TUBE® expo provides news, clues about the state of the industry
June 13, 2012
Interviews with several TUBE exhibitors revealed that the energy industry remains the biggest driver in the tube and pipe industry. The opportunities aren’t just in oil and gas, but also wind and even nuclear, despite the Fukushima incident. Meanwhile, a few vendors have come up with machines and processes that reduce tube and pipe consumption and waste, helping the industry deal with fluctuating metals prices.
“Oil and gas are the drivers right now,” said Karl Kunkel, global strategy director for Quaker Chemical Corp., commenting on the state of the tube and pipe industry. Quaker’s position as a global supplier of metalworking process fluids and coatings to the pipe industry gives the company a comprehensive view of worldwide manufacturing trends.
Many other exhibitors at the TUBE® expo in Düsseldorf, Germany (April 26-30) agreed with Kunkel’s statement, and it’s not hard to see why: The spot price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was about $105 per barrel in late March. This seems like a bargain compared to the price in July 2008, when it hit $145 per barrel. On the other hand, $105 seems pricey, considering that WTI didn’t exceed $50 per barrel until 2004. In any case, the price isn’t likely to fall much anytime soon. According to the Dept. of Energy’s Short-term Energy Outlook (March 6, 2012), the world’s oil consumption is expected to outpace production during 2012 and 2013, maintaining upward pressure on the price and encouraging continued exploration and drilling activity.
While the demand is growing, the industry is adapting to the search for increasingly difficult-to-recover petroleum.
“We see a movement toward premium pipes by the major producers,” Kunkel said. “Oil companies are drilling deeper wells, so they need pipe with better corrosion resistance and strength characteristics. Quaker has been selling threading coolants for a long time. Threading pipe that meets standard American Petroleum Institute (API) specifications is not very difficult, but premium pipe is a different story—the interaction between the tooling and the material is different.”
The company also has been formulating new products in response to health concerns and environmental compliance. The allowable levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been decreasing for years, and regulations around the world are becoming even more stringent.
“The industry is moving toward water-based corrosion protection products wherever possible because it is generally understood that solvent-based products may not be as good for worker health and safety,” Kunkel said. “Many water-based coatings still need small amounts of solvents so they coalesce, but we now have some zero-VOC and near-zero-VOC products,” he said.
Meanwhile, the growth in the petroleum industry is driving other demands. Kunkel cited the harsh conditions where much of the world’s oil reserves are located, in North Africa and throughout the Middle East. Much ofthe world’s oil is found in desert regions, where temperatures can vary as much as 50 degrees F in a day, and in coastal regions where the pipe is exposed to salt air.
The company’s response is QUAKERCOAT® 394, a low-VOC coating for temporary protection of OCTG pipes. The VOC content is 14g/L, which is one-tenth the maximum stipulated by European directive 2004/42/EC, according to the company. Intended to withstand temperature swings from 45 degrees F to 120 degrees F, pipes coated at 30 microns thick have been protected from corrosion during six months of storage in both a coastal desert region and in a European industrial area, according to Quaker.
Of course, drilling for oil and gas is just one part of the energy industry. Making heat exchangers for nuclear power applications also is a growth area for pipe, said Doug Moravits, international sales manager for equipment manufacturer Eaton Leonard, Cologne, France. Although the incident at Japan’s Fukushima power plant might hasten the closures of some plants in the developed world, nuclear power remains a critical element in the future of power generation for many countries.
“The straight tube is usually 30 meters long, and it needs a single 180-degree bend,” Moravits said, describing a typical tube for this sort of application. “They need to bend it right the first time because the material is INCONEL®, and it’s very expensive,” he said. Although bending cold-works the tube, which complicates the process, this is the easy part.
“Material handling is the tricky part for such long tubes,” Moravits said. Needless to say, a facility for this sort of fabrication takes up quite a bit of room. The company’s expertise doesn’t end with benders.
“For one customer, we set up a plant that is half the size of a football field,” Moravits said. “It has everything needed to cut, hydrotest, trim, deburr, heat-treat the bend, and do all the material handling.”
