Pipe Supports - Essentials and Considerations
Understanding pipe support options and their role in optimal piping system design and operation
Pipe supports are a critical component to safe and effective piping system engineering.
Much like other pipe components, implementing supports during design and system implementation can help to significantly reduce costs and ease the installation of any required supports.
This guide will provide a foundational overview of pipe support functions, critical pipe support roles, standards and codes, and standard pipe support designs to help you better understand this complex yet critical topic.
What is a Pipe Support?
The term pipe supports can often refer to two different types of components: supports and restraints.
However, both product types are essential for safe long-term operation and are effectively both classified under the single umbrella of pipe support systems.
Supports typically help to shoulder and distribute loads across the system in a manner that allows for safe operation and helps to tie the piping system into structural elements for increased safety and support for all parts of the piping process.
Restraints work alongside supports, helping to limit movement and ensure that pipes remain positioned within a tolerance determined in the system engineering specifications.
Typically, they help to minimize and carry the impact of horizontal loads.
Why Are Pipe Supports Important?
Pipe supports can make the difference between safe operation and complete systems failure—especially in emergencies or moments of non-standard operation.
A well-designed pipe support system will ensure everything remains within tolerance if pipe loads surge, structures shift, or temperatures change drastically.
They can also help to support or trigger overflows and other fail-safes to mitigate the affecting condition and return the system to normal operation as quickly as possible and with minimal risk to both piping systems and operational staff.
What Are Common Goals When Choosing Pipe Support Products?
As with most piping products, determining the best pipe support products, sizes, and implementations will require knowing your exact needs, operating environments, budget, and myriad other factors.
However, in most cases, pipe supports are expected to perform one or more of the following tasks:
- Prevent, reduce, or eliminate pipe stresses to maintain allowable thresholds
- Prevent, reduce, or eliminate leakage at joints due to movement, shifting, or load stress
- Absorb or minimize line vibrations during operation
- Counter or minimize the impact of dynamic loadings, including but not limited to seismic shifts, wind stress, and water hammering
- Minimize lift-off or disengagement between piping and additional support structures during operation
- Avoid excessive pipe sag depending on the implementation and standards in question
- Help manage the impact of exposure to temperature extremes (both environmental and within the process) to ensure safe, consistent operation of the piping system
- Help protect integrated equipment, such as sensors, gauges, valves, gates, from failure due to excessive loading
- To manage and direct thermal loads in desirable directions based upon the thresholds and processes in use
- To help support and minimize the load stresses on other support components within the piping support system
Are There Standards to Consider When Determining Pipe Support Needs?
The exact standards applicable to your piping system will depend on your industry and location in most cases.
However, the following are some of the principal codes and standards to consider in common locations around the world:
UK Codes and Standards: BS-3974
Germany Codes and Standards: VGB-R-510 L
Pipe Support Types ExploredThere are numerous ways to consider grouping pipe support products depending on the factors you consider important.
What type of insulation you desire, your intended attachment method, your intended attachment location, and the amount of anticipated movement in your system, for example, might all create different groups of products.
You must consider all elements of your system and consult with an experienced engineer to ensure that your supports meet your needs.
Instead of grouping by use type, we will list the different core designs for pipe supports and pipe restraints available and, where applicable, discuss their pros and cons to help you determine the ideal products for your system based on your needs.
Pipe Bearing Supports
These pipe supports are typically primary supports, meaning they usually connect directly to the pipe to support the piping system load.Common pipe bearing support design types include:
- Pipe shoes
- Pipe saddles
- Pipe trunnions
- Wear pads
Exact installation requirements will depend on the size and design of the support chosen.
However, in most cases, these supports are either bolt-fastened or welded.Support materials and fastenersshould remain similar to those of the supported pipes to ensure similar behavior's when welded and comparable performance when exposed to piping process elements or environmental variables.
Dynamically Loaded Supports
These pipe supports can work as either primary or secondary supports, providing variable resistance to movement based on compression and other variables.
Common design types include:
- Energy absorbers or shock absorbers
- Hanger supports
- Pipe whips or hold down restraints
- Sway braces
Because the resistance varies, this can allow for one set of standard movements during normal operation while maintaining strict movement tolerances during abnormal conditions.
Constantly Loaded Supports
Constant spring supports typically feature designs and options similar to dynamically loaded supports.
However, the supports are configured to maintain a static resistance level instead of adjusting resistance based on load and other variables.
This makes them ideal for use in extremely high load conditions or systems where movements and loading conditions can create substantial load variability.
Constantly loaded supports (or constants) typically come in horizontal or vertical designs to help match the support to the load type.
However, unlike previous types mentioned, these are limited more or less to the same overall components and design.
Variable Spring Supports
Variable spring supports are among the most important devices available to help support pipes.
They are used to balance the concentrated gravitational load of pipe sections while allowing for thermal movement.
Control of the direction and amount of movement of various pipe sections is a major function of piping design.
Variables use coiled springs to support a load and allow movement.
The resistance of the coil to a load changes during compression like dynamic supports, which is why these devices are called "variables."
However, unlike those previously discussed designs, variable springs typically work in conjunction with slide plates made from stainless steel, PTFE, or graphite in a secondary support manner instead of attaching directly to the pipes as primary support.
Threaded Members and Pipe HangersThreaded members and pipe hangers include more simple and static pieces, often tightened using fasteners or even welded directly to the pipe and fastened to the supporting structure to provide additional support in a straightforward manner.
Common designs include:
- Stainless steel U-bolts
- Clevis hangers
- 2-bolt pipe clamps
- Riser clamps
- 3-bolt pipe clamps
- Heavy-duty beam attachments
- Pipe supports are an essential part of any piping process design.
- Proper component choice, load estimates, and support configuration are essential to optimizing performance and ensuring the safe long-term operation of your piping system.
- Pipe supports help shoulder and distribute loads or stresses in a piping system.
- These systems are especially important for mitigating abnormal conditions, such as load surges, rapid temperature changes, and structural shifting or settling.
- Most regions have codes and standards related to pipe support requirements, so consulting an engineer or professional is critical.
- Pipe supports can be grouped in many ways depending on your needs, including but not limited to attachment type, rigidity, insulation, weldability, function and more.
- Pipe bearing support options include pipe shoes, pipe saddles, pipe trunnions, and wear pads.
- Dynamically loaded supports include energy absorbers or shock absorbers, hanger supports, pipe whips or hold down restraints, snubbers, struts, and sway braces.
- Constantly loaded supports are ideal for use in extremely high load conditions or in systems where movements and loading conditions can create high levels of load variability. Depending on your expected loads, they’re available in horizontal or vertical orientations.
- Variable spring supports help support pipe in conjunction with stainless steel, PTFE, or graphite slide plates.
- Threaded members and pipe hangers provide a simplified and highly rigid option for affixing piping directly to structural elements. Options include stainless steel u-bolts, clevis hangers, 2- and 3-bolt pipe clamps, riser clamps, and heavy-duty beam attachments.
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