Steel pipes are long, hollow tubes that are used for a variety of purposes. They are produced by two distinct methods which result in either a welded or seamless pipe. In both methods, raw steel is first cast into a more workable starting form. It is then made into a pipe by stretching the steel out into a seamless tube or forcing the edges together and sealing them with a weld. The first methods for producing steel pipe were introduced in the early 1800s, and they have steadily evolved into the modern processes we use today. Each year, millions of tons of steel pipe are produced. Its versatility makes it the most often used product produced by the steel industry.
Steel pipes are found in a variety of places. Since they are strong, they are used underground for transporting water and gas throughout cities and towns. They are also employed in construction to protect electrical wires. While steel pipes are strong, they can also be lightweight. This makes them perfect for use in bicycle frame manufacture. Other places they find utility is in automobiles, refrigeration units, heating and plumbing systems, flagpoles, street lamps, and medicine to name a few.
People have used pipes for thousands of years. Perhaps the first use was by ancient agriculturalists who diverted water from streams and rivers into their fields. Archeological evidence suggests that the Chinese used reed pipe for transporting water to desired locations as early as 2000 B.C. Clay tubes that were used by other ancient civilizations have been discovered. During the first century A.D. , the first lead pipes were constructed in Europe. In tropical countries, bamboo tubes were used to transport water. Colonial Americans used wood for a similar purpose. In 1652, the first waterworks was made in Boston using hollow logs.
Development of the modern day welded steel pipe can be traced back to the early 1800s. In 1815, William Murdock invented a coal burning lamp system. To fit the entire city of London with these lights, Murdock joined together the barrels from discarded muskets. He used this continuous pipeline to transport the coal gas. When his lighting system proved successful a greater demand was created for long metal tubes. To produce enough tubes to meet this demand, a variety of inventors set to work on developing new pipe making processes.
An early notable method for producing metal tubes quickly and inexpensively was patented by James Russell in 1824. In his method, tubes were created by joining together opposite edges of a flat iron strip. The metal was first heated until it was malleable. Using a drop hammer, the edges folded together and welded. The pipe was finished by passing it through a groove and rolling mill.
Russell's method was not used long because in the next year, Comelius Whitehouse developed a better method for making metal tubes. This process, called the butt-weld process is the basis for our current pipe-making procedures. In his method, thin sheets of iron were heated and drawn through a cone-shaped opening. As the metal went through the opening, its edges curled up and created a pipe shape. The two ends were welded together to finish the pipe. The first manufacturing plant to use
Gradually, improvements were made in the Whitehouse method. One of the most important innovations was introduced by John Moon in 1911. He suggested the continuous process method in which a manufacturing plant could produce pipe in an unending stream. He built machinery for this specific purpose and many pipe manufacturing facilities adopted it.
While the welded tube processes were being developed, a need for seamless metal pipes arouse. Seamless pipes are those which do not have a welded seam. They were first made by drilling a hole through the center of a solid cylinder. This method was developed during the late 1800s. These types of pipes were perfect for bicycle frames because they have thin walls, are lightweight but are strong. In 1895, the first plant to produce seamless tubes was built. As bicycle manufacturing gave way to auto manufacturing, seamless tubes were still needed for gasoline and oil lines. This demand was made even greater as larger oil deposits were found.
As early as 1840, ironworkers could already produce seamless tubes. In one method, a hole was drilled through a solid metal, round billet. The billet was then heated and drawn through a series of dies which elongated it to form a pipe. This method was inefficient because it was difficult to drill the hole in the center. This resulted in an uneven pipe with one side being thicker than the other. In 1888, an improved method was awarded a patent. In this process the solid billed was cast around a fireproof brick core. When it was cooled, the brick was removed leaving a hole in the middle. Since then new roller techniques have replaced these methods.
There are two types of steel pipe, one is seamless and another has a single welded seam along its length. Both have different uses. Seamless tubes are typically more light weight, and have thinner walls. They are used for bicycles and transporting liquids. Seamed tubes are heavier and more rigid. The have a better consistency and are typically straighter. They are used for things such as gas transportation, electrical conduit and plumbing. Typically, they are used in instances when the pipe is not put under a high degree of stress.
Certain pipe characteristics can be controlled during production. For example, the diameter of the pipe is often modified depending how it will be used. The diameter can range from tiny pipes used to make hypodermic needles, to large pipes used to transport gas throughout a city. The wall thickness of the pipe can also be controlled. Often the type of steel will also have an impact on pipe's the strength and flexibility. Other controllable characteristics include length, coating material, and end finish.
The primary raw material in pipe production is steel. Steel is made up of primarily iron. Other metals that may be present in the alloy include aluminum, manganese, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, and zirconium. Some finishing materials are sometimes used during production. For example, paint may be
Steel pipes are made by two different processes. The overall production method for both processes involves three steps. First, raw steel is converted into a more workable form. Next, the pipe is formed on a continuous or semicontinuous production line. Finally, the pipe is cut and modified to meet the customer's needs.
A variety of measures are taken to ensure that the finished steel pipe meets specifications. For example, x-ray gauges are used to regulate the thickness of the steel. The gauges work by utilizing two x rays. One ray is directed at a steel of known thickness. The other is directed at the passing steel on the production line. If there is any variance between the two rays, the gauge will automatically trigger a resizing of the rollers to compensate.
Pipes are also inspected for defects at the end of the process. One method of testing a pipe is by using a special machine. This machine fills the pipe with water and then increases the pressure to see if it holds. Defective pipes are returned for scrap.
Pipe Characteristic Handbook. Williams Natural Gas Company Engineering Group. Pennwell Publishing. 1996.
Kirk Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. John Wiley & Sons. New York: 1992.
Steel Pipe: A Guide for Design and Installation. American Water Works Association. 1989.
— Perry Romanowski