While the pressure of tournaments is often embodied by the sportsmen and sportswomen taking part, the lead up to the world’s greatest sporting events is also an endurance test for other, less heralded, contributors.

Tight deadlines and hefty costs mean venue constructors and engineers feel the pressure in the build-up – especially as projects must be achieved without compromising quality. To add to this stress, even the most detailed stadium design and construction plans can fall victim to last-minute alterations and unforeseen circumstances.Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium

With pipework at the heart of any construction project, it is essential to ensure that the technology used is more than a match for the challenge.

Warsaw’s 58,000-seat national stadium, now known as PGE Narodowy, used grooved pipe-joining solutions to solve engineering challenges during its development.

To address the need for curved piping to travel around the oval-shaped stadium, consulting engineers specified Victaulic grooved products to join the stadium’s potable water system. The curved piping required for the system was formed using specially engineered stainless-steel elbows, at angles ranging from 8 to 11°, installed with flexible grooved mechanical couplings.

A key lesson learnt from working on this project was the true benefit of flexible couplings, designed to accommodate a limited amount of linear and angular movement, and which are integral to tailoring the shape of piping systems, efficiently and effectively. They offer reliability whilst also accommodating pipeline thermal expansion and contraction, misalignment and settlement, without the need to install expensive and specialised equipment that is necessary with flanged or welded systems.

Mechanical couplings consist of four elements: grooved pipe, the coupling housings, a pair of nuts and bolts and the rubber gasket. This gasket is pressure responsive and is encased by the coupling housing when it engages in the groove around the circumference of the pipe. The gasket then creates a sealed, unified joint that is enhanced when the system is pressurised.

Victaulic engineers worked with the stadium project’s engineering and installation teams to find the best solution to accommodate the necessary pipe curvature and ensure the project was completed on time. Since opening, it has hosted the UEFA European football championships and has functioned as a concert and convention venue, hosting the likes of Rihanna and Coldplay.

Pushing the boundaries

Constructions for the Olympic Games tend to push the boundaries of engineering, no more so than the 100,000-seat national stadium in Beijing, more commonly known as the ‘Bird’s Nest’. This iconic building is most famous for having hosted the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies in 2008.

The key challenge of the Bird’s Nest project was adapting the piping system to best reflect the environmental context. As minor earthquakes are common in the area, the piping system had to be designed to move with the stadium, in order to reduce damage and protect vital services.

Testing has shown that grooved piping systems – using a combination of flexible and rigid couplings – have advantages over traditional joints. Rigid couplings provide the same strength and stiffness of a weld in protecting against forward movements from seismic shifts. Flexible couplings can withstand deflection and move with the pipes, which reduces damage from vibration, sway, expansion and contraction.

When exposed to bending forces, grooved systems remain intact. A bending moment will occur when the joint deflects beyond its maximum allowable angular deflection. Where these deflections are anticipated, additional flexible couplings can be installed to accommodate this movement. In comparison, welded piping systems can prove lacking in these situations, as they can only resist movement in a single direction and therefore cannot effectively protect pipes from earthquakes. The results – cracking, substantial leakage and other associated damage – are extremely costly.

Outside of earthquake-prone environments, the properties of grooved mechanical couplings also offer an efficient way to accommodate excess stress on piping systems from thermal expansion. They eliminate incidents of ruptures and leaks, decrease equipment maintenance needs and simplify the commissioning process.

Recruiting the right set

Although the consultants involved in mega sporting construction projects will be some of the most experienced in the world, they face the same cost and time pressures familiar in every build to date. 

Difficulty in recruiting skilled labour is a serious problem for building services contractors in normal day-to-day working, let alone when there is a premium on labour during a major build. Either labour must be shipped in, which can dramatically increase the cost on a job, or different processes need to be built into the project to minimise the need for specialised skilled labour. If a skilled workforce is not available, the quality and long-term reliability of the installation can be compromised.   

One of the biggest challenges facing engineering contractors will not only be the sourcing of a skilled labour force at the right price, but sourcing products that can be installed using more flexible labour. 

Anticipation and pressure in the lead up to sporting events can become even more pronounced when dealing with specific challenges. Whilst it may feel like completing these projects are a juggling act, our projects in Warsaw and Beijing demonstrate how technology such as grooved piping systems can help to optimise the workforce, cut installation times and reduce the total installed cost of a major project. With busy agendas and tight deadlines, tried and tested alternatives to traditional pipe joining techniques can have a measurable impact on all areas of construction.

Shaun Hughes is Regional Manager Southern UK at Victaulic.