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What Is An Expansion Joint?

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Expansion joints are devices containing a bellows membrane that are designed to absorb dimensional changes, such as those that occur due to thermal expansion or contraction of a pipeline, duct or vessel. The need to solve the problems of thermal expansion are not unique to anyone industry therefore expansion joints are used in a wide variety of market sectors  specifically where there is a need to control the movement of pipelines due to changes in temperature. Thermal expansion problems can be solved where the natural flexing of the pipe is practical or where it is possible to install pipe loops however this is not always possible due to economic reasons or the design of modern structures are not capable of taking the loads of flexing pipework. In these situations the design engineer must seek an expansion joint solution.

Expansion joints come in two forms either restrained or unrestrained styles and although the bellows membrane incorporated in both styles look similar it is of great importance to recognize that they are used for entirely different applications.

Unrestrained expansion joints accommodate pipe movement by compressing and /or extending along their axis and hence they are also known as axial expansion joints. Axial expansion joints are very compact, adaptable and relatively inexpensive. Generally axial expansion joints are designed to accommodate movements between 25mm and 75mm however special bespoke expansion joints can be manufactured to suit specific site conditions.  They must be suitably anchored and guided so as to prevent damage from the forces imposed on the pipework system. An installation with unrestrained expansion joints is called a non-pressure balanced solution

Restrained expansion joints are fitted with tie bars and / or hinges and therefore preventing the joint from moving axially. There are several expansion joint models that fall into the restrained group of expansion joints and are called Lateral, Fully Articulated, Hinged or Gimbal. The benefits of installing these types of expansion joints are that anchor forces are generally lower than installing unrestrained bellows and therefore savings can be made when selecting suitable anchors and guides. Restrained expansion joints are used in more complex pipe arrangements specifically on equipment where forces have to be kept to a minimum and, there is a requirement to take up large movements. Although retrained expansion joints are more expensive than unrestrained units significant cost savings on the total installation can be made due to reduced anchor and guide costs. An installation with restrained expansion joints is called a pressure balanced solution

The difference between metallic and rubber expansion joints
Metallic expansion joints prevent damage from thermal expansion, vibration and other movements such as building settlement. Metallic expansion joints are generally manufactured from stainless steels or for more demanding environments or extreme conditions can be produced in materials such as Inconel, Incoloy, Hasteloy and Monel.

Expansion joints can also be produced from a variety of synthetic rubber materials such as ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM), Nitrile, Hypalon and Viton materials. Rubber expansion joints are primarily used on pumps, chillers and other reciprocating machinery to reduce noise and vibration. Whilst rubber bellows have the capabilities of compensating small amounts of axial, lateral and angular pipe work movement Stourflex always recommend a specifically designed metallic expansion joint to accommodate pipe movements when solving thermal expansion problems.

Are expansion joints the same as movement joints?
Expansion joints – sometimes called expansion bellows, flexible joints, compensators or movement joints. The variety of terminology for the same piece of equipment can be misleading. However expansion joints are designed to safely absorb dimensional movement changes and therefore the different names given to this critical unit are all related to its ability to accommodate a variety of movements such as expansion & contraction due to temperature difference, vibration due to reciprocating machinery, installation misalignment or building settlement.

Complying with the highest standards
At Stourflex, we offer a vast selection of expansion joints to serve a variety of purposes and are always on hand to provide you with accurate, high-quality advice whenever you require it. Our range of expansion joints includes axial, lateral, angular and gimbal joints. Our expansion joints are designed and calculated to the latest prevailing standards and pressure directives and therefore where applicable conform to latest Expansion Joint Manufacturers Association (EJMA) calculations. We reserve the right to make changes in the technical calculations without notice. All products are supplied with detailed installation and maintenance instructions where applicable to ensure your pipework system is fully in accordance with recommended engineering practice.

Find the right expansion joints for your needs
We oversee a large amount of stock, which ensures we can minimise downtime and respond to your requests quickly. We can supply joints with a bespoke flexible lagging jacket if needed. Why not contact us today if you do have any queries about the products that we supply? More and more discerning clients are heading straight to Stourflex when they do require expansion joints of the highest quality. We are renowned for only supplying products of the highest quality that do the job to the best standard possible and are more than happy to talk you through the options available so you can easily come to an informed decision and invest in the products that are right for you.