NORFOLK, Va. - Capturing complex bends on pipes is an art form members of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) Pipe Group have harnessed for many years. Now entering a more modern era with a new dual-head pipe bending machine, NNSY is able to create more precise bends in a fraction of the time, thanks to modern, automated controls.
Originally, pipe benders would have to work on a semi-automatic machine where everything would have to be measured exactly and each bend would have to be checked with a protractor to guarantee the needed dimensions were captured. It was tedious work and there was a risk of wasted material should the measurements not equate to what was needed.
"With one job, it would take us a day or more to set up the pipes on the machines and measure everything out," said Tommy Whitaker, Pipe Bender Work Leader. "It would be cumbersome but necessary to double check our measurements with every bend. Plus, we would have to be experienced with the work and account for spring back from the pipes after the bends are complete. It took up man-hours and materials to get the job done."
"Being fully automatic, we can set up the pipe on the machine and input our coordinates into the computer. As long as we have the X, Y, and Z coordinates, the machine will bend it with ease and it will be precise measurements," added Whitaker. "The machine is able to check the measurements and ensure it stays on track and it also accounts for the spring back from the pipe. It's user-friendly and with it, we're able to have the most precise bends we've ever had. What's more, it's done in such a timely manner. Altogether I would say that it's approximately taking us a third of the time to bend the pipes with the new machine than what it used to on the older machines. Those savings are huge for us."
With the new dual-head pipe bending machine that was secured thanks to NNSY's Production Facility and Equipment Management Division, the pipe group is already seeing significant improvements in its day-to-day work.
"It's our job to find the most modern technology that would best benefit the shipyard. With this new machine, there would be less man-hours needed to set-up and perform the work and it would save money on materials. But most importantly, it would benefit the team doing the work," said Alexandra Reid of the Production Facility and Equipment Management Division. "We're happy to see the Pipe Group excited for this new technology."
NNSY Piping Group Superintendent John Tuthill envisions his team modernizing its technology and coming up with new and more efficient ways to get the job done. "It's fantastic to have these new tools and technologies at our fingertips and I appreciate all the help we've had to get us to this point," said Tuthill. "It's a huge savings in cost but also it benefits my people in making their job easier and more efficient. We in the Pipe Group want to take care of our people while they're getting the job done and we feel with this technology we can best accomplish that goal."
According to those involved in attaining this machine, this is just another incremental step towards modernization for the shipyard. "In the next couple years, we're going to be continuing to modernize the technology across the shipyard to support the Navy's mission and to support our workforce," said Raphael Gagnon, NNSY industrial engineering branch supervisor. "We're excited for what innovative technologies will come next."