People have been forming and fabricating tubing for thousands of years. Some of the earliest pipes were handmade from reeds, as we have learned from artifacts from China circa 2000 B.C. Also, the Romans were famous for their aqueduct piping with which they transported water all across Rome and beyond.
One of the earliest iterations of tube fabrication machinery was created by James Russell in 1824. He invented his method in response to the growing need for pipes to power London’s coal burning lamp system; steel pipe transported the gas from the coal. Russell’s method of fabricating and forming tubing involved a rolling mill. To perform it, first, he would heat flat iron strip until it was malleable. Then, using a drop hammer, he would fold and weld it. Finally, he would send it through a groove and rolling mill. In 1825, another inventor, Comenius Whitehouse, rendered Russell’s invention obsolete when he created a process called butt-welding. Butt welding became the basis for modern pipe making. During the first version of butt welding, manufacturers started by heating thin sheets of iron, and then drawing them through a cone-shaped outlet. This movement would cause the edges of the iron sheet to take on a tube shape. To finish the pipe, manufacturers would weld its two ends together. The first American plant focused on using Whitehouse’s process opened in Philadelphia in 1832.
In the 1840s, metalworkers began creating seamless tubes using drills. They found that if they drilled a hole into a solid, circular billet, they could then heat it and draw it through a series of dies in order to form a pipe. This form process did not last long, though, because it was difficult to drill through solid metal, and the process created tube walls with uneven thicknesses. To remedy this, in 1888 a manufacturer developed a method in which metalworkers could create a hollow tube by casting a solid billet around a fireproof brick core.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, manufacturers began creating automotive parts. To create important parts, like oil lines and gas lines, as well as bike parts, they opened the first seamless tube manufacturing plant in 1895. The next innovation in tube fabrication came in the early 1900s, when engineers developed a process for hot forming tube elbows. Using elbow benders, they were able to produce bent tube products more quickly and on a much greater scale. Then, in 1911, John Moon built machinery to accommodate continuous tube forming.
In the 1960s, engineers invented the high frequency induction bending machine, which allowed them to create more precise results. Then, engineers developed Computer Numerical Controlled, or CNC, technology. Basically, CNC technology lets manufacturers map out their design on the computer, then the computer tells the machine what to do. CNC tube machining has made tube fabrication much faster and easier and has given manufacturers the ability to create products with more complex designs, tighter bends, and thinner walls. It has also allowed them to produce products at a much higher volume.
After CNC technology, engineers developed other types of computer influences, such as CAD (computer aided design) software. Innovations like these have made tube forming machinery more useful than ever and has spurred on the popularity of tubing companies like Universal Tube. As time goes on, we can expect tube forming machinery to create more and more precise results.
How It Works
Common forming services include cutting, bending, and joining. Other processes performed by tube forming machinery include packing, tube flaring, threading, coining, and nitinol heat setting.
Packing is a bending process that works by filling, or packing, a tube with material that helps form it. One example of this is ice packing, and another is sand-packing/hot-slab forming.
Ice packing is pretty straightforward. During this process, manufacturers fill a tube with a water solution, freeze it, then bend it. The solution contains properties that make ice flexible. Most often, this technique is used to make trombones.
Sand-packing/hot-slab forming starts when manufacturers fill a tube with fine sand. They continue the process by capping the tube at its ends and place it in a furnace. There, the furnace heats it up to at least 1600℉. Once appropriately heated, the machine or the operator moves the tube on a slab with built-in pins. Here, the manufacturer bends it around the pins using a mechanical force like a crane or a winch. Once the tube has cooled, he or she removes the sand. The sand decreases distortion in the tube’s cross-section.
The objective of tube flaring is to form the end of a length of tubing into a funnel shape, or tube flare. This straightforward process is performed by tube end forming machines.
Next, tube threading is the process by which the end of a tube acquires raised helical ribs, or threads. Tubes may receive external threading or internal threading. Either way, internal threading and external threading are designed to connect to each other and allow separate pieces of tubing to connect as well.
In the context of tube forming, to coin means to flatten. So, coining is actually a process during which manufacturers flatten the tubing using custom tooling, dies, and power presses.
