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What are the Differences Between Process Piping and Plumbing?

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Process piping systems are an essential part of many industrial facilities. At first glance, process piping and other piping systems, such as plumbing, may appear similar. While there may be several physical similarities, they serve very different functions. They also fall under different state, federal, and international regulations.

At Base Construction, our capabilities include design support and construction services for complex process piping systems. This blog post will discuss process piping and how users can distinguish between different piping systems.

What are the Differences Between Process Piping and Plumbing?

What is Process Piping?

In industrial operations, process piping controls the movement of a wide variety of fluids and gases. These complex systems typically consist of components such as pipes, manual valves control valves, flow control instruments, pressure control equipment, temperature control instruments, flanges, pipe supports, tubing, bolts, nuts, and gaskets.

Other components may also be included to facilitate mixing, separating, pressurizing, or other functions. The exact makeup of a process piping system will depend entirely on the application the system serves.

Process piping is commonly found in many industrial settings, including:

  • Oil and gas refineries
  • Chemical processing
  • Food and beverage
  • Power plants
  • Paper mills
  • Brewing plants
  • COGEN plants
  • Aerospace manufacturing plants
  • Waste water treatment plants

In these settings, gases, chemicals, and other liquids all pass through process piping.

What Makes Process Piping Different from Plumbing?

While process piping and plumbing share many similarities, the ultimate difference lies with the purpose of the piping system. What system a pipe belongs to can often be determined by examining what the pipe is connected to and where the fluid goes.

  • Plumbing systems bring water into a facility and provide safe drainage for water and wastewater as it exits a facility.
  • Process piping moves chemicals, gases, water, and other fluids in support of an internal manufacturing or processing operation.


Plumbing systems adhere to different codes and regulations, as well as industry standards. In order to be installed and maintained, all plumbing systems require permits, fees, and inspections.

These strict regulations narrow material options for plumbing systems as well, so pipes will typically be made of copper or plastic based on pressure, corrosion factors, and other application requirements.

Plumbing makes up an integral part of a facility’s mechanical systems. The most common uses for plumbing include:

  • Distributing potable water
  • Waste removal
  • Heating
  • Cooling

Process Piping

Process piping does not fall under the same regulations as plumbing systems or power piping. This is because process piping is not installed in order to fulfill building services, but instead supports a specific internal operation such as the chemical manufacturing or products or the refinement of petroleum.

Rather than municipal codes, engineering standards govern the design and construction of process piping systems. At many facilities, process piping will fall under American Society of Civil and Mechanical Engineers (ASCME) guidelines. Unlike plumbing, process piping is not a part of a building’s mechanical systems.

That’s not to say that process piping is free from federal oversight. Process piping must also adhere to OSHA standards for safe operation. In addition, some process piping systems may also require initial permitting, inspection, and approval.

Process piping also offers a broader selection for pipe materials. Facilities can choose the best piping material based on intended usage, budget, and the type of fluids being moved. Process piping systems may support a variety of industrial or manufacturing functions, such as:

  • Fluid mixing/separating
  • Stopping/starting fluid flow
  • Pressurization/depressurization
  • Filtering

Process Piping Services at Base Construction

Many industrial operations rely on process piping as a critical part of daily operations. At Base Construction, we can assist our clients with all aspects of process piping, including:

  • Installation by qualified welders and pipefitters
  • Material selection
  • Routing design and implementation
  • Support design and installation
  • Manual and control valves
  • Piping & instrumentation drawing (P&ID) development and implementation
  • Testing (pressurized, vacuum)
  • Painting and labeling
  • Insulation
  • Heat tracing (steam, electrical)

We adhere to all OSHA standards for process piping and we maintain up-to-date knowledge of state ordinances as well. To learn more about Base Construction’s process piping design and implementation services for your facility, contact us today.

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