Clean, green production efficiency underpins tube-bending machinery upgrades at leading truck parts manufacturer
A leading subcontract manufacturer of large-diameter tubular parts to the US heavy truck industry, Tube Specialties Company (TSCO), is installing five new-generation CNC tube-bending machines from Unison. The machines offer all-electric bending capability based on precision servomotors, and will be used to fabricate a very broad range of tubular parts from brake lines to large diameter exhaust pipes, mainly for clients in the automotive sector.
TSCO is one of the most successful subcontractors serving the competitive US truck and automotive manufacturing sector, and these machines are the latest capital investment designed to help it maintain its leadership position. The new all-electric machines support the company in terms of helping it to keep its costs down, and to respond more flexibly to the just-in-time manufacturing demands of many of its clients.
TSCO, which operates from three sites in Oregon, North Carolina and Mexico, selected Unison’s brand of all-electric benders over traditional hydraulically powered machines for two main reasons: reductions in scrap and energy savings.
Over recent years the batch sizes requested by many of TSCO’s clients have become much smaller, and order quantities ranging up to around 50 now account for a majority of production output. Many of these parts are produced to meet the just-in-time demand of the truck manufacturers’ assembly lines, and are often delivered several times daily to the point of use.
The company already has dozens of hydraulically powered bending machines. When setting up a hydraulic tube-bending machine for a new batch of parts, it is fairly common to create one and sometimes two pieces of scrap before the desired shape is achieved. By contrast, Unison’s all-electric machines can reload the program and replicate the set-up conditions under software control, thanks to the closed-loop and precise nature of the way the bending axes are controlled – typically eliminating all scrap in day-to-day operations.
TSCO bends a lot of stainless steel tubing, and material costs have risen sharply. It typically has around 25,000 active part numbers on its books at any time, so production is also constantly changing. As many of the machines that TSCO operates might be used to produce between five and 10 different parts each day, the elimination of routinely generated scrap easily results in savings of several tens of thousands of dollars a year for each all-electric bending machine – substantially shortening the payback times for this new production automation investment. TSCO also notes that Unison’s all-electric machines are configured significantly faster than hydraulic machines, further increasing production uptime.
Repeatability of bending
Director of Equipment, Procurement and Maintenance for TSCO Tom Kreofsky comments: “We have had some all-electric Unison machines for several years and the repeatability of bending is excellent. On one of these machines for example, I know that over some two years of production there has been no scrap at all. And this machine is often used to fabricate very complex part shapes, including a 12-foot brake tube that has 12 bends.”
The second key advantage of the new machines for TSCO is energy saving. The cost of electricity has also risen significantly in previous years, and conventional hydraulically powered benders typically consume energy continually as their hydraulic fluid needs to be maintained at high pressure. The new Unison all-electric machines only consume a significant amount of energy when actually performing a bend. The energy savings are believed to be of the order of 90 per cent.
The five new Unison tube-bending machines offer bending capability that can fabricate tubes ranging in size from small bore tubing up to 130mm, and will be used to manufacture a very wide range of parts from hydraulic tubes, to components for the water coolant system, and exhaust pipes. Some of the new machines will move to the company’s latest plant in Mexico following initial proving periods at one of the company’s main US production sites, where programming and bending tool and die manufacture will take place.
This investment is the latest in a number of purchases of Unison all-electric machines that TSCO has made going back to 2006. Although the company continues to run a very large number of hydraulic machines, the advantages of all-electric bending architectures are so great that all-electric technology is preferred for most new machine acquisitions.
TSCO also rates Unison’s all-electric machines because of the technical support. If there is a problem, Unison can access any machine via a secure internet connection, which allows them to run test routines remotely and diagnose problems. This facility has been used a couple of times with problems diagnosed within 15–20 minutes each time, minimising machine downtime.
Range of shapes
Another advantage for TSCO is the greater range of shapes that can be programmed, thanks to the wider range of mandrel positions that Unison machines can typically perform, providing the means to fabricate complex parts easily, and eliminate the need for welding sections together.
Commenting on the order, Unison’s CEO Alan Pickering says: “The sheer range of parts that TSCO produces, and the fact that most of their work is for the extremely price-competitive truck and automotive business, makes this application particularly challenging. TSCO is a highly sophisticated user of tube-bending machines and as we were also competing against other all-electric machine vendors we are doubly delighted to have won this business.”
Although the new bending machines are important assets for the company’s evolving business operations, TSCO’s continued success has been built on the company’s ‘can-do’ attitude towards meeting its customers’ needs. For instance, on occasions TSCO has devoted a plant’s entire production capacity at weekends to meeting a single customer’s needs, to help a company manage its production targets. TSCO also willingly takes on many added-value services, such as sorting parts deliveries into packages for specific trucks that are being produced, to make life easier for its customers.
To find out more about Unison’s all-electric tube-bending machines, visit the website at www.unisonltd.com.