by Kip Hanson
The Problem: Outdated pipe beveling method cost time, money
The Solution: An automated pipe processing machine
Alberta tube and pipe processor turns away from old school ways of thinking
It’s a big gamble—over $250,000 spent on a piece of automated machinery that few in the province see the need for. After all, why bother with a CNC pipe cutting machine when your manual pipe beveling equipment is paid for and you have skilled employees who can do layouts in a matter of hours?
Yet journeymen retire. Oil and gas requirements grow more complex. Competition increases daily and customers ask for quicker turnaround and better quality at a lower price. These are some of the reasons Byron Dieterle and his business partners at All Axis Piping Ltd., Red Deer, AB, made the leap to automation with their purchase of a ProCutter600 (PC600) 3D pipe cutting HGG Profiling Equipment BV (based in The Netherlands), purchased through distributor All Fabrication Machinery J.V. in Alberta.
This isn’t Dieterle’s first rodeo. The journeyman welder was already quite familiar with the advantages that CNC technology brings to the table, since his other company—Dynamic Cutting Solutions Ltd.—has been operating a Ward Jet ZX-2543 five axis waterjet and a Koike Plate Pro plasma cutter since October, 2012.
When it came time to purchase the HGG PC600, there were good financial reasons to keep this newest venture into tube, pipe and vessel processing separate from the fabricating side of the house, so Dieterle and his four partners formed All Axis Piping, housed in the same building as Dynamic.
These guys were already busy. Each of them has a full-time job outside of All Axis, so buying the HGG PC600 would mean burning the candle at both ends until the business became solvent. But all saw the opportunity and agreed they should go for it.
The machine was delivered in October 2013 and was ready for work a week later. “The whole process was amazingly quick,” says Dieterle. “Several of our investors had previous experience with HGG programming and operation, so training requirements were minimal for us to get started.”
Dieterle admits that work for the PC600 has been slow in coming. “It’s pretty slim pickings right now. CNC pipe processing is so new around here that nobody really wants to move their business away from suppliers that are still cutting and beveling by hand. Our biggest issue is trying to educate potential customers on our capabilities.”
“We did a job recently cutting a pair of 8 in. wide slot (200 mm) on each side of a 16 in. diameter (400 mm) pipe. Basically, we took the information from the customer, loaded it on the computer and were able to start cutting within a few minutes. The entire order of 28 pieces was done in a couple hours.”
By contrast, Dieterle says the old-fashioned manual process—layout with a tape measure, flame cut the slot, mount the beveler and cut the angle, then repeat for the other side—would have taken at least an hour per pipe, an improvement of over 90 per cent. “With a CNC, the computer does all the work for you.”
Not all jobs offer a track record like this, but Dieterle maintains that, on most work, the PC600 cuts pipe at least 8 times faster than traditional methods. Add to that a setup process that requires nothing more than a few cutting parameters and even the most complex beveling jobs are ready to go, eliminating the chance of a misread tape measure or improperly placed beveler.
Part quality is just as important as productivity. The HGG PC600 offers linear cutting accuracy of +/- 1.5 mm and +/- 2º on angles, so the person welding the cut pieces together has a better product to work with, saving welding and fitting time in the fabrication area or out in the field. “I know of modular fabrication facilities that have cranes costing them 30 grand a month, with 10 guys running hand bevelers plus a bunch of people to support them. This machine can eliminate all that,” says Dieterle.
Someone who can attest to that is Giles Young, sales manager at All Fabrication Machinery. “We’re doing really well with this equipment in Western Canada, especially with screw piling firms and those making pressure vessels and process piping (spooling). We’ve just sold the largest machine HGG has ever manufactured, with a maximum capacity of 3 m (120 in.) pipe diameter x 10 m (40 ft.) long—to a vessel fabricator in Calgary.”
Young says Dieterle’s eight-fold improvement estimate is conservative. “It’s not just about cutting. Most of these shops have their highest-paid guy—the pressure welder—doing the layout. That means he’s using a tape measure and a piece of chalk or permanent marker to mark the hole, then double-checking everything before he cuts it by hand. When that’s done, he has to use a grinding disc or cone stone to clean it up.”
With an automated pipe cutter, Young explains, all you have to do is trust the CNC to do its job—just put the pipe or small vessel in the machine, load the program and hit go. “With the PC600, you can nest a whole bunch of cut pieces in a single operation. You start processing pipe at one end and work your way down, pulling off finished product as you go.”
If you’re convinced, Young says, it’s important to look for a machine that grips the material with a three-jaw chuck. “Some competing machines use a series of drive rollers to rotate the material beneath the cutting head. Chucking the material, however, gives the most accurate results, especially when working with out of round and less than perfectly straight pipe.”
As explained earlier, All Fabrication Machinery J.V. is doing well with the HGG line, yet the fact remains that the majority of shops—Young estimates 85 per cent or more—are still cutting pipe by hand. According to Dieterle, this is the toughest part of his job. “Our success depends on educating potential customers. We have brochures and flyers, and the website provides some cost analysis that compares CNC to manual pipe cutting.”
At the end of the day, Dieterle explains, it comes down to showing people how much money they can save by ditching their outdated methods. If you’re ready to try automated pipe cutting and beveling, give him a call. He’ll be happy to help you save a few bucks on your next project. If nothing else, he’s sure to help you change those old school ways of thinking. SMT
Kip Hanson is a contributing editor. [email protected]