Unison wins $2.5m bending machine order

Scarborough-based Unison has won an order worth over $2.5m to supply tube-bending machinery to Northrop Grumman Newport News for aircraft carrier production.

The order, for three of Unison’s Breeze machines to bend tubes of up to 15cm in diameter, plus tooling and spares, is the company’s largest to date. It was secured in conjunction with the company’s USA partner, Horn Machine Tools, with delivery due to start in April 2007.

The machinery will provide the shipbuilder with the means to fabricate the shaped tube parts required for ships’ systems. As each section of the aircraft carrier is built, the data for each part in that section will be downloaded automatically from the design database.

Unison’s machines are all-electric, using servo motors to control the bending process, rather than manually-controlled hydraulics. According to Unison, this provides very precise bending under software control, allowing each operation to be configured automatically from downloaded design data, and repeatedly replicated as required. The technology is suitable for the small batch production environment of shipbuilding, where many component parts are fabricated in very small quantities.

Unison will fit the machines with a laser measurement system which will automatically measure the final dimensions of each part as it is fabricated, and compare it against the specification to check that it is within tolerance. This process will ensure that any minor variations in the tubing shape are compensated for automatically.

The machines include energy saving features, and only consume a significant amount of energy when they are actually performing a bend. A hydraulic bender, by contrast, typically consumes energy all of the time, as the system’s hydraulic fluid has to be maintained at a high pressure. Unison expects all-electric operation to reduce the power consumption for these machines by as much as 90 per cent compared to similar hydraulic benders.