Tube & Pipe

Shape shifting

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Addition Manufacturing Technologies’ VB 25 DR is a compact CNC tube bending machine with dual rotation capability allowing it to perform both right- and left-handed bending rotations for increased versatility.

Manufacturer takes manual manipulation out of the equation with programmable technology for high-end tubing

February 2016 - Tube bending has been called a black art, a process that begs the skilled hands and instincts of a master metalformer. One company, Addition Manufacturing Technologies, has turned the tables by employing technology that has demystified the process for customers experiencing growing pains—namely aerospace.

Demand for commercial aerospace parts has ballooned over the past three years, driven by the need to replace aging and obsolete aircraft and increased passenger traffic globally. Backlogs for deliveries and orders continue to hover at record levels. 

Boeing and Airbus booked more than 85 percent of the world’s jet aircraft deliveries in 2015 valued at $5.6 trillion. But building these planes involves more than just fabricating airframe and engine components. Beneath the sleek skins of these air passenger carriers runs an intricate maze of tubes designed to aid the flow of hydraulic fluid to move the cylinders that move major parts of the aircraft such as the flaps, landing gear, slats and rudder. 

FFJ 0216 tube image1

Introduced at Fabtech 2015, the EG-50 RS Rotary Spin Machine is a fully programmable, all electric end finisher for small diameter tubes up to 2 in.

Made from exotic materials like titanium and Inconel, the tubes are often complex to bend and form because of material properties and the tight tolerances different part shapes require. Yet the equipment used to manipulate tubing is manual; making it difficult for fabricators to meet OEMs’ repeatability and accuracy requirements. The hand-operated processes also consume valuable production time at a rate the rapidly escalating market can ill afford. 

Points of reference

“In the aircraft business, tube batches are run in smaller quantities. Yet, the large variety of different parts means there is more change-over between components,” says Nicolas Dunand, general manager for Addition Manufacturing Technologies’ Queretaro, Mexico-based facility. “Each part change requires a new setup. And because these operations have historically been performed manually, there are no points of reference as an employee would find with equipment that was programmable.” 

Enter operators skilled in the arts of forming and bending using touch, intuition and years of experience to make good parts. “Like other industries, though, aerospace is watching its talent pool shrink and the skills gap grow,” notes Dunand. 

Addition Manufacturing (made up of the former AddisonMckee, Eaton Leonard, Eagle, and Tube Fixture) is based in Lebanon, Ohio, and provides application solutions to the aerospace, automotive and other tube consumers from production facilities in Canada, China, France, Mexico and the United Kingdom. The company’s range of products and services include tube bending, endforming, measuring and silencer making machines as well as tooling, fixtures and after sales service and support.

Looking to shave production setup time, one aerospace prime supplier asked Addition for help in upgrading its aging processes with new technology, in both bending and endforming applications. 

This customer was farming out its coil bending work, which was being performed on a hand-operated bender, says Bob Wolbrink, regional sales manager. “They wanted to bring that operation in-house; do it faster and more economically. A division of the OEM already performed coil bending in-house but their operation was also manual.”

FFJ 0216 tube image2

Tubing produced from exotic materials provides an intricate circulatory system for the hydraulic fluid that powers the cylinders that move major airplane parts.

Addition responded by developing the VB 25 DR CNC tube bender, which it debuted in 2011.

“We have worked with the aircraft industry for many years and we have experience with Inconel and titanium, specifically with our Eaton Leonard product line of tube bending machines,” says Dunand. “If you have never worked with titanium there is a learning curve. We have been at it for 30 years, which is why this OEM contacted us.”

The VB 25 DR CNC takes small-diameter tube bending “to a new level in terms of flexibility and versatility,” says Wolbrink. The CNC tube bender is compact, built for fast changeover and has dual-rotation capability. Parts with rotary draw bends and coils can also be formed quickly using a proven push/bending technique that allows coil diameters to be changed without the need for dedicated coil rolls.

“In rotary draw tube bending, the tube is clamped and drawn around the die,” Wolbrink explains. “In a coil bending operation we don’t wrap the tube around a given die. Instead, tubing is pushed through roller dies to obtain coil geometry before being sent back to the standard draw bending process.”

The adoption of the VB 25 DR CNC has since led the OEM to standardize the tube bending machine. 

Fool-proof finishing

Looking for a more automated and programmable end finisher, the aerospace prime supplier returned to Addition a few years later with a new request. In response, Addition developed the Electra-GREEN, EG-50 RS Rotary Spin Machine, a fully programmable, electric end finisher, designed for small diameter tubes up to 2 in.

“The machine takes parameters like depth, amount of facing, deburring, flaring, beading and squaring and essentially makes these operations foolproof,” Wolbrink says.

In addition to repeatability, improved production and an easy user interface, ergonomic improvements support a more ideal operator position. The EG-50 RS functions as a stand-alone unit or can be placed in an automated cell with the VB 25 DR CNC. 

“The VB 25 DR forms the coil’s basic contour,” explains Dunand. “Then the EG-50-RS finishes the end of the tube. Following these two operations, parts are transferred downstream for assembly.”

FFJ 0216 tube image3

Coil parts produced on the VB 25 DR CNC tube bending machine.

He believes the combination will help this customer “improve production by as much as 40 to 50 percent.” Its programmability also helps to balance the labor skills shortage for customers. “Once initial programming is completed, less experienced operators can run the machine without sacrificing part accuracy or losing production time,” he says.

Besides demonstrating EG-50-RS at Fabtech 2015, Addition introduced an all-electric cutting system: the EG-70 VTPN Vertical Trim Machine. The latter unit, which is more compact than previous iterations, features reduced power usage and noise and eliminates the need for hydraulic fluid. With both its Electra-GREEN and Hydra-GREEN technologies, Addition is committed to using its engineering competencies to find ways to increase output while minimizing environmental impact.

“Most manufacturers are moving away from hydraulically operated tube benders to machines that are fully electric to help customers save on energy and maintain a more sustainable profile,” says Wolbrink. “Electric machines are cleaner and quieter than hydraulic and they typically are faster and easier to set up.”

Addition plans to launch an Electra-GREEN EG-70 RS Rotary Spinning Machine. Similar to the EG-50 RS, this machine has capacity for forming up to 3 in. diameter tubing, used in components that support and facilitate air flow throughout an airplane.

While Addition’s products are myriad and its market reach extensive, Dunand says he can sum up the technology they continue to develop for aerospace and other industries in four words, “all-electric, faster, repeatable and accurate.” FFJ



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