Mr. John Guest, which has stainless steel teeth to grip pipe when fully inserted and an EPDM O-ring to provide a permanent leak-proof seal.
“In many plumbing systems you’re either soldering, crimping or gluing a fitting,” explained Artman. “That all takes time. With Speedfit, you simply make sure the pipe is cut properly and insert the tube by hand until it bottoms out in the fitting cup. Our plumbing fittings can be used with copper, CPVC or PEX. After pushing the tube into the fitting until it seats, the installer can engage our twist and lock feature for added security by turning the locking cap until it touches the body flange. This immobilizes the collet, preventing the release of the tube. We have quantified their time savings at approximately 40% — which we believe is critical to the contractors. To disconnect for maintenance or retrofit, the contractor first de-pressurizes the system and then turns the locking cap back to its unlocked position. The collet can then be pushed against the face of the fitting, and with the collet held in this position the pipe can be removed.”
Speedfit fittings, available in 1/2", 3/4" and 1" CTS sizes and are reusable without the need for replacement parts.
First-hand success stories
In two new homes on opposite ends of the coast and a rehabbed Habitat for Humanity home in Minnesota, plumbing companies have installed Speedfit push-fit fittings for the first time and have come away from those jobs impressed with the product and its many benefits over copper and CPVC.
On Merritt Island, Fla., just south of Cape Canaveral, Speedfit and Speedfit PEX were used for the majority of whole house plumbing connections in developer Mike DiChristopher’s 4,250-square-foot dream house on the water. This one-and-a half story house with three bedrooms, four bathrooms and two Jetta spa tubs was designed with a split water supply to save on long runs of PEX ?through the attic space. DiChristopher didn’t want to lay any piping under the home’s slab because of problems he’d experienced in the past.
When approached by John Guest USA’s local rep about using Speedfit for the house, DiChristopher, who with his partner normally direct use of copper and some CPVC of late, decided to go with plastic Speedfit after conducting his own research on the product and its use: “I did my homework on the pros and cons, and I couldn’t find any cons.”
Tom Walker Plumbing of Cocoa Beach did the installation, again a first-time use of plastic. The opportunity to use Speedfit helped open up a new product option to them.
“Speedfit is great,” noted David Bell of Tom Walker Plumbing. “We’re going to take a good look at using it again.” Bell estimates that using Speedfit saved a quarter of the typical cost and installation of copper systems. To get a better sense of just how much time his crew saved, Bell gave a simple example: in one of the house’s bathrooms it took his crew just 30 minutes to complete the hot and cold water plumbing connections, something that he says likely would have taken much longer with other systems.
DiChristopher is now sold on Speedfit. “I’m impressed with it,” he commented. “Considering the time savings and price of copper, Speedfit should definitely be used.” He and his partner intend to use it on future jobs. Regarding the concern about leakage, he had this to say: “I’m confident of the product because, as I see it, several things have to fail for a leak to occur – either the pipe insertion was not fully made or the collet gripper and O-ring have to fail. This is a well-engineered product and I don’t see that happening.”
In Minnesota, master plumber Robert Berge has worked with the John Guest line of Speedfit products several times on retrofit and repair jobs, especially in winter where ease of use and elimination of the need for tools can be a godsend in a day – or nights’s — work. Berge has learned from his experience and recommends using Speedfit for retrofit jobs.
“Working under a trailer or mod home, in the dead of winter when you’re laying on your back and you have about 18 inches of space to work in, the John Guest products are a dream to work with,” he said. “You just don’t expect any problems using John Guest.”
Recently his firm, Infinity Plumbing Inc. of Dennison, Minn., had the chance to work with the JG Speedfit line on a much bigger retrofit job: installing the plastic fittings and accompanying JG Speedit PEX piping in a two-story, 1,800-square-foot home donated to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and moved across town from its original location in Prior Lake, Minn., south of the Twin Cities.
The relocated house was set on a new basement foundation. With the original copper pipe left in the home, Berge’s two-man crew went to work tying on the donated Speedfit fittings and PEX to six existing copper pipe connections serving the home’s new A. O. Smith ProMax water heater, along with the washing machine, wash sink and kitchen faucets. Between 35 and 40 JG CTS fittings were used along with about 200 feet of 1/2" and 3/4" JG PEX.
