Tube & Pipe
Monday | 26 October, 2015 | 1:47 pm

Forward curve

Written by By Gretchen Salois

Above: Sizing section, NDT system and entry of the cutoff area with tube moving left to right.

Fulfilling both immediate and long-term needs is a surefire approach

October 2015 - As a place to simply clean up, a bathroom offers a brief respite from the stresses of the day. A clean design is successfully executed by good craftsmanship. Fixtures must be flawless and aesthetically pleasing while serving their practical purposes. 

A manufacturer of residential bathroom fixtures found itself ordering more stainless steel tubing than ever before, which compelled its executives to re-evaluate long-term production needs. Learning it had grown its volume enough to justify building two tube mill systems, the manufacturer met several times with Formtek Inc. to help understand what was necessary to fulfill existing demand and capture new business. 

“After talking with this particular customer, we realized that if their tube demand continued to grow, they would need two mill lines in three to four years,” recalls Brian Kopack, senior sales engineer at Formtek, Warrensville Heights, Ohio. “They would end up having to put in a second line unless they used a different welding approach.” 

Kopack says Formtek suggested laser welding technology, a faster fusion process that could curve and satisfy their current forecast and production needs in the years ahead, too. “While using laser welding held a higher premium than TIG welding, which is what they were originally considering, that premium was greatly outweighed by the notion of having to purchase an entire second mill line a few years down the road.” 

MM 1015 tube image1

Recent advancements in fiber laser technology made it a practical solution, according to Formtek senior vice president Jack Pennuto Jr. For the customer’s specific wall thicknesses and tube usage, the fiber laser’s efficiency proved to be 30 to 40 percent greater than with a CO2 laser the company had used on automotive tubing jobs. Also, “the lower initial investment of fiber laser technology helped to close the price gap between TIG and laser for this customer’s applications,” he says. 

Once the customer was on board with pre-emptively installing the laser welding line for its stainless steel tubing, the next hurdles included working with an OD bead grinder that could handle laser welding speeds. Formtek also suggested the company install a deburring machine for finished tubing. “We worked with them to determine the correct size machine and how to best integrate the machine into the full-line system,” explains Kopack. Combining vendors from Italy as well as from Cleveland and Minneapolis, Formtek completed its consultation that resulted in a laser welding, deburring, finishing and polishing line.

Making the investment

“This customer had to experience consistent volume demand in order to make the jump on this capital investment,” Pennuto says. “While the price point of laser welding technology has come down over the years, moving from TIG to laser welding is still a big jump.” The level of productivity prompted the switch; the ability to increase productivity while reducing the use of consumables convinced the fixtures manufacturer.

Formtek typically produces mills to process tubing from 1⁄8 inch up to 24 inches and builds smaller tube mills for both carbon and stainless steel. “We’re well-versed in fusion type welding and cutting tubing but that’s where our expertise ends,” Kopack says. “We don’t cover the full gamut of fusion welding products so we spoke with our supplier based out of Italy to get their recommendation on how best to clean up the laser bead from the weld.” Formtek worked with Bossi S.r.l. to gain the expertise needed for the components that required a sleek finish where a visible OD weld bead wouldn’t do.

“So we integrated weld bead removal equipment,” Kopack continues. “We’re able to cut the tubing and the customer can take it and perform secondary operations. The customer wanted to streamline the process so they put stainless steel in one end and then finish cut to length at the other.” 

The tubing then moves to an OD deburring machine manufactured by Kent Corp., Cleveland, followed by an OD polishing machine from Midwest Automation in Minneapolis, Kopack says. “The customer wanted to take this tubing and [enter it] into their only secondary finishing process and then bend it offline. Instead we were able to offer a fully integrated system.

“It’s unique because we were able to tie [the polishing process] into the line,” Kopack continues, while removing the need for human operators to load and unload product. “We needed an option that could finish the tube to the expected standards because these tubes are visible [as complete fixtures]. You can’t have the tubing looking rusty, or gouged tubing with visible marks; they need to have both durability as well as aesthetic appeal.”

MM 1015 tube image2

Tricky transport

Transferring tubing between processes risks marring the surface of the material. “Having the full-body polisher before or after the cutting process presents advantages and disadvantages,” explains Kopack. “Because we’re still handling the tube, we can scratch it when moving it along the cutting process.” 

Installing Kent Corp.’s Burrmaster, Formtek made sure the tubes don’t rub together. Once the burrs are removed, they are removed from the OD finishing system before going through the bending process. “Another way we’re listening to the customer is by making sure we’ve built into the system a way to reduce any chances to introduce gouges, dings or marks further downstream in the manufacturing process,” Kopack says.

The Burrmaster is a simple machine that is quick to change over lengths and diameters and is also low maintenance, Kent Corp. CEO Dean Costello says. “It’s also made in the U.S. so customers have easy access to parts, service, maintenance; anything that’s needed can be resolved in a timely manner.”

Removing OD bead without any deformation to the tubes is the specialty of Abbiategrasso, Italy-based Bossi. “The machine can work from 1⁄2-inch to 4-inch ODs,” says Trivella Roberto, export manager at Bossi. The company sells bead grinding solutions worldwide. “The footprint of the machine is not particularly large, making it ideal for many customers. It’s strong and has a lot of possibilities like oscillation and we also do a lot of OD finishing with stainless steel,” Roberto says, adding, “We have no problems with contaminating tubes.”

The Bossi machine uses a belt versus a flapper wheel. “The reason we like the belt design is it’s meant for removing material and is long lasting whereas a flapper wheel type really is only meant for surface finishing. 

“If you try to use flapper wheels [for bead removal], you end up wearing them out quickly, which is a costly use of abrasives,” Roberto continues. “It’s more economical to use the belt and it removes defects easier.”

The integration of the line was a joint effort that Kopack deems a success. “We were able to work with key suppliers ... to make the whole system work.” MM


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