Nitinol Heat Setting
Finally, nitinol heat setting is a much more specific process than those above. Manufacturers perform it only on nickel titanium, which is a half nickel-half titanium shape-memory alloy, in nitinol heat setting. During this process, the tubing is forced through a die and then bake it at high temperatures. They repeat the baking several times until the shape is heat-set.
As a rule, tube forming machinery must maintain a high level of accuracy. For this reason, tube forming machines are usually either automated manufacturing cells or dedicated machines.
Automated manufacturing cells can be programmed to work on any number of applications.
Dedicated machines are designed for specific jobs and cannot accommodate design alterations.
There are many types of machinery that fall under the respective umbrellas of automated manufacturing cells and dedicated tube forming machines. In general, tube forming machinery is quite diverse. Among its ranks are tube cutting machines, tube end forming machines, bending machines, tube notchers, tube rollers, and tube swaging machines.
Tube cutting machines cut tubing into different lengths and produce ends. They are very precise, allowing for both circular and square ends that are burr-free.
Tube end forming machines also perform cutting tasks, but they are created specifically to produce a tube end. As such, they can also perform chamfering, end expansion roll beading, end reduction, flanging, flaring, and notching.
Bending machines, which may also be called tube benders or tube bending equipment, curve and twist lengths of tube. Within this large group of machines are many smaller groups of bend machines, such as roll benders, rotary draw benders, and mandrel tube benders.
Roll benders work by sending a tube through a series of pressure-applying rollers that gradually change its bend radius.
Pipe benders can perform a similar procedure on pipes. When used on pipe benders, they may be called exhaust pipe benders.
Tube notchers, as their name implies, create notches in tubes. They do so by cutting down vertically and perpendicularly into the surface of the tubing.
Tube rolling machinery is a type of roll form machinery. It conducts a process akin to tube fabrication that rolls strips of metal into all tube diameters.
Tube mill equipment, also known as tube mills, is machinery that is almost identical and sometimes described interchangeably with tube rolling machinery. Tube mill equipment produces tubing or piping when it takes a strip of metal and roll forms it continuously until its edges meet, where they are welded.
Tube swaging machines, or swaging machines, are cold metalworking machines that use high pressure or high pressure and a die to permanently join multiple tubes.
Hydroforming machines form tubes using fluid pressure. The pressure pushes the tube material into the forming die, where it undergoes extreme shape deformation. Hydroforming machines create strong parts with uniform thickness.
Design and Customization
When designing tube forming machinery, manufacturers consider a number of different application factors, such as the complexity of the tubes to be made (cuts, bends, flaring, etc.), the length of the tubes to be made, the desired wall thicknesses, the material you plan to use (metal tube made from steel, stainless steel, aluminum, etc. or plastic tube made from PVC, polycarbonate, ABS, etc.), the volume of products the machinery must form every day, the desired level of automation, any required integration into preexisting systems, and standard requirements.
Manufacturers make your machinery using state-of-the-art equipment. To make machines perfect for your application, machinery manufacturers can customize a variety of system details, such as the control system, form system capabilities, and form system functions (tube cutting, pipe threading, automatic feeding, automatic sorting, etc.) and in-line secondary operations (coating, painting, powder finishing, etc.)
Choosing a Manufacturer
If you are in the market for tube forming machinery, it is in your best interest to work with an experienced and reliable tube forming machinery supplier. To help you get a leg up, we’ve compiled a list of those manufacturers we trust most. You will find their information and profiles wedged in between our industry info paragraphs. Before you start looking them over, we recommend you take some time to write down your specifications, so that you can focus your search. Remember to write down considerations like the size and shape of the tubes you intend to create, the complexity of the tubes you intend to create, your daily product volume, if you have any existing systems, your industry standard requirements, your machine and tooling budget, your delivery deadline, your delivery preferences, your installation assistance preferences, and your post-installation assistance preferences.
Once you’ve written all of these down, you can start browsing. Pick out three or four tube forming machine manufacturers in which you are most interested. Then, reach out to each of them to discuss your application. Make sure to touch all of the points on your specifications list. After talking with representatives from each company, compare and contrast your conversations. Determine which company will provide the best services for you and let them know you want to work with them.