Five years ago Berge installed nothing but copper pipe and brass fittings; today he uses PEX with manifolds and valves. His crew was “really impressed” with the ease of use of the JG Speedfit product and PEX: “It worked very well and it went so fast,” he said. “I would certainly use Speedfit in the right situation,” said Berge. “Overall it’s a very good product, and I can see it catching on.”
Clint Giardina and his crew from M&B Plumbing of Milpitas, Calif., installed Speedfit along with Zurn PEX tubing in a new 3,800-square-foot home being built by developer Dividend Homes in the Morgan Hill neighborhood, south of San Jose. The two-story, five bedroom house has a master bath with whirlpool tub, walk-in shower, two sinks and a toilet along with plumbing for three additional bathrooms, a laundry room, kitchen, family room and outside BBQ station sink. M&B Plumbing normally installs copper piping and metallic fittings, and so this installation represented a first use of PEX and plastic fittings. (The state of California recently approved use of PEX in residential construction.)
Giardina was very impressed with the ease of installing Speedfit from rough-in to completion — and especially with the time savings gained. Again, Speedfit requires no tools other than a pipe cutter so there was no need for welding or glue. “It was simple and worked well,” he said. His crew used Speedfit connections to make the manifolds needed, saving the expense of purchasing them. While constructing manifolds is not a typical use of Speedfit fittings, its flexibility and universal nature (Speedfit can be used with copper pipe, CPVC and PEX pipe) came in handy on this job. Cliff estimates that his crew saved between 24 and 30 hours using Speedfit and PEX. ‘I’d most definitely use it [Speedfit] again,” Giardina said.
Artman was very quick to point out the importance that John Guest USA places on its wholesaler customers: “Wholesalers are the very important entry point to a very important market for us. Manufacturers shouldn’t be trying to sell around wholesalers. They are established and have the relationships in the local markets. You must have a solid relationship with wholesalers in order to be successful. Our strategy employing rep agencies keeps us attuned to the needs of the individual markets within this segment.”
With lead-free laws gaining traction across the country (plus possible federal legislation coming), Speedfit’s plastic composition – the fittings are made entirely of high-quality engineered plastic using advanced resins – makes the product’s entry into the plumbing-heating market very timely. Speedfit is also corrosion resistant and allows no scale buildup.
“Everyone is aware of the lead-free legislation passed in California and Vermont, and now Maryland,” Artman said. “California often takes the lead when it comes to legislation such as this; and it is often followed by national policies. We are looking at the strong possibility that federal legislation will be passed.
“In the long term, from a manufacturer’s standpoint, having one code is always best because it helps keep your manufacturing costs lower and you don’t run the risk of shipping errant product into a lead-free market. But, if such legislation is not rolled out properly, contractors and wholesalers who keep a large inventory could potentially get stuck with a lot of product they can’t sell. The government must look very carefully at how it this could be rolled out to avoid hurting companies down the supply chain. Of course, we don’t want to see our customers endure any type of big disruption, but such a widespread legislation would likely accelerate what we’re trying to accomplish on the plumbing side. We have always be very vigilant about product purity because of our background in water filtration, which would give customers a very compelling reason to buy from us.”
Speedfit products come with a 25-year warranty on materials and manufacturing defects, are fully UPC and IPC compliant, and carry NSF/ANSI Standards 14 and 61. Plumbing contractors need to keep Speedfit fittings in their packages at the jobsite until time to use to prevent dirt from getting into the O-ring. When cutting pipe, all burrs and sharp edges need to removed. When using JG Speedfit Pipe, the company recommends use of its Superseal Pipe inserts to enhance the sealing security of the connections.
Overall, Artman is optimistic about the acceptance of the Speedfit line in the U.S. market.
“There is a crossover in the water filtration industry with service and repair plumbers that do everything,” he said. “Most of them know our fittings and recognize them as a high-quality product. Once we sit down in front of a contractor or wholesaler and give them an overview of who we are and the history of our products,, they recognize what we offer and have a comfort in the fact that we are expanding the brand into the traditional plumbing market.
“As far as challenges, we’ve traditionally been a metal-based plumbing system country. But that has evolved so much that plastic is becoming much more common. There is a growing comfort that plastic systems are viable and here to stay. We have a very good brand to sell and very salient market items to get the attention of the trade.”