Volume 5 | Issue 7 | Year 2002

Tubular Steel Inc., of Toronto, Ontario, Canada is a small company with big capabilities. Its 68,000-square-foot plant has been loaded with new state-of-the-art equipment in the past few years; its newest piece is expected to arrive by the end of the year. This will help to further increase the tier one company’s market share in the automotive components market.

The new machine is a tube rolling mill that will allow the Tubular Steel to roll small-diameter, heavy wall tubing. The mill will be capable to roll as small a diameter as 8.00 mm and as heavy a wall thickness as 3.00 mm, with a diameter to wall thickness ratio of 4.5:1. “This is the only mill in North America that will be able to do it that small, with that wall thickness at such a high level of quality and consistency” says Tubular Steel President Robert McKinnon, who founded the company in 1994. “Ten years ago they said it couldn’t be done.”

And that is not all. There also is a new and yet unusual Eddy-current tester for monitoring imperfections. Normally, says McKinnon, Eddy-current testers monitor imperfections in the weld only, on a longitudinal basis. The new non-destructive tester, he explains, also monitors the entire tube form on a circular basis for imperfections, not only in the weld but also in the parent material. Any larger than calibrated change in the line of the tube is signaled in the form of light, sound, paint and a permanent computer record is made. “The tester paints the spot where the imperfection is,” explains McKinnon.

It is capabilities such as these, and the continuous drive to improve customer satisfaction, that have garnered the company’s relationships with such automotive giants as General Motors and others, and will further propel Tubular Steel into the market as a leader of steel tube products.

The proofis in the weld
The facility – both ISO 9002 and QS 9000 certified and working towards acquiring TS-16949 certification – employs more than 100 people who produce welded steel tubes used in the manufacture of automobiles, fitness equipment as well as in lawn and garden products in addition to furniture components. As the company increases its attention to manufacturing products out of high-strength low-alloy steel – in line with industry trends demanding a lighter-weight product – it also has raised the bar on quality. Tubular Steel maintains a Quality Laboratory where, under tightly controlled environmental conditions, it is capable of verifying all attributes of the tubes produced by the company. Personnel are trained and qualified to perform verifications of mechanical, physical and dimensional properties.

The Quality area of the plant also has grown in terms of high-tech equipment. Capabilities here include a hardness tester, capable of Rockwell, Rockwell Superficial on the T and N scale and Brinnel hardness tests. In addition, Tubular Steel has a micro-hardness tester used to test weld hardness both on the Knoop and Vickers methods as well as a tensile tester. The lab also contains microscopes with up to 100 and 400 magnifications to check for imperfections in the macro- or micro-structures and to perform metallographic analysis, coupled with sample preparation equipment.

Services offered by the company include precision cut-to-length, wire-brushing, chamfering as well as swaging and other end-finishing operations. Tubular Steel offers a line of quality carbon steel mechanical tubing – round, square, rectangular, oval as well as irregular shapes – utilizing a high frequency induction welding process. Its professional team of associates works in a highly motivated environment in which quality is maintained every step of the way. In addition, the company’s tooling management system monitors every piece of tooling to prevent production delays due to tool wear.

Quality every step of the way
Says McKinnon, Tubular Steel is committed to continuous improvement in manufacturing and in the quality of its products and services. The company strives to meet and exceed the needs and expectations of its customers in ensuring on-time delivery, in the quality of its products and competitive pricing. These goals are realized through never ending employee training and a dedication to Quality System development. All quality management systems are evaluated continuously by an independent third party and include proactive strategies and constant communication between workers and management for making the best tube possible.

Delivery performance is ensured by the company’s state-of-the-art ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) computer system. MRP (Material Requirements Planning) and scheduling are run using real-time production data collected and entered into the system at every work-station. Materials are traceable throughout every process step and resources are planned and distributed so as to achieve optimum performance while maintaining shipping schedules. All this speaks volumes for a small company that competes in the big league with other steel tube producers. Now, what really sets Tubular Steel apart is its determination to find better processes to make every piece that leaves the plant superior to the rest.

And so, as McKinnon speaks about the future of his company he maintains a high level of optimism. “Our new mill will keep us on the leading edge,” he says, “and we anticipate eventually having to expand the plant because of it.” Explaining how Tubular Steel can beat out its competitors, McKinnon adds, “We don’t have a lot of management layers for making decisions. We’re a lot more flexible than our larger competitors; but our quality is equal – if not better – than theirs”.