The Bigwood Pipe-Bending Machine

Many people criticise Britain’s ailing industries, especially in these post Thatcherite days when engineering has sadly become so unfashionable. Not that many years ago Great Britain was at the forefront of many technologies and this is often forgotten. What follows is an example of just how good we were at developing cutting-edge technology. Even if we no longer have the will, or inclination to invest and build new factories in which to use our innovative technology, others still do. This is the story of an important machine that was built in Wednesfield between 1979 and 1981, which is now surplus to our country’s industrial requirements. The machine has found a new home in Canada where it will hopefully have a long and productive future.


In 1980 Bigwoods in collaboration with Radyne Ltd and the Babcock organisation, built one of the world’s largest induction pipe-bending machines. It was built under contract to the consortium of the British Steel Corporation and Vickers U.K. This machine ended its U.K. life in Scotland and has recently been transported to Canada to be re-assembled as one North America’s most important large pipe-bending facilities.

The pipe-bending machine in operation.

A Brief History

In the 1980s the Romeo Vickers consortium were developing nuclear power stations and equipment for Trident submarines. For part of the work they required a large pipe-bending machine and so a joint venture was set up between Romeo Vickers and the British Steel Corporation at Tipton to develop a suitable machine for the purpose. The design and building work for the machine was contracted out to four companies by the project managers at B.S.C. as follows:

Babcock Power Limited, Research Centre, Renfrew carried out design and development work.

Bigwood & Company of Wolverhampton carried out the mechanical, structural and hydraulic work and did the final assembly.

Lightwood Engineering produced the electrical layout.

Radyne of Wokingham, Berks designed and built the necessary electronic control equipment.

Preparing the site, in readiness for the installation of the machine.

The machine has an impressive specification. It is capable of bending a 36 inch diameter pipe with 4 inch thick walls and can equally handle a 6 inch diameter pipe with quarter inch walls. The machine includes an induction heater to heat the pipe and a water and air cooling system to cool the pipe after bending. The temperature is accurately controlled and the water system filters and recycles the water for reuse. There is a triple axis movement of the rolls and coils, with forward, backward, up and down control of the pipe and independent adjustment of the heating coils. A 65 ton hydraulic ram with a 30 foot stroke transports the pipe through the machine at speeds from 38mm per minute for large bore heavy wall pipe to about 250mm per minute for small bore light wall pipe.

An operator keeps an eagle-eye on a large bend.

An aerial view showing the machine in operation.

The operator has light finger-touch controls which allow for a large degree of control and latitude to perform an excellent pipe bend.

The machine was assembled by Bigwoods and put into service in the Birmingham area in about 1982. It originally accommodated the pipe-bending requirements of Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine program at Vicker’s U.K. yard.

Sometime in the late 1980s it was moved to the premises of Mitsui Babcock in Renfrew and used to bend pipes for Babcock built power stations throughout the world and North Sea oil installations.

A large pipe leaving the machine with the operator monitoring the induction heating.


In 1998 the Babcock plant closed and was turned into a glass storage warehouse. The pipe-bending machine was purchased by Triple DDD Bending of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It was decommissioned, disassembled and transported to Canada under the watchful eye of Project Manager Syd Maskey. The company is building a new plant to house the Bigwood machine and a draw bending machine on land at Glenmore Trail and 48th Street, Calgary. The now outdated induction heating and control system will be replaced with modern technology and the Bigwood Induction Bender will be housed in a purpose built 70ft x 200ft factory at 4715 Glenmore Trail S.E., Calgary, Alberta, where it will hopefully have a long and useful life.

A final view of the machine in operation.

I would like to thank Mr. Syd Maskey and Mr. Pat Jordan for their help in producing this history of an important Wolverhampton-made product.

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