Precision aerospace tubular parts fabricator chooses all-electric CNC tube bender to combat emerging challenges

PUBLISHED: 28 Jan 11

SL Engineering has clients in markets such as aerospace engines, airframes and aircraft services, power generation, marine applications, medical equipment and automotive and rail transportation
SL Engineering has clients in markets such as aerospace engines, airframes and aircraft services, power generation, marine applications, medical equipment and automotive and rail transportation

One of the UK's premier specialist tube bending fabricators, SL Engineering, has selected an all-electric CNC bending machine to help it meet emerging technical challenges.

Made by the UK's only all-electric tube bender manufacturer, Unison, the new machine has recently been commissioned and is already playing a key role in the company's day-to-day production.

"We specified a bending machine that provides more capabilities than normal - to position us for the challenges we are starting to see," says SL Engineering's Engineering Director Steve Eggleton. "Among these capabilities are a multiple-tool stack and roll-form tooling - allowing us to handle very complex parts with multi-radius bends in a single stage, plus extra-high-torque bending axes, and a special compact bend head that minimises collision risks. These features enhance our ability to bend exotic alloys, and to reduce process stages on complex shapes."

The new machine can bend tube diameters up to 30 mm, a size that handles well over half of the company's regular workload.

Automatic set-up and easy to use software were key factors in the selection process of the new all-electric Unison machine, along with the extreme accuracy and repeatability from batch to batch made possible by the machine's closed-loop control system. SL Engineering is now exploiting these advantages by writing bending programs for all of its regular portfolio of parts. The higher throughput that the Unison machine provides has made it the first choice for new tube bending projects.

SL Engineering has a client base that includes major OEMs in markets such as aerospace engines, airframes and aircraft services, power generation, marine applications, medical equipment and automotive and rail transportation.

In addition to precision tube bending, the 45 strong Sleaford-based company has made large investments in advanced CNC multi-axis mill turn lathes to enable it to machine virtually any type of pipe end-fitting. Combined with extensive computerised orbital and manual TIG welding and brazing facilities, plus NDT dye-penetrant, x-ray and air/hydraulic pressure testing equipment, SL has the capability to manufacture highly complex tube assemblies.

Commenting on the order, Unison's Key Account Manager, Steve Haddrell said: "SL Engineering operates in the most demanding sector of the tube bending market, where there is no margin for error and where small batch sizes and expensive materials are the norm, so to have our machine selected to help it meet both current and future bending challenges is a great accolade."

The Unison machine selected is a Breeze 30, and incorporates a new real-time Ethernet control system architecture, as well as a major new release of Unison's programming and control software. The all-electric architecture provides tube benders with significant performance benefits in terms of set-up speed, repeatability, a dramatic reduction in the volume of scrapped parts, lower energy consumption and noise reduction compared with traditional hydraulically powered machinery.

Unison pioneered all-electric tube bending in the 1990s, and has played a seminal role in establishing the trend that today sees software-controlled, servomotor-based bending machines the number-one choice for virtually all small-to-medium diameter applications involving high precision, small batch sizes and high value tubing materials.

The real-time machine control and servomotor-based bending system is networked using the deterministic Ethernet-compatible Powerlink protocol. The 100 Mbits/second speed of the network makes it possible to coordinate the movement of the various servomotor axes used during bending - such as the carriage, plane of bend, and clamp roller - more rapidly, allowing Unison to improve the speed of bending for many common tasks.

The quality of bend shapes and wall thickness is also improved on Unison's latest-generation machine thanks to finer real-time control over the motion profiles used by the key bending axes which move as the rotary draw bending process takes place - such as the carriage and the follower die. Real-time interpolation of multiple axes is also supported by the machine's new motion control architecture. In particular, this allows Unison to equip the machine with extremely flexible roll-forming tooling that is able to vary the radius of bending with great precision. Other benefits include much-improved diagnostics and data collection, which can assist with both programming and maintenance, and easy connection to factory networks for changing programs, reporting production metrics, etc.

The new programming and operating software supplied with the tube bender includes a collision checking capability that helps users to program the machine for complex part shapes. Bending operations are visualised using a 3D model of the machine. If users see any potential collision problems, bend sequences can be modified and intervening carriage and rotation movements can be employed to ensure the part can be manufactured easily. Programming itself can be achieved typically in a couple of minutes by entering new ISO, XYZ or YBC values (distance tube is pushed out, rotation, and degree of bend), linking from CAD or measuring machines, adapting an existing template, or interactively teaching the machine.

Unison Ltd, UK
Tel: + 44 1723 582868

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