Commercial heating and air conditioning contractors are now welcoming the spring and summer influx of new building construction and retrofit projects. One important facet of these projects —pipe-joining technology, and the brand of pressing tools and fittings selected to compete that work — is a critical step to completing projects efficiently, safely, and profitably.
During the 2018 AHR Expo, executives from RIDGID and Viega met with editors from Contracting Business, CONTRACTOR and HPAC Engineering, to discuss collaborative product development, and the unique partnership that exists between RIDGID and Viega, when designing what executives from both companies believe to be the best pressing tools and pipe fitting products available to the plumbing, radiant heating and mechanical HVAC industry.
Christian Geisthoff, vice president of market innovation for Viega, said one of Viega’s guiding objectives is to design pipe fittings that make it safer, easier and more profitable for contractors to take on additional jobs, without being overburdened by the additional pipe-joining activity that accompanies an increased number of projects.
“One reason for our success, is that we shifted from ‘labor intensive’ to ‘material intensive,’ to help contractors be more productive,” Geisthoff said. “And when combined with RIDGID pressing tools, everything is coordinated between the pressing tool, pipe and fitting, and you know there is a safe connection. When the pipe and fitting come together correctly, it brings peace of mind to the contractor.”
RIDGID and Viega each have a rich history of product innovation and quality. Viega was founded in 1899, by Franz-Anselm Viegener in Attendorn, Germany. Its first product was beer taps, then drains, overflow fittings, and copper connections. Today, Viega offers an extensive range of radiant heating and cooling connecting products for commercial and residential needs, such as drinking water, gas, hospitals, stadiums, hotels, industrial facilities and shipbuilding.
Ridge Tool — now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Emerson Electric since 1966 — was founded in 1923 in North Ridgeville, Ohio, relocating to Elyria, Ohio in 1943. Its first great triumph under the RIDGID brand was the invention the modern pipe wrench. It eventually invented and patented six types of wrench products, as well as pipe cutters, roll groovers, pressing and crimping tools, drain cleaning tools, wet/dry vacs, thermal imagers, and a wide variety of hand tools for every construction trade and the do-it-yourselfer.
RIDGID claims its press tools are unsurpassed in making quick and reliable connections on copper, stainless steel, black steel, PEX and multi-layer tubing.
Each company has experienced, and continues to enjoy, great success on separate paths, but beginning in 1999, RIDGID and Viega have also enjoyed a strong partnership in pipe-joining product development. It was then that RIDGID and Viega introduced ProPress® to North America, following a successful European launch. A strong partnership continues to this day, resulting in continuous pressing tool innovation and design.
The RIDGID/Viega partnership has resulted in the development of system-matched tools for each of Viega’s engineered press fitting systems. With jaws, rings and actuators in sizes ranging from ½-in. to 4-in., these tools can accommodate nearly every type of plumbing, heating or pipe joining project.
Among their newest cooperative innovations, is MegaPressXL: the only tool on the market that lets contractors press black steel pipe between two-and-a-half and four inches. The new RIDGID® Press Booster for use with Viega® MegaPress® XL Jaws and Rings builds on the power of the RIDGID RP 340, attaching to the tool to multiply its output for fast connections on larger diameter pipe.
The innovation and collaboration will continue, as long as there's pipe to be joined. R&D teams from each organization have established a tremendous rapport and communication protocol. When the seed of a new pressing tool idea is planted, the Viega and RIDGID teams join to develop them in union with each other. Viega has an idea for a fitting, or a fitting design, and the team works with RIDGID to develop the pressing tool jaws accordingly, including considerations for type of jaw, material, tolerances, and dimensions.
“Our teams are at the front end of these projects, working together, from the development engineers to the product managers, through senior management, all the way up to the chief executive level,” explained John Ruese, vice president and general manager of RIDGID’s Global Press Connection Division. “We have almost 30 years of working together to develop those systems. As Christian said, ideally, they join together for the continued profitability and reliability of these systems. There are many hours of development and testing on both sides, to ensure we deliver the best product to the market.”
For a perfect example of that collaboration, just look to the MegaPressXL.
“With MegaPress XL, we’re now able to press-connect four-inch steel pipe,” Ruese said. “That would have been impossible five years ago. We can expand press technology, by combining Viega’s considerable deep fittings expertise, and RIDGID’s ability to increase the output of the tool. Working separately, that would have been much more difficult to accomplish. And now that we’ve launched a four-inch pressing tool, someone else will do the same. We’re developing technology that wasn’t available before.”
“We’re constantly designing and inventing new applications, fittings, sizes, and ranges, in North America and around the world,” Ruese continued. “There is constant communication between us, which is something we want to reinforce to contractors.”
“We’re co-dependent on each other to some degree,” added Mark Brodie, Viega’s director of marketing. “Without Viega fittings there wouldn’t have been a RIDGID pressing line. And without a tool to press the Viega fitting, Viega wouldn’t have a market.”
This RIDGID/Viega collaboration thrives on a global scale, in joint programs around the world and in North America. Both corporation’s products are available in every major country.
Ruese said skilled labor is one of the contractor’s greatest jobsite challenges that RIDGID pressing tools and Viega fittings help to overcome. “Time is money, and the quicker they can complete the job, the more profitable we can help them remain," he said.
“There is a continuous decline of contractors in the field. As much as you can automate connections, it helps to offset that a little bit,” Geisthoff added.
And let’s not forget the pipe-fitter’s greatest point of pride: the appearance of the finished project.
“We want to make the finished job as attractive as we can,” Geisthoff said. “This is important in every part of the world. Automation of fittings contributes to that.”
Ongoing training is an essential element to every contractor’s career path and to winning new business, and both RIDGID and Viega provide regular educational opportunities. Viega has approximately 20 training locations in Europe and Asia. In the US, 4500 technicians visit Viega’s Nashua, NH training center each year. A new Viega headquarters now under construction in Denver (to be completed in 2019) will include a 24,000 sq.ft. training center. The building will incorporate a variety of Viega solutions including press fittings, fire suppression systems, radiant heating and cooling, carrier systems and manifolds. A courtyard will feature Viega’s radiant snow melt systems. At every location, subjects extend beyond pipe fitting, to include water purity and ways to improve water flow through a building.
“In addition, we visit union apprentice schools to teach them other ways of pipe joining [beyond brazing], Geisthoff said, “new ways they might wish to consider.” He said the union representatives are receptive, when they see the time savings that comes from pressing.
RIDGID’s training is provided at 13 training centers around the world, including training programs at RIDGID’s Elyria HQ, and the Annual RIDGID EXPERIENCE, to be held at nine US cities between July 2018 and February 2019. Visit https://www.ridgid.com/us/en/events.