Piping and Tubing – What’s the Difference?

Piping and Tubing
What’s the Difference?

Pipe and tube are two terms that are commonly used interchangeably. While both piping and tubing appear as empty cylinders with openings on each end, there are some distinct differences between the two.

Here is a look at both piping and tubing, the purposes of these materials, and how they are typically used.

What Is Piping and How Is It Used?

A pipe is categorized as a tubular vessel commonly used in pipeline and piping systems. They are often used to transport fluids and gases as the circular shape of the pipe makes it efficient for handling pressure caused by the liquid flowing through it.

Piping is specified by schedule (wall thickness) and Nominal Pipe Size (NPS). The schedule number on a piece of piping can be the same on different pipe sizes but the actual wall thickness will be different.

The manufacturing of pipes in Nominal Pipe Sizes ranges from 1/8-inch to 12-inch and is based on a standardized outside diameter (OD) that differs from the measured outside diameter. Nominal Pipe Size pipes 14-inches and up have measured ODs that relate to the nominal size.

Pipes are generally rigid and cannot be shaped without the use of special equipment. Piping is only hot rolled and may or may not be galvanized. What makes pipes unique is that they can be used to accommodate larger applications..

What Is Tubing and How Is It Used?

Tubing is commonly used in structural applications with the outside diameter being the most important dimension. They are often used in applications like medical devices that require precise exterior dimensions. With an accurate outside dimension, it becomes clear how much the tubing can hold while remaining stable.

A tube is specified by OD and WT (wall thickness). The measured OD and stated OD are typically within close tolerances. Due to tighter manufacturing tolerances, tubing is often more costly than piping. Tubing is unique as it can be telescoped, meaning different sections of material can sleeve or expand inside one another.

Tubes can be either cold rolled or hot rolled, and can also be galvanized. While pipes are suitable for larger applications, tubing is often used where small diameters are required. However, tubing tends to be stronger than pipe and can perform better in applications that require strength and durability.

With the exception of brass and copper, tubing is easier to shape than piping, although it may require some effort to achieve an optimal shape. Coiling and bending tubing can be achieved without excessive distortion, fracturing, or wrinkling.

pipe versus tubes
Other Things to Consider

The decision to purchase piping or tubing will ultimately depend on the application. Once you have decided which material is better for your project, you’ll have to keep some other aspects in mind. For example, for underground transporting or outdoor field transporting, pipes will need to be coated or painted to anti-corrosion or oxidation. If using tubes, the tubing requires special polish treatment or sour cleaning for particular field use.

The amount of material you need can also vary. Piping is often needed in mass quantity and for long-distance applications when needed for long transport or distribution. This means that the order of piping is usually large. Tubing is often needed in smaller quantities but can be more costly overall.

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