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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 12

I The First Half Century - The Initial Struggle

II The Second Fifty Years - The Start Of Expansion

III The Third Fifty Years - Federation And The First World War
i General Conditions
ii Some Early Innovative Approaches
iii Concrete Pipes
iv Cement-fibre Pipes
v Concrete Products
vi The Birth of the Iron and Steel Industry

IV The Fourth Period - Second World War To The Present



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Concrete Pipes

Some foundries in Australia in the nineteenth century were producing cast iron pipes; the advent of the concrete pipe had to await the first decade of the twentieth century and a very ingenious Walter R. Hume. Hume, born in Melbourne in 1873, trained as a plasterer but the depression years in the early eighteen nineties, saw him largely unemployed in his trade. The first of a long series of inventions was a fence-dropper or wire-spacer, made from hoop-iron and, as there was much fencing activity in South Australia at the time, he and a brother moved there and opened a small factory. Business continued until around 1906, when demand fell sharply and the brothers turned to making ornamental fencing. It was while they were inventing equipment to remove the excess paint from fencing, that W. R. Hume saw the potential for using a similar mechanism for the centrifugal casting of concrete pipe. In 1910 the Hume Brothers Cement Iron Company Limited was formed to patent and manufacture pipes; issued capital was 3000 shares of 5 each with the brothers holding two-thirds.

The first efforts produced straight tubes of concrete about 1.8 metres in length but with very low strength even after adequate curing. To increase the strength, a grid of wire reinforcement was introduced into the pipe and incorporated into the concrete during spinning. As the reinforcement was being used well before spot welding was available, much ingenuity was brought to bear on equipment design before satisfactory pipes were produced. At this stage, development was a straight pipe or barrel and loose collars were made on the same spinning principle for use as connectors. The next innovation was the incorporation of a collar unit on one end of each pipe and the introduction of steam curing.

The Humes concrete pipe was a great step forward, replacing inferior quality hand made pipes with a cheaper, stronger and more reliable means of constructing water supply, sewerage and drainage systems. The pipes were cast into a spinning mould and the centrifugal force achieved an even distribution and high density of concrete in the pipe wall, providing strength and durability.

The new concrete pipes were widely accepted, aided first by droughts that stimulated water reticulation and then by the First World War. The latter caused a serious shortage of imported wire for reinforcing, and the ingenious solution to its replacement was to collect all the old cable discarded at mine sites etc. and other places where cable was used. As these were wire-wound cables, the Hume brothers had to devise a machine to untwist the wire after it had been softened by annealing. As with many other companies, the firm diversified after 1914, taking up war contracts such as producing hundreds of collapsing periscopes for trench use and bugles.

By 1920 progress in concrete pipe making had been so great that a further increase in capital was necessary and so Hume Pipe Company (Australia) Limited was floated to take over the assets of Hume Brothers Cement Iron Company. Through the new Company, the Hume centrifugal spinning process was licensed overseas to USA, Japan, Germany, England, South Africa, India and New Zealand and by 1922, Humespun pipes were in use throughout Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, aided by the Government scheme for soldier settlement on the land. This scheme required large irrigation systems which the concrete pipe now made possible, particularly as the equipment for manufacture could be brought to near the construction site.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Hume Brothers Cement Iron Company Ltd; Hume Pipe Company (Australia) Ltd

People in Bright Sparcs - Hume, Walter R.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 864 - 865, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher