Fiberite Products (“Fiberite”), a Pretoria based company, is starting to make inroads into the local utilities, civil engineering and telecommunications sector with its innovative composite manhole covers and frames. Fiberite became the first company in Africa to design and manufacture a composite manhole cover and frame for the utilities, civil engineering and telecommunications sectors, says founder and CEO Corné Visser. He feels that cast iron and steel manhole covers are no longer fit-for purpose for use by today’s South African utilities, civil engineering and telecommunications sectors.
Metal products used in infrastructure applications are disappearing all over the world. Cast iron and steel manhole covers are easy pickings for thieves and are being stolen and sold for scrap metal. As the tough economic climate endures and the cost of steel continues to increase, stealing cast iron and steel manhole covers are becoming more and more an opportunity for thieves to take advantage of. The weight of cast iron and steel manhole covers once thought to be a theft deterrent has become the principle factor attracting thieves to these covers. The factors that lead to the theft of manhole covers are many.
The theft of manhole covers causes big problems for municipalities; it interferes with service delivery; open access sewers are a public danger, exposed infrastructure is vulnerable to damage, and it is costly to replace the stolen equipment. The theft of cast iron and steel manhole covers across South Africa is becoming a burden for cash-strapped municipalities with funds having to be re-directed to replace the stolen covers. Visser says that steel manhole covers get stolen all the time and sometimes they even get stolen the very same day that they were replaced. He says that some municipalities fixed the steel covers to the frames making the manholes un- accessible to workers losing the use/purpose of the manhole covers.
Fiberite designed the composite manhole covers mainly due to the numerous benefits of composite covers over the heavier alternatives (namely steel and concrete) as well as the metal theft epidemic. The composite covers have no scrap or resale value making them unattractive to thieves. The aim is to replace cast iron and steel manhole covers as a whole Visser said.
Fiberite composite manhole covers and frames comply with the EN 124/SANS 50124 standard. The EN 124 standard was published in 1994 and was essentially a standard for cast iron manhole covers that took little account of other materials such as composites. The inherent properties of composite materials make them ideal for the manhole environment. The EN 124 standard is currently in review and was mandated by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) to include provision for new materials and to include load bearing capacity, child safety, skid resistance and reaction to fire as part of the essential characteristics for the standard. Visser says that Fiberite has been at the forefront in incorporating these characteristics into the design of the composite covers.
The Fiberite composite manhole covers are manufactured locally using a technologically advanced composite manufacturing process to create a highly engineered, incredibly strong composite product. The composite covers are available in a range of sizes and load ratings.
Key benefits offered by Fiberite composite manhole covers over their steel and concrete counterparts cover an array of technological advances and cost savings including higher quality, improved safety, greater longevity, lower life cycle costs (LCC) and a greatly reduced risk of theft. Due to the light weight of the composite covers there is no need for cranes and other heavy-lifting equipment.
Unlike cast iron and steel manhole covers, the composite covers are non-corrosive and non-conductive. The composite covers have a unique skid resistant surface and will not spin-out, making it safe for road use purposes and designed as a “fit and forget” product for civil engineering applications. Unlike concrete manhole covers, the composite covers will not crumble or crack.
Visser says that they received a positive response for their composite covers by utilities, municipalities, civil engineering contractors and telecommunications companies nationwide. With variations in the specifications by municipalities, the composite manhole covers can be made to suite the customer’s own specifications.
In the past, composites was seen as a high cost alternative to steel but with the continuous increase of steel prices and various other factors, industries are favoring composites and moving away from traditional materials as they react to strict health and safety policies and are becoming more concerned with the Life Cycle Cost (LCC) principle.