The tale of composite hose - the invention that changed industry

Once upon a time, a better hose was invented...
Steve Urh, product manager for composite hose products, National Hose
July 10, 2018
By Steve Urh, product manager for composite hose products, National Hose
Composite hose uses layers of plastic and fabric combined with an internal wire to create a product with superior durability, flexibility and ease-of-use.
Composite hose uses layers of plastic and fabric combined with an internal wire to create a product with superior durability, flexibility and ease-of-use.
Composite hose is non-vulcanized and constructed of multiple layers of thermoplastic films and high-density reinforcing fabrics, normally polypropylene, polyethylene, PTFE and polyester. An abrasion-, ozone- and weather-resistant cover protects the internal materials. All materials are tensioned between internal and external spiralled wires.

In the late 19th century, W.H. Willcox  & Co. manufactured the first composite hose – calling it “wire-bound hose” – in London, England, patented as “Jones-Willcox hose.” It was marketed as “armoured” inside and out so it would not kink or collapse. According to the Willcox literature, internal layers consisted of “specially prepared canvas. Rubber was not used in its manufacture, therefore the hose will not perish and is most useful where oil or spirit has to be conveyed.”  

Since the invention of vulcanization in 1939, natural rubber demand had been booming. Vulcanization improved natural rubber making it stronger, better able to retain shape, resistant to abrasion and to extreme temperatures. The demand increased for rubber in tires, shoes, hoses, sheeting, industrial banding and other products. After 1900, the demand intensified with demand for cars and bicycles. Synthetic rubber would be another decade away.

Vulcanization transformed markets but it created other problems. Supply uncertainty seemed to be the greatest issue. High-cost production, political controls and environmental concerns caused a great deal of supply interruption. Wild natural rubber could not grow fast enough to meet demand.  Such issues did not limit the production of non-rubber wire-bound hoses.

Due to its armoured construction, wire-bound hose was good for both suction and discharge and available in diameters from ½ to 10 inches. Applications at the time included “contractors’ pumping of water, tar, oil, and manure; unloading tank steamers; tank wagons; fire engines; oil storage; rail cars; and conveying gas, oil and greasy liquids.” Composite hose is used for many of these applications and more today.

Because wire-bound hose contained no rubber, it was especially supportive during the World Wars for fuel and oil delivery. During World War II, Japan attacked Malaysia, which cut off the world from natural rubber. This intensified demand for wire-bound hose.  

From the late 19th century through to the mid 20th century, discoveries in plastics and innovations in polymer chemistry were occurring. In the 1950s, polypropylene and PTFE became commercially available. With these two plastics in particular, the modern-day composite hose was created. Wire-bound hose faded into history. The new composite hose, still armoured inside and out, is now made of performance plastics and fabrics. It has opened up opportunities for transferring a vast range of aggressive chemicals and petroleum products at very low and to very high temperatures at higher pressures.

Global demand for composite hose is expected to continue growing. Developing countries and emerging markets are now in the top 40 on GDP league tables according to the International Monetary Fund. Combined with the existing output of advanced economies, demand for composite hoses will rise along with new global manufacturing.

The growth in world economies is one aspect but is linked to an upsurge in other new developments. Advanced and developing economies need resources. Demand for ships, rail cars, tankers and other forms of transporting petroleum is rising rapidly in these economies. New, larger types of ships are being produced faster than ever to fulfill the global need for fuel, food, and chemicals. Composite hose can be produced faster than rubber hose.

New techniques and extreme regions are being accessed in the hunt for fossil fuels. Hydraulic fracturing is a prominent method that utilizes composite hose in the process of extracting shale gas. Oil companies are exploring extreme low-temperature climates as well. In extremely cold temperatures, composite hose remains light and flexible for easy handling.

Concerns about climate change may cause economies to turn away from fossil fuels. Biofuels and biodiesel have been developed to fill the gap. Biofuels tend to be more environmentally friendly. But they are more aggressive and attack traditional and lower-cost materials. More expensive compounds are required for resistance. In this situation, composite hose is a suitable and more affordable option and resistant to a wide range of bio and alternative fuels.

LPG and LNG liquid gases are in high demand. These are transferred at ultra-low temperatures. Composite hose is the perfect solution versus rubber given its cold-temperature capabilities.

Composite is also a great solution for the chemical industry. Typically polypropylene-lined composite hose handles 90 per cent of chemicals while a variety of rubber hoses may be needed for different service conditions. This makes the composite hose a more universal and overall more affordable option when calculating the total cost of ownership over time. Customizing a composite hose to suit service conditions is quick and easy.

Key advantages
Flexibility: Composite hose is kink-proof, requires minimal force to bend and is lightweight for easy handling. It maintains flexibility even in low temperatures.

Failure mode: The multi-layer construction of composite hose prevents catastrophic failure. During a failure the hose will not burst, spraying liquid. It will simply collapse or passively leak a few drops forming a puddle

Universality: Every model of composite hose is capable of both suction and discharge. One hose can be use in a wide range of applications

Durability: Composite hose is weather-proof and does not degrade with age. It resists abrasion and does not fatigue from use and pressure. It’s ultraviolet- and ozone-resistant. If damaged, composite hose can repaired quickly.

Customizable: Composite hose is easily customized to suit service conditions with colours and private labelling.

Regulated: Composite hose assemblies can be tested and certified by nationally recognized organizations to verify their capabilities, good construction and safety. Look for certification from NAHAD (Association for Hose and Accessories Distribution) or CSA (the Canadian Standards Association).

The rental industry
Composite is a very light, flexible and user-friendly hose. It is by construction both a suction and discharge hose, handling full vacuum and typical working pressures up to 200 pounds per square inch. Whether you are pumping water, contaminated water or light slurry, a composite hose is an ideal solution.  It can sit outside in the sun and all kinds of weather from dry hot days to the coldest days with lots of snow while remaining, strong, flexible and intact. It will not rot or deteriorate. It can be produced with a variety of materials to handle the worst of service conditions and be durable enough to take the abuse your rental customers can dish out.  Composite hose can be produced with aluminum wires and lighter construction to be easy to handle, often allowing one person rather than two to make connections with even the largest sizes. Composite hose should be a standard part of any rental fleet where customers need to rent hoses.

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