Trailer Magazine receives an exclusive behind the scenes look into our quality processes

Friday 28 February 2014
matt k

In the commercial road transport industry, steel is everywhere, all the time – from the chassis rail carrying every trailer construction to the simple bolt holding the number plate in place. In 2012 alone, the vehicle manufacturing and transport industry accounted for 13 per cent of the steel used in Australia, and 2013 data is indicating a similar result.

One company that drives the manufacture of high quality steel pipe, tube and open section products in the Australian transport industry is Australian powerhouse Austube Mills – not only because of the company’s meticulous quality control processes and a strong commitment to product integrity, but also because of the experienced people working in the manufacturing mills who uphold it.

With a core network of manufacturing and warehouse facilities in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, and supported by more than 200 distribution outlets across Australia and New Zealand, Austube Mills can draw on 80 years of experience in the steel industry – more than enough to provide the trailer building community with the right products for any kind of design.

“Quality is what’s most important to our customers and to us, it’s one of our main points of difference from other steel manufacturers,” says Matthew Kennedy, Austube Mills Newcastle Quality and Systems Coordinator. “There is now a lot of choice when buying or sourcing steel, so quality in steel is where things can really vary.”

That’s why Austube Mills places high value on quality control during the manufacturing process. Matthew says that only steel pipe, tube and open sections that conform to third-party certified Australian Standards will leave an Austube Mills site. “We conduct multiple quality checks during each production run to ensure the products are 100 per cent up to the task,” he says – revealing that maintaining the correct dimensions is key. “It can be a lengthy and meticulous process at times, but we believe there is no other way if you want to produce reliable, durable products every time.”

Mill Operator, Mark Kirkaldy, says Austube Mills specialises in making cold-formed steel products, and that although steel pipe, tube and open sections are increasingly used in the truck and trailer construction industry, the formation process is not widely known. “Put simply, welded pipe and tube is made by longitudinally forming a flat metal strip into a nearly complete tube and then welding the edges together,” he says.

“The pipe and tube forming process typically starts with an approximately 25-tonne jumbo coil. Each coil is then fed through a ‘slitter’ to create a strip of the required width. Each strip then enters into our mills’ accumulators, where it is attached to the proceeding strip, creating an ‘endless’ line of steel to allow for continuous operation during the pipe and tube making process.”

Mark adds, “The strip is then fed into a series of forming rolls and gradually shaped into what we call the ‘mother tube’ before the edges are electric resistance welded to form a complete tube. The external weld is then removed by special scarfing tools and polished to leave a smooth surface.”

Mark says a mid-production quality check is conducted to measure weld integrity and dimensional accuracy, before the mother tube then enters the sizing and shaping section where it can be turned into square or rectangular hollow sections, depending on the job specifications.

Each tube is monitored by an Eddy Current Test unit, which is designed to uphold consistent weld integrity as the tube passes through the entire formation process. The monitoring occurs at the section where most of the quality controls are carried out, the run out area of the production mill. If a defect is detected, the tube will be removed from the production line immediately.

“At this stage a coating is applied as a protective barrier to keep the steel products protected during transport, handling and fabrication,” Mark says. “Then they are cut to length before being bundled into packs, each with its own specific barcode and number. After that, each pack is given one last quality check before it is deemed ready to be shipped. During that check, we focus on adherence to width, height and length specifications, as well as corner radii measurements.”

Matthew adds that in addition to mechanical testing, visual inspections are also continually conducted at the run out. “This is so any issues can be identified and rectified quickly, and all non-conforming products quarantined for follow-up. Each check requires samples of cut steel that must meet Australian and New Zealand Standards (AS/NZS1163:2009).”

“What makes what seems like a simple steel tube an Austube Mills product, is our 100 per cent focus and commitment to quality and reliability. That’s why we go the extra mile to ensure our customers not only receive what we believe are the best steel pipe, tube and open section products made nationally, but across Australasia as well,” he concludes.

Article featured in the February edition of Trailer Magazine. Picture - Matthew Kennedy conducting testing at the Newcastle site.