This 273 mm Unison all-electric bending machine – the world’s most powerful – was installed at Westcon Yard’s Ølensvåg facility in November 2015.Click image to enlargeNorwegian offshore and maritime services company has installed what is considered the world's largest all-electric pipe bending machine, capable of generation 660,000 Nm of continous torque and bending of thick-walled carbon steel pipes up to 273 mm (10 in.) in diameter.

This is the second all-electric pipe bender from Unison that Weston Yard AS has installed in its pipe production facilities in Ølensvåg, Norway. 

The engineering workshop’s new automatic materials handling system features 9 m high pipe storage racks and robotic feeders.Click image to enlargeThe first, a 90 mm single-stack model from Unison’s Breeze range, was installed at the beginning of 2015 and enabled the company to bring fabrication of all pipe sizes up to 60.3 mm in diameter in-house. It has also helped Westcon to simplify and accelerate its production process dramatically, by allowing parts to be fabricated from single-piece piping stock, instead of from multiple cut-to-length straight sections and pre-formed bend parts bought-in from external suppliers.

Steffen Feder of Westcon Yard shows the type of pipes that can be bent on the new Unison machine.Click image to enlarge

Westcon has similarly high expectations for its new 10-in. machine. The company now intends to produce virtually all the pipe sizes that it needs for its outfitting, service and repair operations entirely in-house, without having to use pre-fabricated bend sections.

Although Unison’s bending machines are used by a number of the world’s ship and submarine builders to produce large pipe and tube assemblies, this is the most powerful that the company has ever designed and built. The company’s range of all-electric bending machines now extends all the way from 16 mm (5/8 in.) to 273 mm (10 in.).

The order for both pipe bending machines, which also called for Unison to supply CAD support software, was placed through P Meidell AS, the specialist machine tool company that acts as Unison’s representative in Norway.

Westcon specializes in building and repairing ships for the offshore and fishing sectors, and in servicing, maintaining and repairing semi-submersible and jack-up rigs used by the offshore oil and gas industries. It operates four shipyards in Norway, with its headquarters and pipe production operations forming part of a modern and well-equipped yard near Ølensvåg. This enjoys a unique sheltered position on the Ølensfjord with deepwater access to the North Sea. The yard’s facilities include two floating docks, deepwater quays for three drilling rigs and a number of high payload cranes.

In recent years, Westcon has invested heavily in its pipe fabrication operations for ship and rig outfitting, with the intention of becoming a world leader in this industry. The Ølensvåg site now has a large 3,650 sq m purpose-built engineering workshop, with more than 1,500 sq m allocated to pipe production. The new facilities include a fully automated materials handling system–based on 9 m high pipe storage racks and robotic feeders –together with an automatic pipe cutting machine and the two Unison CNC-controlled all-electric tube benders.

Most of the pipes that Westcon produces are one-off items for new systems, rerouting and maintenance purposes. They are typically manufactured from carbon steel, with each pipe spool normally being up to 6 m in length. The pipes usually form part of fresh or sea water systems, hydraulic systems, diesel fuel distribution networks or other special systems. They often involve very tight radius bends, to as little as 1.5 times outside diameter, and need to be constructed to millimeter accuracy.

Until about six months ago, Westcon fabricated all pipes in sectional form, using multiple cut-to-length straight sections and bought-in preformed bend parts. The individual sections, bends and end connection flanges were then welded together to create the final assembly, with each weld requiring cleaning, inspection and non-destructive X-ray testing. This was an expensive and time-consuming process that was also heavily reliant on outside suppliers meeting tight delivery schedules. Rapid turnaround time is critical for repair organizations like Westcon, where the out-of-service costs of ships and rigs can be astronomical.

Following delivery of its first Unison bending machine, Westcon has produced all pipes up to 60.3 mm in diameter in-house, from straight piping stock. This has eliminated the need to buy-in preformed bend parts for these pipe sizes, and reduced the number of cutting, welding and testing operations needed for each assembly substantially. The pipes are currently cut slightly over-length before bending, to allow for any changes introduced by the process. After bending, they are re-measured, cut to final length and welded to the necessary flanges. The company intends further improving the process by cutting the pipes to length prior to bending, as its expertise develops.

As Tommy Nilsen, head of prefabrication at Westcon’s Ølensvåg facility, explains, “we have only been using our first Unison machine extensively for a few months and are still on a learning curve. Despite this, we are already achieving superb bend accuracy and repeatability with good throughput–and we are confident of increasing this even further when we change the process sequence. In fact, based on our experience so far, now that the larger bending machine is in place, we expect to substantially reduce production times for all pipe sizes. It’s like going from 1930 to 2016 in one stride! We are now effectively a year ahead of the rest of the world in terms of our pipe fabrication capabilities.”

Unison all-electric pipe bending machines feature servomotor-driven motion axes and fully automated software-controlled setup. Simplicity of operation and the fact that Unison was prepared to develop custom pipe bending solutions were two of the key reasons behind Westcon’s original order. Both the 90 mm and the 273 mm machines are fitted with Unison’s innovative laser springback system, which automatically measures and adjusts bend angles to compensate for the tendency of tubular parts to spring back slightly after being bent. The machines also both feature quick-change tooling, which is a major advantage for applications that involve bespoke, one-off manufacturing.

The Unison machines’ mechanical design, combined with the precision axis control capabilities of Unison’s Unibend software makes it easier to achieve very accurate and repeatable results, with minimal changes to the wall thickness or ovality of the pipe that is being bent. These attributes are ideal for manufacturers of marine, offshore and subsea equipment, who invariably need to work to tight tolerances and strict process guidelines.

The material storage/retrieval system, pipe cutting and bending machines at the Ølensvåg facility are fully networked. The engineering department creates the necessary machine control programs from customer-supplied drawings or CAD files, or from data derived directly from a physical pipe using a laser-based coordinate measuring machine (CMM). To help simplify the process, Unison has also supplied Westcon with Advanced Tubular Technologies’ powerful VTube software. This generates production-ready programs for tube and pipe benders direct from CAD data, and also translates CMM data for reverse engineering purposes.

Alan Pickering of Unison underlines the significance of the Westcon application.

“Our all-electric tube and pipe bending technology is starting to make major inroads into territory that was once regarded as the sole preserve of hydraulic benders. This has huge implications – and not just for marine vessel and offshore rig outfitting and repair organizations, though these are currently driving the take-up of our larger bending machines. Industries such as nuclear and fossil-fuel power generation, oil and gas refining, and chemical processing also make extensive use of large diameter precision-bent pipes. Accurate and repeatable bending–especially if it involves expensive corrosion resistant alloys – are as important to these industries as any other. Last year, the largest machine that we produced was capable of bending 9-in. diameter tubes and pipes. This year it’s 10 in. We are now entering the domain of process pipe-work, which is an entirely new market.”

Bjørn Garvik, sales manager at the Bergen office of P. Meidell AS, Unison’s sales support partner in Norway, adds that the machine tool market in Nordic countries offers significant growth potential. “Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark all have major shipbuilding interests, which nowadays have to compete with lower labor cost manufacturers in Asia. Automation like Unison’s all-electric tube and pipe bending machines can help companies to meet the challenge of these competitive trading conditions, by significantly improving the efficiency of their production operations.”

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