Tube & Pipe

Safer by design

By Bill Atkinson, Tri Tool Inc.

Above: An operator uses a safer “no pinch point” tube and pipe machine.

Revolutionary advances in safer tube and pipe machinery can be a direct result of the evolutionary nature of product development

April 2017 - It’s remarkable how fast changes occur in devices we use every day. Living in an era of seemingly boundless innovation, products are introduced and then continuously refined through competition, regulation, improved technology, liability, labor and material costs, and consumer demand.

Amazingly, many society-altering inventions can progress from inspiration to something recognized worldwide in a single lifespan. Many people born in 1906 (the year the Wright Bros. were issued their flying machine patent) witnessed astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969, a mere 63 years later.

The automobile aptly illustrates the evolutionary nature of product safety. When “horseless carriages” first appeared, featuring low power and speed, they were hardly faster than their horse-drawn counterparts. Seatbelts were not conceived for  until much later, when increased vehicle performance and shocking fatality rates made them mandatory. 

Over the years automakers competed on style and comfort, believing that “big and solid was logically safer” in car design. But as fuel economy became necessary, other types of technologies stepped in, providing a computer-aided solution. The “crumple zone” theory for crash safety proved very effective with smaller, lighter vehicles and remains in use. Letting a car absorb impact around the passengers is safer than using a rigid structure.

FFJ 0417 tube image1

This portable pipe beveler is designed without external pinch points.

When Volkswagen decided in 1998 to reintroduce the Beetle, it had been out of production since 1977. VW had to compete in a market dominated by large, heavy sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks. The little car had to undergo a metamorphosis. The Beetle was redesigned to meet the demands of a safety-conscious public including a front-mounted engine and enough air bags and other features to earn a 5-star Safety Rating from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Without that all-important endorsement, the earlier perceptions of questionable safety would doom the re-release before it rolled off the assembly line.

Today, futuristic marketing concepts blur the lines between car safety and extravagance with features that monitor and report your driving style, watch other cars to the side and back, shine headlights around corners, park themselves, alert you and brake when you are about to rear end someone, and even lock the ignition if you fail a breath analyzer test. Carmakers learned that driving safety is something that progressively minded customers have come to expect and demand in newer models. 

Safety awareness

In the workplace, equipment injuries are like anti-matter to a company’s reputation, despite how well their products perform.

All manufacturers, including those producing machine tools for tube and pipe, are responding to the growing demands for product safety. Although the promotion of product safety has been so glaringly evident in almost every walk of life, there are still those in the industrial world who do not comprehend the disastrous consequences of ignoring or resisting the incorporation of safety features in production and assembly lines. 

Large, self-contained, floor-mounted pipe production and finishing machinery provides an excellent platform for comprehensive workstation safety. Smaller, portable tube and pipe machinery that is designed to mount into a pipe end for support have numerous rotating elements that can create unsafe “pinch points,” entangle clothing or power cords and can present a serious hazard to operator safety, especially when used in confined spaces.

Engineers must make critical determinations on how their company’s products are used or misused. The use of tube and pipe machinery, like countless other pieces of industrial equipment, has the potential to result in serious injury. Occupational safety training programs typically mitigate many of the risks of complex, powerful rotating machinery through better operator education and hazard awareness. 

Known potential hazards are listed in product and operator manuals, but often these are best-practice guidelines incapable of covering all possible situations and environments in which the equipment could be operated. 

Operator safety cannot automatically be built into tube and pipe machines, especially when considering that machinery is not always used correctly or by a skilled, qualified operator. Any time machinery is used beyond its design limitations, used in a state of disrepair, used with incorrect bits or consumables, or improper accessories, the likelihood of operator injury is greatly increased.

With enlightened and responsible machine design, equipment makers can provide much higher levels of built-in safeguards to prevent many occupational hazards. 

A manufacturer’s ability to introduce safety features or eliminate known hazards without compromising performance or precision ensures that their products are a compelling choice in a time when everyone should be fully aware of the extreme  medical and financial consequences associated with workplace accidents. 

FFJ 0417 tube image2

The tube cutter safety guard prevents finger cuts and flying debris.

Safety innovation

Clearly, the correct solution is for tube and pipe equipment manufacturers to consider the end user’s safety as foremost over any other aspect of the machine design. Designers must constantly innovate to incorporate every practical safety solution into their product design as possible. This can be accomplished by thoroughly reviewing industrial accidents with the goal of preventing recurrence.

An extensive dialog with equipment operators can reveal safety issues that they experience on a daily basis.  To those who argue incorporating more safety features increases the machinery costs substantially, they should consider that the real costs of a single accident are likely many times the price of the safer machine, not to mention preventing the loss of life or limb.

With some tube and pipe machinery, hazardous pinch points are created when protruding elements rotate closely past stationary structures on the machine body, or in the machine’s immediate surroundings—as can occur when rotating machinery is operated in confined spaces. 

This danger increases with machines that offer higher rotating speeds. Reduced cut times offer dramatically higher production rates, but this faster cutting speed sometimes means the operator is working dangerously close to the rotating tool bit holders that pass in close proximity to power input structures and mounting elements.

The pinch point hazard has been recently eliminated by the release of advanced, high-performance tube and pipe cutting equipment that introduces patented proprietary bearings that internalize components that previously created pinch points. This new type of machine is considerably less prone to injure or entangle the operator or components.

One approach to reduce pinch point hazards has been the use of a remote control pendant that permits the operator to stand further away while the machine rotates. This method is adequate when you have sufficient space, but is comparable to painting the ends of an airplane propeller for higher awareness of the spinning hazard. The more responsible way to eliminate this hazard is to produce a machine that removes rotating protrusions.

Cutting bit engagement controls and motor input points should be located far from any rotating elements of a machine. Rotating frames or headstocks should lock to prevent inadvertent load shifting when machines are handled. 

And, whenever possible, mechanical adjustments should be accomplished without requiring removal of parts from a tool that might be dropped onto workers below. 

Specifying and equipping your workforce with the safest tube and pipe equipment available can give you an invaluable competitive advantage when underwriting projects at the planning stage and will also contribute positively to company safety ratings, an important consideration for contract service providers. 

Meanwhile, automakers are testing self-driving cars. Does this suggest that ultimate safety is achieved only by removing human error? If that’s the case, it’s possible that operator safety will become a moot point when machines cut and weld tubes and pipe on their own without any human intervention. 

We all know that machines never make mistakes or fail. Right? FFJ


  • Tri Tool
    Rancho Cordova, California
    phone: 916/288-6100

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