From Hewlett Packard to Apple to Amazon, the list of companies that can claim to have started in someone’s garage is legendary. Each can trace its start-up to one or more founders launching a new enterprise in a workspace shared with lawnmowers and bicycles.
Add one more name to that list: Tube-Line Technologies, of Oceanside, CA (www. tube-linetechnologies.com). The company, founded in April 2018, built its first machine in the founder’s garage to serve a segment of customers needing precision tube-bending machines for their operations.
According to Andy Gilmour, Tube-Line’s founder and president, the company has built its growth on a team of tube-forming professionals with combined 300 years of experience in the industry. The company’s success is also built on collaborative partnerships with key technology suppliers, including Bosch Rexroth (www.boschrexroth-us.com).
“Many of us worked with Rexroth servo drives and servo technology prior to starting Tube-Line,” Gilmour said. “We wanted to make the best-quality and highest-performance benders in the business, so it made sense to choose Bosch Rexroth for servo technology and linear rail products.”
Precision Machines for Complex Components
The Tube-Line portfolio features multiple Form-Line precision tube-bending machines that produce components from simple to complex, forming tubes with diameters ranging from one inch to four inches.
These all-electric servo CNC machines provide precision programming of all axes to control the rotary draw-bending process. They come standard with programmable in-line and/or drop-away clamp that allows for easy and repeatable tooling setup.
Multiple industries use Tube-Line machines to form parts for their products. In one application, a leading side-by-side utility vehicle builder uses them to create components ranging from engine exhaust to chassis to body frames and cabin structures.
Multiple defense and aerospace companies also use Tube-Line machines. For example, a major U.S. rocket manufacturer creates advanced components for its rocket engines and other systems using exotic, ultrahard alloys like Inconel for applications subject to extreme pressure and heat.
The challenges are more than exotic materials; Tube-Line’s machines are being tasked to form unique shapes and silhouettes. “The precision and rigidity we’ve built into our machines let us create new forms, like coils, using a technique we call push bending,” said Ken Hein, Tube-Line’s senior sales and application director. “Because we have so much control, we can push and turn a tube through a set of roller dies to create an infinite push radius and form a complete coil.”
Proven and Modular Rexroth Servo Drive Technology
All Form-Line machines use Rexroth servo drives and servomotors to drive all axes. According to Gilmour, the Rexroth account team’s support and familiarity with the requirements for tube-bending machines played a key role in the ability to grow from delivering one to two machines our first year to over 10 machines annually.
“We were familiar with their drive programming platform, and we knew the performance characteristics of their motors and, right from the beginning, their willingness to work with us and supply us with products as we built our first machines,” Gilmour said. “This established a real collaborative partnership.”
All Form-Line machine models use the Rexroth IndraDrive M servo drive platform. Engineered specifically for multi-axis applications, IndraDrive M helps simplify machine design, with DC bus sharing enabling one power supply device to provide power for all connected inverters.
IndraDrive M servo drives feature intelligent electronics to support modular and scalable machine concepts. For example, once the drives have been programmed for one machine, it’s just a software transfer to move the same motion sequences to other Form-Line machines. In addition, IndraDrive M’s compact, multi-axis design reduces the control cabinet space and helps simplify system integration into the Form-Line machine’s envelope.
The Rexroth drive platform lets Tube-Line deliver machines with extremely tight precision and tolerances. “It’s not uncommon for a point-to-point on a part to need to be within 0.03 inches,” Hein said. “But we’ve designed and engineered our machines so that pretty much all the axes are repeatable within about 0.003 to 0.004 inches.”
The IndraDrive platform gives Tube-Line another advantage: integrated SafeMotion. Offering more than just the "safe shut-down" of machines, IndraDrive with SafeMotion supports more than 18 safety functions, such as safe door locking, several safe absolute bearing areas and a safe braking and holding system.
SafeMotion is particularly helpful during initial machine setup. “When setting up a machine, the operator makes visual inspections during the first bends to make sure there isn’t any tool slippage,” said Hein. “Pressure has to be kept on the part while the operator steps in and out of the zone to make sure there is a good setup.”
“With SafeMotion, the axes stay powered on and don’t lose their position while you’re checking — that means you can finish the setup and run the part, and don’t have to scrap it; it’s something our customers really value,” he added.
All Tube-Line machines are also equipped with Rexroth MS2N electric servomotors. The MS2N family offers increased torque, higher speeds, a practical single power and communication cable and an extensive range of motor sizes and options.
For Tube-Line, the MS2N provides the high dynamics, compact dimensions and energy efficiency their machines need.
Critical Role of Proven Ball Rails and Rollers
The forces exerted on the tubes during bending are substantial. That is why Tube-Line chose Rexroth ball rails and roller rails for the linear guideways on their Form-Line machines.
Rexroth linear ball rail and roller rail systems offer exceptional rigidity, the same high load ratings in all four directions and excellent dynamic characteristics. They are engineered and manufactured to provide thousands of cycles of precise motion with very low deflection and feature ball runner blocks with steel balls for low noise levels and smooth, repeatable travel behavior.
Both Rexroth roller rails and linear ball rails are used in every machine, since there are different rigidity requirements for different parts of the tube-bending process. Linear ball rails are used on the axis guiding the material into position to be bent, while the roller rails are used on the bending axis. The bend positions especially need to be rigid enough to hold the bend tolerances as higher forces are generated.
For Tube-Line, the combination of the power-dense MS2N motors and the rigidity of Rexroth linear motion products creates the perfect fit for the forces necessary for many tube-bending processes. “The motors are just one side of the equation,” Hein said. “On the other side, the structure must be rigid, and the mechanics that are tied to the motors have to be able to hold the dimensions of the motion. Because the Rexroth linear products are such a premier product, it all works really well together.”
Building Collaboration and Trust
According to founder Andy Gilmour, throughout Tube-Line’s short yet successful time in business, Bosch Rexroth has been a valued partner who is always ready to support Tube-Line’s needs.
“If we get an error on the drive or something else happens, we can text the Rexroth team and, with their experience and knowledge, they quickly identify the issue and help us fix it,” he said.
Tube-Line also values its partnership because Bosch Rexroth is offering innovative options for future Tube-Line machines with the new ctrlX AUTOMATION platform while continuing strong support for previous platforms, such as the IndraDrive system.
“We feel that the partnership-level service we get from our Bosch Rexroth team is above and beyond what anyone else has delivered since we started Tube-Line,” Andy Gilmour said. “It truly exemplifies how Bosch Rexroth demonstrates partner-level care and service for all our business together.”