Likewise, Th. Wortelboer B.V., Malden, Netherlands, is well-positioned to serve the energy industry, specifically oil and gas, and others that use a lot of pipe. A manufacturer of cutting, beveling, and polishing machines for tube and pipe, the company recently redesigned and improved its PBM line to machine wall thickness up to 1 in. in a single pass. The machines also have been improved with a variety of additions, some simple and some complex.
“Some customers wanted a lamp, so a lamp is now standard on the machines,” said company owner Norbert Wortelboer. “We have also upgraded the feeding system, and we have CNC on the 16-in. (435-mm) as well as on the 30-in. (780-mm) diameter machines. We also have improved the motor speeds to reduce the machining time,” he said.
The company’s TPP 5090 pneumatic polishing machine is another example of a tool that can help reduce tube and pipe preparation time. Equipped with two wheels, the D and S models prepare pipe ends for welding by stripping rust, paint, and coatings from the OD and ID simultaneously. They also can strip two sides of a plate at the same time.
Laser cutting machines also have been adopted for use in conventional and emerging energy applications, according to Fabio Migliorati, sales director for laser equipment manufacturer Tube Tech Machinery, Brescia, Italy.
One example is a tube with slots near one end, used for oilfield steam injection. An enhanced oil recovery process, steam injection decreases the oil’s viscosity, making it easier to pump. The slotted tube isn’t a new concept, but using a laser improves the slots, Migliorati said.
The offshore wind industry is another lucrative market, in part because it has changed substantially over the years.
“The wind towers initially were monopods; then tripods; and now they are on platforms on the seabed, Migliorati said. “These structures have quite a bit of tube.”
Tube Tech Machinery saw an opportunity to supply entire processing lines for this application, providing automated part handling, cutting, robotic fixturing, and robotic welding.
Of course, the use of lasers goes well beyond the energy industry. They have caught on for manufacturing all manner of goods, and their versatility has secured their place in this industry. They have ushered in the era of mass customization.
“Every product is a new product—there are no standard features these days,” Migliorati said.
Resource conservation was another theme at the expo. Big swings in steel prices cause big swings in tube and pipe prices, so anyone who uses these goods has an interest in reducing the amount of material they use and, if possible, eliminating the amount they waste. Several exhibitors introduced products aimed at using and wasting less tube and pipe.
Industries as varied as pharmaceutical processing, food processing, boiler construction, and aerospace are using less material than before by increasing their use of thin-walled tubing, said Andreas Lier, international sales manager for Orbitalum Tools GmbH, Singen, Germany. Two of its pipe end preparation tools, BRB 2 and BRB 4, handle walls thicknesses down to 0.08 in. The tools are equipped with the company’s NC clamping system, which uses wedges anchored in the mandrel to prevent foreign bodies from entering the pipe. Another option is a brush attachment that likewise prevents chips from getting into the pipe.
Sawing machine and peripherals manufacturer RSA, Schwerte, Germany, also provides a waste-reducing conveyor system. The company’s core technology is sawing systems, such as its Rasacut SH 300, which handles walled tubes and pipes and solid bars up to 11.75 in. (300 mm) dia. in lengths up to 45 ft. (14 m), and its CC 90 and CC 90-2, which provide single cuts on diameters up to 3.5 in. (90 mm) and double cuts on diameters up to 1.75 in. (45 mm), respectively. In addition to equipment for deburring, chamfering, washing, and drying, it also makes a bidirectional conveyor system ideal for service centers—it sends remnants back to the warehouse for use in filling subsequent orders.
Bender manufacturer Schwarze-Robitec GmbH, Cologne, Germany, developed a new way to bend short-length components. Conventional practice calls for making bent components with additional straight material at each end so the tube can be clamped and cut to the correct length.
“This practice drives up the manufacturing costs for a component,” said Managing Director Bert Zorn. “We have therefore produced a solution which not only reduces the required material quantity [but] also shortens the production time.”
