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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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Cement-fibre Pipes

Thin sheets of cement/asbestos composite probably originated in Russia in about 1896, with imports appearing in Australia by 1903 and local production beginning in 1917. It is not surprising that this technology soon found application in the manufacture of asbestos cement pipes. The history of fibre cement pipe in Australia has not followed overseas practice in detail, but has taken many quite unique and unusual turnings.

Mr. James Hardie arrived in Australia in 1888, set up a trading establishment in Melbourne and soon acquired many agencies, the most important being that for asbestos-cement or fibre-cement slates which were initially imported from France in 1903. Between 1914-17, importation of these products was almost impossible and a machine to produce slate and sheet was imported; production began in Parramatta in 1917 producing Fibrolite.

James Hardie & Co. Pty. Ltd. became a leader in the field of fibre cement pipe technology following experimental development between 1923 and 1926. The earliest Australian asbestos cement pipes were produced by a unique and ingenious process developed by the Company which did not follow the traditional Mazza process used in Europe. The Australian 'Sutton' process, named after a Company executive, produced pipe in 3.6 m lengths which could be jointed together with Gibault joints. Factories were established in Sydney; Brooklyn, Victoria; Riverdale, Western Australia; and Newstead, Queensland. The 'Sutton' process was peculiarly well suited to Australia by virtue of its low cost for capital equipment and the ability to have plants at widely spaced locations throughout the country. By 1937, however, new developments abroad led to the purchase by the Company of more advanced equipment.

After two years of development, the autoclave or 'steam curing' process was introduced in 1959. This new process required the introduction of fine silica to the fibre-cement mix, followed by treating the flat sheets in autoclaves for about eight hours under a pressure of 827 kPa of saturated steam at a temperature of 177C. This process developed maximum sheet strength consequent upon the lime compounds in the cement combining with the silica to form hydrated calcium silicates. It required from 14 to 21 days curing with the old air-cure process but autoclaving reduced this to 8-10 hours.

In 1960, the Company introduced a novel decorative walling board with marble-tone patterns in six colours, made by a new process that included a novel highly technical colouring process as well as very heavy pressing equipment. The press was used also to develop thick compressed sheet by pressing together several 4.75 mm sheets to form a 12-25 mm thick composite before they had set firm.

The Hardie organization had been connected with the provision of braking products for rolling-stock and motor cars for some years. In 1960 a new non-metallic composite railway brake block was produced at the rate of 1000 per week for the Sydney Metropolitan electric trains. Within the next four years, the composite brake blocks were fitted to all types of railway stock in New South Wales.

As a result of research and pilot plant development which had been in progress since 1959, the Company developed a completely new method of manufacture of its principal insulation material which consisted of 85 per cent magnesia. It involved the pressing as well as the chemical setting of the final product and enabled the precision moulding of blocks of the insulation material. This development was parallel to the development of an improved process to produce High Temperature Insulation material based on calcium silicate which increased the useful temperature range from a previous 650C to 815C.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - James Hardie Industries Ltd

People in Bright Sparcs - Hardie, James

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 866 - 867, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher