History of Innovation

Driving innovation for 100 years

The world has changed a lot since GPS PE Pipe Systems was first established as a steel tube manufacturer more than a century ago. But our commitment to driving innovation, understanding our customers' needs and working hard to fulfil those needs has never changed.

Navigate our timeline and click on the images for more info.

1903 - A Rich Heritage: Stewart & Lloyds

1903 - A Rich Heritage: Stewart & Lloyds

Stewart & Lloyds Ltd, the genesis of today's GPS PE Pipe systems, was created from two of the largest iron and steel makers in the UK: A & J Stewart & Menzies Ltd of Glasgow and Lloyd & Lloyd Ltd of Birmingham. The company went on to become one of the largest steel tube manufacturers in Europe, manufacturing steel pipes and accessories for gas, water and air mains installations.

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1933 - Polyethylene discovered

1933 - Polyethylene discovered

The first industrially-practical polyethylene synthesis was discovered – accidentally! – in 1933 by Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson at ICI's laboratories.

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1939 - World War II: A technical advantage

1939 - World War II: A technical advantage

ICI went into production at the world's first full-scale PE plant on 1 September 1939, just as Nazi Germany was invading Poland and war became inevitable for Britain. PE was an indispensible material during World War II: an excellent and lightweight electrical insulator it was used to insulate airborne radar equipment, enabling the use of radar inside fighter planes and giving the British forces a significant advantage against enemy aircraft.

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1955 - The arrival of HDPE pipes

1955 - The arrival of HDPE pipes

The widespread infrastructure replacement needed after the war helped to make low-cost thermoplastics enormously popular. The invention of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) in 1953 provided a material that was more rigid than early low-density PE and could handle boiling water, leading to the manufacture of the first HDPE pipe in 1955: a strong, yet flexible alternative to traditional materials.

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1956 - Stewart & Lloyds moves with the times

1956 - Stewart & Lloyds moves with the times

Stewart & Lloyds spotted the potential of the burgeoning market for plastic pipes and established Stewart & Lloyds Plastics in Borehamwood.

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1962 - New era, new site

1962 - New era, new site

Government incentives to kick start economic growth outside of London gave Stewart & Lloyds the impetus it needed to move out of the capital and establish a new site with room for expansion in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. It took just 12 months from the announcement of the move for the new factory to be built and go into production, initially manufacturing mostly PVC pipe with PE as a sideline.

At this time production processes for PE were still in their infancy and it was Stewart & Lloyds Plastics that mastered HDPE pipe production by continuous extrusion.

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1964 - New factory gets off to a flying start

1964 - New factory gets off to a flying start

With the new production facility, came an investment in the latest equipment and by 1964 the factory boasted a new extension with one twin-screw and 15 standard extruders. The company's success was such that it began operating a four-shift system to meet the high demand for its products.

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1973 - MDPE debut: gas installations

1973 - MDPE debut: gas installations

In 1971, Stewart & Lloyds Plastics became one of the first UK plastics manufacturers to produce MDPE pipe (medium density polyethylene), having made the strategic decision to sell its PVC business and focus on PE technology. The company was one of the first MDPE suppliers to British Gas, providing both pipe and fittings as the utility company began replacing its ageing iron system with MDPE.

The introduction of MDPE had a permanent, positive impact on gas pipe laying technology. MDPE pipes were considerably more flexible and able to cope with site conditions than their HDPE counterparts. As a result, a range of "No Dig" techniques went on to be developed, reducing installation times for long lengths of pipes and allowing the insertion of PE liners to renovate corroded iron and steel pipelines.

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1979 - Introduction of large diameter gas pipes

1979 - Introduction of large diameter gas pipes

In the space of just few years Stewart & Lloyds Plastics expanded its range of gas pipe sizes to 500mm OD. An intensive product development programme along with an emphasis on excellent quality and the company's in-house technical expertise ensured that Stewart & Lloyds Plastics became a key supplier of PE pipe and fittings to British Gas.

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1981 - Electrofusion fittings

1981 - Electrofusion fittings

In 1981, a company called Vulcathene developed the industry's first range of electrofusion fittings in association with British Gas. Meanwhile, Stewart & Lloyd Plastics launched its own range of electrofusion fittings – Selectroweld - creating a fast and simple to use product that provided both high performance and convenience. Vulcathene was later to merge with Stewart & Lloyds Plastics as part of Glynwed Pipe Systems (GPS) and the two electrofusion fitting ranges were merged to form the Durafuse range.

