by Bill Atkinson
The popularity of portable pipe cutting equipment is attributable to our reliance on X-ray and/or ultrasonic testing, and the widespread utilization of automatic welding equipment. As the technology of the welding field has advanced and use of automatic orbital welding equipment has become more prevalent, the need for more precise and dedicated end preparation of tube and pipe has increased accordingly. Previous methods of pipe preparation are no longer acceptable.
Today’s offerings range from small machinery designed to cut and square tubing and microfittings, to that capable of severing and single-point machining large-diameter piping in order to generate compound-weld bevels on heavy-wall pipe. Portable equipment is also available for flange facing, sealing surface finishing, boring, grooving, and turning. Plus, there are thousands of tool bits designed specifically for any cutting result required. Unique applications often warrant special engineering and modification of standard tools for a specific purpose.
With so many options offered, it is beneficial to work closely with an equipment manufacturer to acquire the tools exactly suited to the tube- and pipe-cutting work at hand. Following are descriptions of several fundamental categories of portable pipe cutting equipment and the particular usages of each.
The importance of the tubing cutter/squarer has grown significantly due to the introduction of autogenous welding heads for standard and exotic grades of tubing. Equipment of this type is especially helpful when working with microfittings; machinery can be perfectly matched to your fittings, tubing you are working with, and welding equipment.
Typical end users of this equipment are ideally clean room tubing system construction contractors, as well as piping system design and maintenance personnel in industries such as pharmaceutical, biomedical, chemical, research, and other technological fields requiring consistent high purity and precision in the piping system.
End Preparation Machines
The significance of these machines is the ease and speed by which pipe can be squared or “prepped” for welding. Reliable welds are facilitated with repeatable accuracy, with the added advantage of tremendous timesavings when compared to hand grinding and finishing methods.
Accessories for some ID clamping pipe bevelers include single-point modules that produce complex, compound bevels and counterbores, and tracking modules which provide uniform land thickness on out-of-round pipe. A variety of cutting bits are available for these machines, producing many different bevels, depending on the welding process being performed.
Because this type of equipment clamps completely around the OD of the pipe with clamp pads and jackscrews, the split-frame lathe provides a very stable and secure clamp-up when a cut demands the highest level of accuracy. Complex bevels and counterbores can be machined on small to very large, heavy-wall pipe; and where avoidance of contamination is important, these machines produce minimal chips in the pipe.
Specialty machinery can be standard tools with modifications such as alternative power supplies (pneumatic, hydraulic, or electric), or special mounting brackets or baseplates. Or they can be completely custom-built machines for a unique operation. Often, special maintenance procedures on oversized or one-of-a-kind components require the manufacture of one-of-a-kind machinery.
Cuts that require unique machinery include operations which must be accomplished remotely due to hazardous environments, or those performed at high speed for high-volume productions purposes. In other instances, radioactive piping needing maintenance or removal require that pipe be cut without the production of chips, necessitating a specially-designed tool. Underwater operations or automated operations can also necessitate specialty machinery. Though specialized, some machinery still require secondary operations to produce finished bevels suitable for use with automatic welding.
Remember that the best machine in the world is still merely a carrier for the tool bit doing the work. Inferior cutting bits will undermine every strength built into the machine. Like a high performance race car on worn or inappropriate tires, it simply won’t perform.
Conditions encountered while working on piping systems determine when and what accessories are needed as well as the type of equipment and the cutting method used. For example: When pipes are found to be out-of-round, wheeled OD or ID tracker accessories can direct the path of the cutting bit, accurately cutting the pipe while simultaneously following the out-of-round shape. Or, in instances where compensation for out-of-round is not enough, pipe clamps can be used in conjunction with cutting tools to correct and reform the pipe while the cut is being performed.
Selecting the Proper Equipment and Service
Anyone who designs, constructs, and maintains today’s complex and sophisticated fluid management systems can benefit from the many years of development and experience that goes into contemporary pipe cutting equipment design. Portable pipe cutting equipment can significantly improve the costs, reliability, and maintenance efficiency of piping systems, regardless of complexity, application, or the industry involved.