After a commercial length of tube is introduced to the bender, the machine advances the tube, makes the necessary bends, then separates the finished component from the rest of the tube. The remaining straight length of tube is advanced into the bender and the process starts over. In each case, only a narrow shaving is wasted at each cut.
“Only at the front and rear ends of the tube does waste occur that cannot be used, which is conveyed out of the machine,” added Hartmut Stöhr, another managing director. The company claims that it reduces up to 90 percent of the waste of a conventional bend-and-cut process.
Steel consumption isn’t the only area where fabricators can conserve re-sources. Water is another precious commodity, and Quaker has developed a product concept called 2PAQ to help fabricators reduce water consumption. A two-part coolant and cleaner, it is suitable for a variety of metals operations. When used as a cleaner for cutting operations, the fluid can be reused by sending it to the cutting fluid tanks to top up the emulsions. Reusing the cleaner for this purpose, instead of water, reduces the costs associated with water consumption and water treatment. Also, because it is formulated in a variety of solution ratios—the alkaline and oil phases mixed into water—to meet many needs, it helps metal fabricators reduce their inventory of coolants and cleaners.
TUBE Expo Statistics
The TUBE 2012 expo was similar to the 2010 expo in the number of exhibitors and the geographic mix. The big difference between 2012 and 2010 was the increase in floor space, which was up nearly 10 percent, and the number of visitors, which was up more than 8 percent.
Best Display of Tube
Wiederholt’s booth was adorned with an automobile rich in tube, the Ariel Atom. The chassis uses both electric resistance welded (ERW) and cold-drawn seamless (CDS) tubing. Weighing little more than 1,000 lbs., it’s powered by a 2.4-liter engine. The high power-to-weight ratio enables the supercharged version to accelerate from 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds. The U.K. manufacturer, Ariel Motor Co., claims that it’s the fastest production car in the world.
“Some of the tubing is visible, but quite a bit of it is hidden in the car,” said Dr. Johannes Fien, product development manager for Vicenz Wiederholt GmbH, a German manufacturer of high-tolerance, precision steel tubing and components. The company’s products are used in forklifts, elevators, hydroforming applications, and, of course, automobiles.
“A typical car uses about 15 meters of precision steel tubing,” he said.Shock absorbers and hydraulic lines are conventional uses, but another application, camshafts, is a growth area.
“Only about 40 percent of camshafts are made from tube,” Fien said. “Changing from a solid bar to tube is needed to reduce weight, so it’s likely that more camshafts will be made from tube in the future. It has an advantage in lubrcation, too, because you can push oil through a tube. You can’t do that with a solid camshaft.”
The driveshaft continues to be another viable tubular component, although in smaller numbers in the past. Necessary to connect the transmission to the differential on rear-wheel-drive vehicles, driveshafts aren’t needed on front-wheel-drive vehicles. However, front wheel drive isn’t universal.
“SUVs still need driveshafts,” Fien said.
Most Unique Use of Tube
Lengths of tubing have become a key element in preserving the centuries-old Swedish warship Vasa. While its heavy armament made it among the most formidable ships of its time, the design was unstable and it sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628. It was brought to the surface in 1961, restored, and has been on display ever since. Despite its catastrophic maiden voyage, the ship has been a source of pride for decades.
Part of the 1961 restoration effort involved replacing the hardware that had rusted away during three centuries on the seabed. In 2007 it was discovered that the replacement bolts were corroding, and the corrosion was damaging the wood, meaning the hardware would have to be replaced again. The staff at the Vasa Museum contacted Sandvik to come up with a suitable material. Sandvik metallurgists determined that a proprietary alloy, Sandvik SAF 2707 HD®, would be the optimal choice. The alloy is a duplex stainless steel frequently used in highly corrosive environments.
It’s not a simple piece of hardware. This type of bolt is an assembly that consists of several components: a tube, a bar, nuts, washers, and springs. Each of the bolts is unique and adapted to the specific length and position of the original hardware. Full replacement of the 5,500 bolts is expected to be a five-year project.