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August 1, 2006

A completely new way to make reliable, space-saving piping systems

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co. (MHI; Mihara, Japan; has developed an integrated piping-and-instrument system, called M-iPIS, which makes small, complex piping systems from a single plate block. Analogous to the manufacturing of integrated circuit boards, M-iPIS realizes not only cost and space savings, but also produces a gas-tight system with rapid heating and cooling performance that is able to withstand high pressure and earthquakes.

In the M-iPIS process (diagram), flow paths are first formed by milling grooves (tens-of-milimeter thick) into a base plate (up to now limited to 3 x 3 m2). A cover plate is then placed on top of the base, and welded on both sides of the grooves using MHI's new friction-stir-welding (FSW) technology, which welds in a plane instead of a line. This results in a complex piping arrangement within a single block, to which components (such as switches and vessels) can be simply bolted on.

An M-iPIS piping system made from a 6-mm aluminum cover on a 30-mm Al base plate can handle pressures up to 70 bar. The joint-free piping system is expected to be more reliable than conventional piping, and reduce piping-space requirements by 65–75%, says MHI. Piping costs are also expected to be reduced.

Up to now, M-iPIS systems can be made of aluminum or copper (if good heat exchange is required), or plastic resin (if corrosion resistance is required), and MHI is working to enable units to be made from stainless steel. The first commercial application of M-iPIS has been for making the air-brake-control system for trains, and the company plans to develop air- and hydraulic-pressure lines, and piping systems for chemical plants and fuel cells. In particular, MHI is designing a distillation-tower unit, which will distill 5 kg/hour alcohol at temperatures up to 100°C, and also plans to apply M-iPIS to make a fine-chemicals-production unit. Such units can then be mass-produced (to lower costs), and will enable rapid scaleup by operating several units in parallel.


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