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 into products known as Coils. Coils are then turned into pipes 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.

Steel pipes are found in a variety of places. They are used for underground transportation of water and gas for the supply of cities, towns and countries as a whole. 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 etc.


Pipe making:




Longitudinally Welded SAW Pipes

Welded pipe (pipe manufactured with a weld) is a tubular product made out of flat plates, known as skelp aka coil, that are formed, bent and prepared for welding. The most popular process for large diameter pipe uses a longitudinal seam weld. Double submerged arc welded (DSAW) pipe is a welded pipe whose longitudinal butt joint is welded in at least two passes, one of which is on the inside of the pipe; the welds are made by heating with an electric arc between the bare metal electrode. Pressure is not used. Filler metal for the welds is obtained from the electrodes. For diameters above 36 inches, double seam welded pipe is specified as an alternative in API 5L. This has two longitudinal seams 180° apart, formed by the SAW process. Finished pipes are normally 40 feet (12 m) and occasionally 60 feet (18 m) long, depending on the capacity of the pipe mill and the ease of transport to the pipeline.

Spiral Welded Pipes

As an alternative process, spiral weld construction allows large diameter pipe to be produced from narrower plates or skelp. The defects that occur in spiral welded pipe are mainly those associated with the SAW weld, and are similar in nature to those for longitudinally welded SAW pipe. An additional problem with early spiral welded pipe was poor dimensional accuracy, particularly out of roundness at the pipe ends. This led to problems of poor fit-up during field girth welding. Spiral linepipe gained a poor reputation in some companies as a result of these early experiences, and it was considered suitable only for low pressure applications such as water pipe. However, modern spiral linepipe from a premium quality supplier is of a quality equivalent to straight seam welded pipe, and it has been used extensively in Canada and Europe for high pressure gas pipelines in grades up to API X70.

Seamless Pipes

Plug Mill:

This process is used to make larger sizes of seamless pipe, typically 6 to 16 inches (150 to 400 mm) diameter. An ingot of steel weighing up to two tons is heated to 2,370 °F (1,300 °C) and pierced. The hole in the hollow shell is enlarged on a rotary elongator, resulting in a short thick-walled tube known as a bloom. An internal plug approximately the same diameter as the finished diameter of the pipe is then forced through the bloom. The bloom containing the plug is then passed between the rolls of the plug mill. Rotation of the rolls reduces the wall thickness. The tube is rotated through 90° for each pass through the plug mill to ensure roundness. The tube is then passed through a reeling mill and reducing mill to even out the wall thickness and produce the finished dimensions. The tube is then cut to length before heat treatment, final straightening, inspection, and hydrostatic testing.

Mandrel Mill:

This process is used to make smaller sizes of seamless pipe, typically 1 to 6 inches (25 to 150 mm) diameter. The ingot of steel is heated to 2,370 °F (1,300 °C) and pierced. A mandrel is inserted into the tube and the assembly is passed through a rolling (mandrel) mill. Unlike the plug mill, the mandrel mill reduces wall thickness continuously with a series of pairs of curved rollers set at 90° angles to each other. After reheating, the pipe is passed through a multi -stand stretch-reducing mill to reduce the diameter to the finished diameter. The pipe is then cut to length before heat treatment, final straightening, inspection, and hydrostatic testing.


This process is used for small diameter tubes only. The bar stock is cut to length and heated to 2,280 °F (1,250 °C) before being sized and descaled. The billet is then extruded through a steel die. After extrusion, the final tube dimensions and surface quality are obtained with a multi-stand reducing mill.

Electric Resistance Welded (ERW) and High Frequency Induction (HFI) Welded Pipe:

Originally this type of pipe, which contains a solid phase butt weld, was produced using resistance heating to make the longitudinal weld (ERW), but most pipe mills now use high frequency induction heating (HFI) for better control and consistency. However, the product is still often referred to as ERW pipe, even though the weld may have been produced by the HFI process.

The defects that can occur in ERW/HFI pipe are those associated with strip production, such as laminations and defects at the narrow weld line. Lack of fusion due to insufficient heat and pressure is the principal defect, although hook cracks can also form due to realignment of non metallic inclusions at the weld interface. Because the weld line is not visible after trimming, and the nature of the solid phase welding process, considerable lengths of weld with poor fusion can be produced if the welding parameters fall outside the set limits. In addition, early ERW pipe was subject to pressure reversals, a problem that results in failure in service at a lower stress than that seen in the pre-service pressure test. This problem is caused by crack growth during the pressure test hold period, which in the case of early ERW pipe was due to a combination of low weld line toughness and lack of fusion defects.

Final Processing:

After either type of pipe is made, they may be put through a straightening machine. They may also be fitted with joints so two or more pieces of pipe can be connected. The most common type of joint for pipes with smaller diameters is threading-tight grooves that are cut into the end of the pipe. The pipes are also sent through a measuring machine. This information along with other quality control data is automatically stenciled on the pipe. The pipe is then sprayed with a light coating of protective oil. Most pipes are processed in such as way in the final round of production to prevent them from rusting. This is done through galvanization or coating with zinc. Depending on the use of the pipe, other paints or coatings may be used such as polyethylene.

Quality Control:

A variety of measures are taken to ensure that the finished steel pipe meets the required 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 which fills the pipe with water and then increases the pressure to see if it holds. Defective pipes are returned for scrap.



  1. encyclopedia/steelpipe