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Tube & Pipe
Friday | 05 February, 2010 | 8:40 am

Fit for a queen

By John Loos

February 2010 - In the metals industry, it's not every day you get an order for the queen. Or, rather, to supply a piece of equipment for the construction of the Royal Navy's Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

Unison Ltd., Scarborough, United Kingdom, did just that. The manufacturer of tube-bending machinery recently won an order to supply a large tube bender to BAE Systems Surface Ships, a naval shipbuilding and support company and subsidiary of BAE Systems Inc., Portsmouth, United Kingdom.

"The sheer scale of engineering operations required to build an aircraft carrier is breathtaking, and to have our machinery selected to help with the task is a tremendous accolade," said Alan Pickering, Unison's managing director, in a press release. "We are very proud to be associated with what will undoubtedly be, for many years, the U.K.'s largest naval engineering project."

Hail to the queen
The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers include the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales, which will be the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever built by the United Kingdom. The vessels are expected to be 280 to 300 meters long, have a capacity to hold 50 aircraft each and displace roughly 40,000 tons of water.

To complete such an enormous job, heavy-duty machinery is a necessity. According to a press release, the tube-bending machine supplied by Unison will be the largest all-electric tube bender ever made. This makes sense, considering the aircraft carriers will need hundreds of kilometers of tube and pipe. The bender will be able to process tube and pipe up to 7 inches in diameter.

Featuring a closed-loop precision servo-based motion control optimized for small-batch jobs, Unison's tube bender incorporates a laser measurement module that automatically compensates for errors and measures the bend-angle accuracy.

This solves the issue of wasting material because of variations in the "springback" characteristics among different types of materials.

According to a Unison press release, the company's tube bender consumes a notable amount of energy only when it's actually bending material, resulting in enhanced energy savings.

Unsurprisingly, supplying a tube bender for the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers isn't the company's first foray into naval shipbuilding. Unison has supplied machines for BAE Systems' submarine solutions division and Northrop Grumman, Los Angeles, an American aircraft carrier manufacturer. MM

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