alert icon

Internet Explorer 8 or 9 is not supported by this website. Please either update your version of Internet Explorer, or use a more up to date browser.

Hide Message hide icon

Small Bore Tubing: Driving Down Costs

small bore tubing

Small Bore Tubing Equals Savings

Cut Labor Cost As Much As 66% Compared to Installing A Pipe System

Minimizing repairs is a priority for all companies. Today, most take advantage of tubing systems in applications 12 mm (1/2-inch) diameter and under, but in applications ranging from 19 to 50 mm (¾-inch to 2-inches), pipe is often perceived to be the traditional choice.

Tradition,  however, comes with added costs. In many cases, the non-traditional solution is a savings opportunity that goes unexplored. How do tubing and pipe differ? Where are the hidden expenses? And how can small bore tubing offer a significant advantage over the life of an application?

Pipe vs Tubing: Installation, Maintenance & Performance

Pipe and tubing systems both perform the basic function of transferring a fluid from one point to another. But the differences in installation, maintenance, and performance can be surprising.

First, consider the components themselves: Pipe is much thicker than tube of the same inside diameter. Both contain pressure equally well, but pipe is thicker, simply to provide enough material so that threads can be cut.

tube vs pipe

Also consider the work associated with building or repairing pipe systems: An installation team considers the series of twists and turns that must be accomplished. Each of these bends comes with a new joint in the system, which means threading, cutting and fitting, or welding. So that work can begin, a laborer must have all the necessary materials—pipe stands, dies, cutting oils, sealants, tapes, and more—and possibly a weld permit. Welding also requires hydrostatic testing and can introduce moisture into the system.

All of this is preliminary to actual installation. Assembling pipe requires initial cuts of the pipe, de-burring, then cutting threads, followed by fitting the sections together. Whenever a line must change direction, a new fitting must be introduced to the system. In tight spaces, this can add considerable time to the job—not to mention that each new fitting becomes a new potential leak point. Every complexity can equal hours of extra labor, immediately or over time.

Small bore tubing—that is, tube with an outside diameter (OD) less than or equal to 50 mm (2 inches)—can overcome these inefficiencies. Tubing offers a much more efficient strength-to-weight ratio than comparable pipe. And unlike pipe, the full wall thickness of small bore tubing is used to contain pressure--no threads need to be cut.

tubing efficiency

The labor associated with tubing is also significantly less, requiring fewer considerations. Further, there is no need for oils, sealants, dies, complicated equipment, or fire boxes. Tubing must be cut and de-burred, but the similarities end there.

Directional changes are made by simple bending. This eliminates the need for extra fittings while also reducing system turbulence and pressure drop points. And because welding is not required, tubing systems are ideally suited to hazardous areas  and confined or hard-to-access spaces.

The Price of Performance

It’s true that small bore tubing is more expensive than pipe, but price can be deceiving.

Consider again the extra expense of working with pipe, and that tubing takes a fraction of the time to install. The savings can add up quickly. This is particularly true in new installations.

New construction  brings the opportunity to take advantage of better technologies—and keeping to schedule can mean the difference between coming in under budget or racing past it. Small bore tubing systems offer a way to reduce installation hours.

Tubing also offers simplicity  and cost-effectiveness  over pipe. A tubing system is inherently more efficient due to minimized pressure  loss, greater vibration resistance , and less susceptibility to leaks.

Getting Started With Small Bore Tubing

Small bore tubing offers simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and superior performance over pipe—but only when installed by an individual with the knowledge to do so correctly.

Installers must understand the right methodology and use the right equipment to ensure a successful system. Properly handling tubing, the correct methods for bending and routing a line, and how to install fittings in the approved manner are all of critical importance. When considering tubing, also keep in mind:


Thorough, appropriate training for your installers will ensure that your new small bore application will be installed and maintained correctly, with the proper techniques and accounting for all necessary safety precautions.


Some specialized tools, such as a tube bender, are required for correct installation.

The Total System

Tubing, fittings, and tools must be designed to work together to ensure a reliable, leak-free, low-maintenance system. Mixing and matching tube and fittings, valves, and more from a number of different suppliers is not a best practice. When installing a system, it’s best to standardize your inventory as much as possible. Source critical components  from a single manufacturer to ensure that  the parts have been specifically engineered to work together.

Small bore tubing systems can create cost savings in many places in which pipe is currently installed, and Swagelok has a proven track record of providing complete systems and the requisite training.