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From ‘pipe dream’ to reality at Alltube

Northants company’s portable CMM simplifies the measurement of complex free-form 3-D shapes

Posted on 11 Apr 2020 and read 1409 times
From ‘pipe dream’ to reality at AlltubeBased in Daventry, Alltube Engineering Ltd manufactures a comprehensive range of flexible and rigid pipeline products.

Established in 1986 as part of a small group — and becoming a privately owned business in 2007 — Alltube has significantly increased its output in the areas of tube and pipe manipulation and fabrication, while also boosting its hydraulic- and pneumatic-hose assembly activities.

The ISO 9001:2015-approved company serves a diverse UK customer base in a range of industries, including agriculture, construction, bus, truck and rail.

Moreover, its in-house technical expertise means that Alltube can work closely with customers in the areas of prototyping, product development and support, as well as full-scale production.

To help ensure the ‘ease of installation and performance’ of its products, it adheres to a rigorous quality management system.

Moreover, many of the company’s rigid pipes are designed to be installed in confined areas; they also feature extremely intricate free-form 3-D shapes and have demanding dimensional and geometrical tolerances.

In addition to a variety of quality control tools, Alltube uses a ‘fixed’ co-ordinate measuring machine (CMM) to inspect its products and produce customer quality reports.

However, the sheer size and complexity of many of the company’s larger tubes and pipes mean that the CMM cannot always be used.

Needing to find a ‘flexible’ means of accurately measuring the entire product range, Alltube’s technical director, Paul Fuller, recently searched for a suitable large-capacity high-precision solution.

After various options had been considered, an in-depth demonstration of a Faro QuantumE ScanArm from Rugby-based Faro Technologies UK Ltd (www.faro.com) resulted in Mr Fuller selecting this portable CMM as the ideal solution for the company’s inspection needs.

Moreover, not only did the QuantumE have the required capacity, accuracy, speed and ease of use, it could also link to the company’s CNC bending machines.

Worthy reputation

Mr Fuller said: “Alltube has a long-established reputation as a major supplier of flexible and rigid pipeline products to many of the UK’s leading OEMs across a wide variety of markets; and between them, our directors have over 100 years of in-depth experience in engineering that enables the company to supply customers with the best possible solutions.

“However, a significant problem we have is that the fitting of pipework — including hydraulic pipes — is rarely considered when customers undertake new projects, such as the design of commercial vehicles or buses.

Pipe dream“As a result, we are often given finished vehicle designs and challenged to create relatively long and convoluted hydraulic pipe runs that will avoid obstructions, pass through the most limited of spaces, not rub on areas such as vehicle chassis — or interfere with any of the vehicle’s moving parts.

“A vitally important aspect of our products is that many of our hydraulic pipes play a critical role in vehicles’ braking systems, so it is extremely important that, to prevent pipe abrasion and eventual failure, they are manufactured in such a way that no unintentional chafing occurs via contact with vehicle parts, but achieving optimum 3-D pipe shapes is never easy.

“For instance, a bend with a small angular error at one end of a long pipe can result in an inaccuracy of several millimetres at the other end.

“Hence, the designs we have to work to often feature demanding 3-D geometric forms with extremely tight dimensional and geometrical tolerances.

“To ensure that each manufactured hydraulic pipe adheres to the required design specification, we thoroughly inspect each product before dispatch.

“Furthermore, because the use of ‘physical measuring devices’ for inspecting rigid pipes is both cumbersome and extremely long-winded, we selected the QuantumE ScanArm — fitted with a FaroBlu Laser Line Probe (LLP) SD.

“Tests showed that it was not only quick and easy to use but also more accurate than our previously used inspection method — and it can link to our CNC pipe-bending machines to automatically generate comprehensive customer inspection reports.

“The combination of QuantumE FaroArm and FaroBlu LLP can undertake both contact and non-contact measurement; and by using the ScanArm’s 3-D laser scanning capabilities, we have cut our inspection times by about 90% — along with our delivery times.

“Moreover, since using the QuantumE for our pipe inspection routines, we have found further uses for it — including undertaking previously difficult-to-achieve reverse-engineering applications.

“Also, unlike our static CMM, it is extremely useful that the QuantumE is portable and quick to set up.

“As a result, beside the ScanArm being used throughout our inspection and production departments, we can take it to our customers’ premises for on-site measuring tasks.”