Following a successful trial of electrofusion fittings for gas pipe installations in 1985, they became the fitting system of choice for British Gas.

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1982 - MDPE for water

1982 - MDPE for water

Despite the success of MDPE in the gas industry, the water industry continued to use traditional pipe materials and PVC, using just black LDPE (Alkathene) or HDPE only for small bore service pipes and a few specialist applications. Eventually, however, the success of the yellow MDPE system for gas eventually prompted the development of an equivalent, light blue system for water and the range of sizes was also expanded to 500mm+.

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1984 - Bold alternative to copper

1984 - Bold alternative to copper

Leading innovation once more, Stewart & Lloyds Plastics developed a completely new semi-rigid plastic PEX plumbing pipe for central heating and hot/cold water systems: Pipex. Easy to fit, adaptable and, most importantly, more cost-effective than the copper pipe that dominated the market at that time, Pipex was ahead of its time. The marketplace was not ready for such a significant change at the time, but, 25years later, such systems are often now the preferred choice.

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1985 - Scaling up

1985 - Scaling up

By 1985, Stewart & Lloyds Plastics was becoming an increasingly dominant presence in the UK and was known as 'The Pipeline People' and 'Pioneers in Modern Plastics' thanks to its prominence in the trade press, its product literature and its fleet of lorries delivering product across Britain.

The company invested in new, large bore facilities to help it diversify and capture market share from steel pipe manufacturers. By the end of 1985, Stewart & Lloyds Plastics had the widest range available from a UK manufacturer. It produced the largest PE pipe yet manufactured in the UK - a 630mm pipe for the Dunbar Sewage Scheme. The company also expanded internationally, winning large export contracts, including a 277-tonnes pipe supply deal to a customer in Chile.

That same year, Stewart & Lloyds Plastics developed and patented Rolldown – a method for reducing polyethylene pipe for liner insertion - in association with Subterra Ltd. This innovation was later sold to Subterra and has gone on to become a widely used technique in both the gas and the water industry.

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1986 - Push-Fast enters the market

1986 - Push-Fast enters the market

Combining all the benefits of polyethylene with the ease of conventional push-fit joints, Push-Fast was developed at Durapipe, a company that would later merge with Stewart & Lloyds Plastics to form Durapipe S&LP.

This unique PE spigot and socket water jointing system was another turning point for the sector that enhanced the company's reputation for driving innovation.

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1988 - First landfill gas project and first 800mm pipe

1988 - First landfill gas project and first 800mm pipe

Amongst the many industry 'firsts' that Stewart & Lloyds Plastics achieved, was the company's involvement in the country's first landfill gas project: Judkins Landfill Gas Site. This pioneering project saw landfill gas being used to power an electricity generating plant for the first time in the UK and Stewart & Lloyds Plastics provided all the MDPE pipe required for the installation.

Meanwhile, the company was also breaking records in the water industry. Stewart & Lloyds Plastics produced an 800mm pipe for Thames Water's sewage project at Blake's Lock, Reading. It was the largest that had ever been produced at the time and Stewart & Lloyds Plastics remained the only British pipe maker capable of manufacturing such large diameter PE pipes for several years afterwards.

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1989 - Excel®

1989 - Excel®

The launch of Excel®, Stewart & Lloyds Plastics' high strength PE100 pipe system proved a major turning point for the water industry in 1989. Originally developed for gas installations, the PE100 material quickly established itself in the water industry thanks to the higher distribution pressures and larger diameters it could provide. At last, the water industry had access to a genuine alternative to uPVC and ductile iron pipes that was not only cost-effective but was also available at every pipe diameter and boasted an excellent set of properties including flexibility, corrosion resistance, suitability for trenchless installation techniques and high stress crack resistance.

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1990 - Slimflange and 24 metre pipe lengths

1990 - Slimflange and 24 metre pipe lengths

Following water industry privatisation in 1989, the new, privately owned water companies were eager to invest in their infrastructure and Stewart & Lloyds Plastics targeted innovation to help it remain ahead in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Amongst the outcomes of this renewed vigour for product development was SlimFlange, the unique size-for-size stainless steel reinforced PE flange adaptor launched in 1990. Its popularity remains strong in both the gas and water industries thanks to its faster, simpler and more cost effective installation without the need for upsizing.

