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Flexicon’s conduit specified to survive in sub-zero Antarctica

Flexicon’s FPY conduit, which can withstand temperatures of minus 40ºC, has been specified to protect electricity and network cables in a £35 million research station being constructed for British Antarctic Survey (BAS) studies.  Antarctica’s hostile environment means that products used within the station need to be able to work in extremely low temperatures and dry humidity levels, and must be maintenance-free and reliable enough to last through harsh winters.  

The first Antarctica research station was established by the Royal Society in 1956, and was used to conduct studies into meteorology, glaciology, seismology, radio astronomy and geospace science for the International Geophysical Year.  After this research came to an end, the station was handed over to the BAS, which has maintained a permanent presence ever since.  The BAS continues to conduct many of the original studies on a constant basis, whilst also monitoring the Earth’s atmosphere.

The BAS is now building a new centre – Halley VI – an eight module station which incorporates the latest technologies for recording atmospheric variables.  Since Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest continent on Earth, and also has the highest average elevation, there are a number of factors that need to be considered when designing and engineering such a high-tech and compact station, which will be operating in aggressive atmospheric and weather conditions.  

Bespoke, quality products from manufacturers with proven expertise have been specified, with one prerequisite being that products must be able to operate throughout the long winter months without any maintenance requirements, as environmental factors mean access to the station is limited.

One of the biggest challenges is the cold temperature.  Even in the summer months temperatures can be as low as minus 10ºC, but products also need to maintain their integrity during winter temperatures, which can be as low as minus 40ºC.  

Many conduit manufacturers are unable to offer products that protect electrical cables at these temperatures, but Flexicon has developed both steel and nylon conduit that can.  The FPY conduit specified can withstand temperatures from minus 40ºC to plus 120ºC, has a high impact strength, which recovers if crushed, and is available with IP ratings of IP40, IP66, IP67 and IP68.  The FPY range can also come ready-slit so that, if necessary, it can be fitted in refurbishment projects where removing cables would be time consuming. 

In addition to the extremely cold temperatures, the low humidity atmosphere of Antarctica makes the risk of fire a concern; all products used on Halley VI need to be low-fire-hazard and cannot emit toxic fumes if a fire should occur.  The conduit used in this project, FPY, is self extinguishing and is halogen, sulphur and phosphorus free.   

Merit Process Engineering has been selected as preferred contractor for the outline design and mechanical, electrical, heating, ventilating and air conditioning services of Halley VI.  Andy Cheatle, senior project manager at Merit Process Engineering, explains: “We initially specified Flexicon’s conduit because of its ability to withstand very low temperatures, but we then learnt about other important benefits, such as the low-fire-hazard properties.  Projects such as this one bring up many issues, but having the best British manufacturers on hand to supply high-quality, forward-thinking products make the end result achievable.  

“Due to access issues we need to specify products that we can definitely rely on, as they generally can’t be replaced.  In addition, Halley VI has limited space for cabling, but Flexicon was keen to develop a bespoke solution to meet our specific requirements, which means that living and working space can be maximised.”

Jim Parkinson, managing director of Flexicon, comments: “When our products are used for such important and technical projects as this, we know that our commitment to developing conduit for a wide range of applications is worth it.  As well as stocking a standard range of flexible conduit and fittings, we have the capability to design and develop new products and produce bespoke specials-to-order.  This enables contractors to specify a product to meet exact requirements, rather than just selecting one that will ‘do the job’.”  

Flexicon is the UK’s fastest growing flexible conduit manufacturer.  Offering a full range of metallic and non-metallic flexible and pliable conduits, fittings and accessories, it can offer fast turnaround and delivery on stock items, special assemblies and cut lengths. 

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