A Comprehensive Line of Inflatable Plugs and Packers Meets High Standards

PlugCo applies research and manufacturing expertise to a vital infrastructure niche and delivers a high-quality product

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A Comprehensive Line of Inflatable Plugs and Packers Meets High Standards

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Large, inflatable rubber plugs or bladders have been in use in large-scale infrastructure since at least the early 1920s, when they were used in Milwaukee and other large cities to block off and dewater sewer sections to enable repairs without trenching. Put another way, inflatables are one of the original trenchless sewer repair technologies. Almost 100 years later, that basic technology — collapsible bladders inserted into sewer or industrial pipes and inflated to work as shut-off valves — is being used in nearly all infrastructure sectors, from deep sea platforms to hydroelectric facilities, to storm and sanitary sewers, to high-pressure lines in chemical plants and oil refineries.

And yet, inflatable plugs have never been perceived as a cheap, interchangeable commodity. For one thing, many inflatable plugs are still custom-made to suit the precise specifications required in particular, urgent situations. And making inflatable plugs that perform well in critical, high-pressure, sometimes hot and sometimes caustic environments requires considerable engineering and manufacturing expertise. It’s a difficult market to enter successfully, and new vendors have an obligation to make quality products that hold up in difficult conditions.

“We got started making OEM inflatables to provided specifications, and even then we knew that we needed our own engineers to make a reliable product that would serve the industry well,” says İlhan Bora Serin, sales manager and mechanical engineer at PlugCo, a maker of high quality pipe plugs and pipe testing equipment headquartered in Corum, Turkey. “We now have a total of nine engineers, doing valuable research on rubber sealing products.”

PlugCo’s research has led to the development of a comprehensive line of inflatable plugs and packers including flexible packers, conical and egg-shaped plugs, high-pressure joint testers, steam process plugs, manhole testing plugs, and many more, used in sewer networks, refineries, gas and oil lines, and other infrastructure sectors. The emphasis on research and development and reliability has been a successful strategy for PlugCo. The firm started making inflatables under their own name in 2014, and five years later are exporting to 45 countries and exhibit annually at WWETT, the infrastructure industry’s biggest trade show. “We know we make good products, competitively priced, and we want to share them with the entire world,” Serin says. “Of course, the United States is one of our target markets.”

Success in the Middle East

“We consider PlugCo a sister company; we love the way they approach infrastructure — serious and focused,” says Salem Walid, managing director of Middle East Manufacture of Pipe Cleaning Equipment Ltd. (MEM). “We needed inflatables that would perform in high-pressure gas and oil lines, to complement our line of pigs and foam pigs for the oil and gas industry, and PlugCo really delivered.”

MEM specializes in the production of hydrocarbon industry pipeline cleaning products that need to work efficiently and reliably in extreme conditions, including high-pressure lines and caustic lines. And, like PlugCo, MEM has designed and developed several innovative products and accessories that have been well received by their clients, and is growing internationally as a result. In particular, MEM’s innovative pigs are commonly used in situations that had been previously considered “unpiggable.”

To support that growth, and to help their customers get the most out of their innovative products, MEM realized they also needed to steer their clients toward similarly reliable and well-designed inflatable plugs, as pipe plugs are commonly used in pipeline cleaning projects. “It was a problem,” Walid says. “Many of the available products just didn’t hold up in the conditions our clients were dealing with, and that compromised projects.”

In response, Walid worked directly with PlugCo to obtain inflatable pipe plugs and testing equipment that met very high standards. He soon realized he’d made a very good choice. “PlugCo was immediately better on both price and quality, and our customers could really tell the difference,” he says. “We now distribute up to 600 PlugCo inflatables annually, and they design and deliver even tricky custom products very efficiently. They’ve been part of our success, and we will certainly continue using and recommending PlugCo.”

Ultra packers for Ultratech

Mike Jenkins formed Ultratech Water Resources in 2001 to capitalize on his extensive infrastructure industry experience. Business has been good. Ultratech currently maintains two North Carolina offices, in Asheville and Shelby, and represents about a dozen vendors, all vetted by Jenkins and used extensively in projects he consults on. And Jenkins’ vetting is thorough. “I do a lot of traveling and am usually in the field with my clients when they are designing or completing projects,” he explains. “I know what they need, and what works, and finding and providing the right solution is important to my business.”

Jenkins came across PlugCo at WWETT and was immediately impressed with the quality of their product. “The prices were competitive, and their inflatables were simply superior to any of the vendors I’d been recommending.” Moreover, he had a client who had immediate need of innovative, reliable inflatable packers. “This was in the field of sectional CIPP repairs, and my client was developing an efficient method of internally repairing pipe sections without applying CIPP from manhole-to-manhole. But to do that, he needed a really good packer to apply the internal patch. I thought PlugCo could fill the bill, and I was right.”

That initial use case led to an immediate order of several inflatable packers, and Jenkins was impressed with PlugCo’s service, delivery, and quality. “I was a little worried at first about working with an overseas vendor,” he admits. “But it was never a problem at all. Communications by email were uniformly excellent, service was good, products were delivered on time to exact specifications, and they even offer free delivery to the States. I couldn’t be happier.”

That initial order led to several annual deliveries of packers, up to 30-inch diameter, and orders for other PlugCo products. “The precision of the build and the material quality really stands out. I continue to use and recommend them to my client, and plan to set up an East Coast distributorship so I can keep standard sizes in stock and deliver more quickly as needed. Really, PlugCo is an excellent manufacturer of an important waterworks industry solution.”  


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