That same year, Stewart & Lloyds Plastics scored another industry first by supplying 24-metre lengths of pipe to British Gas for the first time. Thanks to this breakthrough, British Gas was able to reduce the number of welded joints in its gas reinforcement project in Ludlow.

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1994 - First 1000mm pipe

1994 - First 1000mm pipe

Stewart & Lloyds Plastics broke new ground for the industry once again in 1994 by producing the first 1000mm pipe ever made in the UK. Fully rated to 10 bar pressure, this 'super' pipe was used by Thames Water at Peckham Rye Pack, a slip-lining project in London, ensuring thousands of families have a consistent supply of water.

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1995 - Safeguard and Clearguard

1995 - Safeguard and Clearguard

IWEX '95 saw the launch of two revolutionary new products from Stewart & Lloyds Plastics, confirming the company's reputation at the forefront of the sector once again. Specifically developed for pipebursting applications where extraordinary resistance to external abrasion is required, Safeguard, was the first polypropylene (PP) skinned PE. Following a series of successful trials with Severn Trent, Safeguard has gone on to take a significant share of the water and gas markets.

Stewart & Lloyds Plastics used the same manufacturing techniques to create a groundbreaking product that could be used to transport drinking water safely through contaminated land. By changing the PP coating to polyamide (PA) the company discovered the basis for PE barrier pipes and this innovation led to the later development of Protecta-Line, using an aluminium barrier.

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1996 - Protecta-Line arrives and scoops the IWEX Innovations Award

1996 - Protecta-Line arrives and scoops the IWEX Innovations Award

The launch of Protecta-Line is, perhaps, one of the most significant innovations that the UK water industry has ever experienced. The first PE barrier pipe system for safe transportation of drinking water through contaminated land, Protecta-Line meant that contractors and water companies no longer had to specify metal pipes when working on brownfield sites... they now had a choice. With an increase in the use of former industrial sites as development land, Protecta-Line offered numerous cost, installation and logistical benefits over traditional alternatives as has gone on not only to become the standard specification for many applications but also to gain industry recognition in the shape of the IWEX Innovations Award (1997).

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2003 - Excel 3c

2003 - Excel 3c

Excel 3c was developed in conjunction with Thames Water to address the need for clean capped pipe coils for drinking water. Eliminating a major preparatory step for water companies and contractors when they are installing new or replacement pipes, Excel 3c can reduce installation times by as much as four days and vastly reduces the quantity of hypochlorite solution required.

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2006 - Protecta-Line at Betteshanger

2006 - Protecta-Line at Betteshanger

In 2006 English Partnerships invested £18.8 million in the UK's largest colliery regeneration project, Betteshanger in Kent. Southern Water chose the Protecta-Line PE barrier pipe system to protect the drinking water supply to the brownfield site.

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2008 - Growth spurt for Protecta-Line

2008 - Growth spurt for Protecta-Line

Development of the Protecta-Line range continued with innovations such as the launch of 355mm pipe sizes and self-tapping ferrule off-takes making the PE barrier pipe system the most complete range of compatible PE barrier pipe and fittings on the UK market. Thanks to a market-focused product development programme, installers were no longer restricted to the smaller pipe diameters when using PE barrier pipe systems on contaminated sites. In 2008, the Protecta-Line system was amongst the first to receive formal approval to WIS 4-32-19, obtaining a BSI Kitemark for the whole system.

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2010 - Going green

2010 - Going green

GPS PE Pipe Systems works hard to minimise energy consumption, reduce waste and improve our recycling processes and in 2010 the company won a Business in the Community Carbon Positive Award for its efforts. Run in association with the Financial Times, this prestigious, peer-assessed award recognises companies that set the standard for best practice energy and waste management processes and GPS won joint first prize in the East of England region.

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Present - Continuing Innovation

Present - Continuing Innovation

At GPS PE Pipe Systems, our high quality products and reliable customer service help ensure that millions of homes and businesses can depend on clean drinking water and an efficient gas supply not only across the UK but in 60 other companies worldwide. A pioneer of PE pipe systems, we remain at the vanguard of the sector, continuing to innovate and maintaining a market-centred focus that ensures our customers always stay at the forefront of world gas and water distribution systems.

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Note: The past 108 years has seen GPS PE Pipe Systems evolve through a complex route of company acquisitions, mergers and buy-ins. There is not space here to discuss all the changes in structure but the history outlined above provides some of the highlights in the development of the company as it stands today and pinpoints the milestones in product development that form the basis of our current range.

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