British maker of CERN cooling tubes celebrates 75th anniversary

Posted on 12 Dec 2018 by The Manufacturer

Fine Tubes Ltd provided cooling tubes for the Large Hadron Collider. It has also worked on the Eurofighter and Concorde aircraft.

Fine Tubes supplied 130km of cooling tubes for CERN's Large Hadron Collider - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Fine Tubes supplied 130km of cooling tubes for CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The particle accelerator is the world’s largest machine – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

As projects go, providing equipment for the world’s largest machine whose objective is to understand the origins of the universe is pretty impressive for any company.

Plymouth firm Fine Tubes Ltd did just that. It supplied 130km of cooling tubes for CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. This grand project involves scientists finding the Higgs boson, or the ‘God particle.’ Scientists say this particle could explain why all matter, from the smallest atoms to the largest planets, has mass and what the origins of mass are.

This year though, Fine Tubes are celebrating another, although slightly less spectacular milestone, their 75th birthday. Founded in Surbiton during World War II, the company has also provided tubes for the Concorde and Eurofighter aeroplanes. It also manufactured titanium tubing for the European Space Agency’s sun-observing Solar Orbiter satellite.

According to Bettina Schadow of Ametek Specialty Metal Products (which Fine Tubes is part of), it’s the West Country firm’s outstanding product quality and ability to make the right products for a niche market, that has kept the firm going strong for 75 years.

Speaking to The Manufacturer, Bettina said: “We manufacture a high spec product for critical applications in a niche market, and in a quality that is not broadly available. The size and alloy range in stainless steel, nickel alloy and titanium in which we manufacture precision tubes is fairly unique on a global level. There’s only a handful that can deliver tubes to the tight specifications we do.”

Aside from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, Bettina says the Gemasolar power plant, Westinghouse, the relationship with Airbus as well as many other major OEMs in the aerospace, energy and medical sector are also relationships in which the firm shows great pride. However, to work with a growing aircraft manufacturer like Airbus on tangible products we all use is special.

Fine Tubes have created tubes for aeroplane's hydraulic systems that enable the planes to stay in the air - image courtesy of Fine Tubes Ltd
Fine Tubes have created tubes for aeroplane’s hydraulic systems that enable the planes to stay in the air – image courtesy of Fine Tubes Ltd.

“There’s kilometres of metal tubes in every single plane for their hydraulic systems and many other components. Without the hydraulic systems which uses the tubes, the planes simply wouldn’t stay in the air. On average there are three hydraulic systems in each plane and their tubes are usually made out of lightweight titanium or stainless-steel tubes. If any of those fail, there’s a problem.

“Every time you look out of the window as the plane takes off or lands…you can see the tubes that operate the slats and flaps in the wings. This is always a proud moment, because it shows our products being used in everyday life and they’re ensuring the safe flight and arrival of all those people, even friends and family that travel around the world.”

Apart from the aerospace, solar, oil & gas, and scientific research sectors, Fine Tubes have also been involved in the health and nuclear power industries. For the healthcare sector, they designed advanced titanium tubing for femur and tibia bone nail implants.

Thirty years earlier, Fine Tubes developed specialised tubes for the UK’s first generation of gas-cooled nuclear reactors. Its products are now found in Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors, as well as Light Water, Heavy Water and Fast Breeder reactor plants across the world.

Bettina Schadow says that over the next five years, they hope to further expand and possibly work on new alloys that contribute to lighter applications in the aerospace industry. She stated: “We want to challenge those specifications that limit us currently in terms of alloy performance and create new alloys for tubing. At the moment, our order book and factory are full, so we’re looking to create and possibly gain new capacity to deliver more items faster.”

Reporting by Harry Wise