PP-R Pipe, Prototype Fusion Machine Leave Nothing to Chance at Spectacular New Hotel and Casino

Project meets demanding, fast-paced schedule to be ready for Super Bowl LIV

On a project as highly anticipated as the expansion of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla., the ability to stay on schedule is paramount.

Guests are awaiting twice the amount of casino space, a Bora Bora-inspired pool paradise, an iconic hotel tower in the shape of a giant guitar, a new Hard Rock Live arena and a lot more. It will be the ultimate venue for accommodations and entertainment when the Super Bowl LIV comes to Miami in February 2020 and it has to be good to go well before then.

With so much on the line and no time to waste, Suffolk, the general contractor, brought in the experienced team at Kirlin to handle the piping installation for the casino’s heated and chilled water systems.

Kirlin Senior Vice President Troy Norris said they knew the solution would have to be as innovative as the Seminole Tribe’s $1.5 billion project itself and they were ready to take on the challenge.

AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH

Kirlin needed to fabricate and install a piping system to connect a central chiller plant to all of the casino’s outlying buildings, including the iconic guitar-shaped hotel and spacious pool area. The company had originally planned to use carbon steel joined with mechanical couplings for the casino expansion and remodel, but when asked to take a second look at the jobsite setup, they decided that the situation called for a more innovative approach.

Kirlin consulted with Ferguson, the largest wholesale distributor of residential and commercial plumbing supplies and pipe, valves and fittings in the US, to get their thoughts on how to mobilize the job and make sure it stayed on schedule.

Kirlin liked what they discovered about Aquatherm polypropylene-random (PP-R) pipe, including weight up to 70 percent less than metal pipe, which allowed the installation crews to move, mobilize and fabricate the pipe quickly and efficiently with less fatigue and risk of injury; an anticipated life span of 60 or more years; resistance to corrosion and scaling; and virtually leak-proof heat fusion connections that require no welding, open flames or fire watch.

After seeing what it offered, Norris said that Kirlin abandoned a conventional welded system and adopted the fusible PP-R piping system as their new build strategy.

OVERCOMING THE CHALLENGE OF TIGHT SPACES

But Kirlin had another challenge to face — fusing big pipe — 24-inches — with heavy fusion equipment that didn’t seem ideally designed for tight spaces. There didn’t seem to be a fusion machine that existed that was lightweight and compact enough to function efficiently in cramped spaces. Ferguson told Kirlin they actually had a lightweight, smaller butt fusion machine designed specifically for work in close quarters that was being prototyped by McElroy, a longtime fusion machine manufacturer based in Tulsa, OK.

Once Kirlin tried the prototype machine, Norris said they didn’t look back. It was unobtrusive to work with, smaller and easier to handle on a scissor lift and featured a lightweight, modular carriage. After successful field testing on this project and others, the prototype became the Acrobat™ 630 featuring the QuikFit™ carriage. It was launched in the summer of 2018.

“There was no comparison,” Norris said. “Once the team started using it they said to go ahead and buy the McElroy.”

Duane Hettich, Business Group Manager for Ferguson, said that the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino project was the first opportunity to use the new Acrobat 630 on an indoor install of large-diameter PP-R pipe. They conducted a 19-point review on the machine’s performance, but Hettich said the machine worked very well right out of the gate.

Nearly all of the fusions on the 24-inch pipe was overhead and between walls; that meant nearly all of the fusions on the 24-in. pipe were done in the air on a scissor lift. But instead of having to lift the fusion machine’s entire carriage, Kirlin’s crews were able to remove the top jaws and place the cylinder assemblies, lower jaws and guide rods on the pipe first. The top jaws and other components were then assembled around the pipe by hand.

“Some of the installation felt like we were in a phone booth, but that machine was pretty key in getting in tight places. They had already installed stud walls so we didn’t have an open space to work,” Hettich said.

For smaller pipe on the project, Kirlin purchased two of the Acrobat 250 models, which butt fuses up to 8-in. pipe, from Ferguson. For socket fusion, they used hand tools and leased several of the McElroy Spider™ 125s.

GOOD TRAINING RESULTS IN HIGH PRODUCTIVITY

Kirlin’s fusion operators were new to PP-R pipe and there was admittedly a learning curve. It was not a product they had worked with every day. It changed their entire build modality, so good training was crucial.

“Ferguson did a phenomenal job of putting on numerous trainings,” Norris said. “They were also instrumental in having McElroy’s team engaged with us onsite.”

While it was a new experience and they had to get used to working with a new pipe material and different fusion equipment, they were able to be very productive once they got to fusing, Norris said.

“I know we’re getting more proficient with the more time the guys have working with the product. When we initially started out, we were approaching building strategy similar to carbon steel. Now we’re seeing more footage of (PP-R) pipe going up every day.”

LIGHT WEIGHT, OFFSITE FABRICATION KEEP THINGS MOVING

There were multiple construction projects going on simultaneously at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and Norris said the light weight of PP-R was instrumental in keeping things moving on the piping end. He noted that handling and transporting the PP-R pipe is dramatically easier than steel would have been.

“Aquatherm allowed us to hang long runs of it overhead and get more pipe in the air quickly,” Norris said.

A significant portion of the fusion was completed offsite at Kirlin’s shop in West Palm Beach, about 20 miles north of the site, and Norris said that sped up the schedule greatly. The company scheduled pipe deliveries for nights and off hours, allowing them to maximize the amount of fusion work completed during the day.

SEVEN MILES OF PIPE

Hettich said Ferguson supplied about 7 miles of Aquatherm Blue Pipe® in various sizes from ¾-in. up to 24-in. for the expanded Hard Rock.

“We ran around 700 feet of 24-in. pipe in about eight days,” he said.

In addition, about 3,000 ft. of Aquatherm Green Pipe® SDR 11 and SDR 7.4 MF, 2-in. through 8-in., was used for the domestic water mains in the casino expansion.

Though not Ferguson’s biggest project to date (hospitals typically require the most pipe), it was more than they used during the massive renovation of the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins.

Hettich said his customers like PP-R pipe for its durability and longevity.

“You have data centers that want Aquatherm because it’s not prone to leaking. If you have a leak, it could wipe out 5,000 computers,” he said. “The same philosophy falls over to gaming. If you have a leak in the casino and gaming goes down, the loss is astronomical. People in gaming want it.”

A REMARKABLE TURNAROUND

Using Aquatherm pipe allowed for installation of a significant amount of piping in a short timeframe and enabled Kirlin to overcome the project’s “need for speed” and actually move ahead of schedule.

“I’ve been in construction for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like that and Aquatherm was a big part of that. It exceeded all expectations,” Norris said.

Before this project, Norris said that Kirlin routinely used carbon or stainless-steel pipe. But he thinks that will change as they continue bidding on future projects where they see PP-R pipe being a great fit.

“Honestly, this job has kind of changed our building strategy as well,” Norris said. “Now that we’ve gone through the learning curve, we don’t want to lose that momentum.”