The forging industry and its output are vital to the nation’s military efforts. Part quality and performance are important to troop safety and military performance. So, too, are the timely delivery and efficient procurement of parts. Joint programs between the forging industry and the Department of Defense are helping improve supply-chain logistics and secure an uninterrupted supply of parts.

FIGURE 1: Structure of the FDMC PRO-FAST Program. Problems or opportunities flow through the program through the FDMC down through one of 3 channels: Business Enterprise Integration, FORGE-IT and Technical Research and Development.


Forgings are critical to the United States Department of Defense (DOD). When a weapon-system design requires high strength, high toughness or fatigue resistance, forgings are called in to serve the nation and support our troops. To one serving in the military, forgings are seen daily in plain view as weapon-system components. Soldiers depend on forged cannon barrels and mortar tubes; airmen depend on forged landing gear; naval aviators depend on forged arresting hook points; and marines depend on forged gun parts. But these are just the parts visible to the man or woman in uniform. Buried within tank hulls are forged torsion bars. Hidden in naval helicopters are forged bulkheads. Shrouded by composite aircraft skins are forged fittings. These are but a few examples of the parts that serve as unseen and unheralded components.

Forging these parts is a dynamic industry facing a myriad of challenges, including rising energy prices, skyrocketing feedstock costs, escalating lead times, an aging workforce, global competition played out on uneven financial playing fields ... and the list goes on. However, among the din of these problems there is a small, quiet portfolio of solutions known as PRO-FAST. This multi-year, multi-million dollar, cost-shared manufacturing technology program is sponsored by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and is implemented by theForging Industry Association Department ofDefenseManufacturingConsortium (FDMC). Embodied in the program is an integrated mix of projects linked across three “segments.” These include Business Enterprise Integration, FORGE-IT and Technical Research and Development (see Figure 1). Since the program’s inception in 2001, the DLA Program Manager and FDMC Executive Advisory Board have provided strategic direction in applying the program’s limited resources to evolving DOD needs and marketplace changes. This article describes some of the successes achieved through this collaboration between industry and government.

FIGURE 2: National Forging Tooling Database pieces together information for lost forges and forging dies for old weapon systems.

National Forging Tooling Database

The supply chain illustrated in Figure 2 links the DOD to the forge. As noted, forgings serve the military in a variety of applications, which vary in visibility within the supply chain. For example, the visibility of extremely critical parts for Air Force landing-gear components is high since many of these high-strength, high-toughness components are ordered frequently and directly from qualified forges. Older, legacy parts for aging weapon systems are harder to “see down the supply chain.” Now that these legacy weapon systems are operating beyond their anticipated service life, requisitions are surfacing that require a forging and its attendant tooling. In many of these cases, the information linking the supply chain together has disappeared (e.g. paper drawings are either nonexistent or incomplete, some forges are out of business or are absorbed through industrial consolidation, or idle forging dies are sold for scrap). This problem is being solved through the concurrent development and deployment of the National Forging Tooling Database (NFTD).

This subscription, web-based tool enables supply-chain managers to locate forging dies for legacy systems. For years these dies have laid dormant in tool yards of forges all over the country. Now that requisitions for legacy parts are increasing, the demand to locate and recall these forging dies to service is also on the rise. Forging buyers, especially working within machine shops, spend an inordinate amount of time searching for dies by calling or e-mailing forges all over the country. To avoid wasting the time and overhead associated with locating dies for a potential forging order, the NFTD was created.

All a forge has to do is upload its tooling lists via a free offering provided by Plexus Systems. This data is loaded into a logistics information system called Haystack Gold, which now features the NFTD. Forging buyers can locate tools with a few keystrokes instead of hours of telephone calls and e-mails. Once the die is located and its availability verified, a forge can quote the job using an existing tool. Ultimately this saves money by avoiding the cost of new tool production. Through the NFTD, administrative lead times are slashed, tooling production lead times are cut and costs are reduced. This is especially important when the customer wants only 10 parts!

Concurrent with the design and deployment of the NFTD were real-time exercises of the NFTD. The typical scenario is initiated when a machine shop calls or e-mails the NFTD Team regarding the location of a forging die for a current part procurement. A machine-shop purchasing manager might have stumbled into the NFTD via the web, heard about it via word of mouth or contacted one of the FDMC teams or partners. The questions are usually the same: “Where is the tool?” “Is it available for use?” Whom do I call or e-mail?”

Here is a specific example. Prop Shaft Supply (Elkhorn, Wis.) was bidding on National Stock Number 2520-00-796-3997, which is something called a “Flange Companion” for the M-109 Self Propelled Howitzer. Querying the NFTD, the team locates the tool at IMT Forge, which happens to be in Canada. Within a week of locating the tool, an order is placed between the machine shop and the forge, saving days, if not weeks, of frustrating administrative time while avoiding the cost of sinking a new die.

The FDMC is compiling a matrix of success stories that will be posted on the web in the near future. This matrix will cross-reference rebuilt supply chains and pre-emptive strikes by the NFTD to intercept potential problems associated with weapon-system procurements. To date we have documented 25 case studies saving over $450,000 and countless days of lead time searching for lost tools.

FIGURE 3: Soldiers from Company C, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division exit a Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter with their mortars in support of Operation Swarmer, near Samarra, Iraq. The M224 60 millimeter mortar is used regularly in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Critical to this weapon system are the forged tube and the forged base plate, which is the M8 base plate forged of aluminum. Courtesy U.S. Army.

Job Shop Lean

Industry worldwide has been assaulted by the automotive-lean blitzkrieg. Countless victories have been tallied for companies that produce high volumes of parts with low variety. Job-shop lean equips a forge with lean tools that are best matched for low volumes of parts with high variety. Many of the forges that supply wrought parts to the DOD are, in fact, job shops, taking on short-run production orders for legacy weapon systems.

Like industry, the DOD shuns carrying inventory and depends on its suppliers to provide products “just in time.” To meet this mandate and to implement value-stream-improvement concepts, FDMC’s PRO-FAST program is concurrently developing and deploying a Production Flow Analysis Simplification Toolkit (PFAST) with The Ohio State University. If an industrial engineer were to plot product flow in a job-shop forge, the resultant diagram would have the complexity of an intertwined bowl of mixed pasta noodles. Imagine each of these noodles bent through the factory with the size and length of each noodle representing the business value and routing for the particular order. Essentially, PFAST groups these routings (detangles the pasta) and, with interpretation by OSU faculty and students, formulates a set of recommendations for “leaning out” the forge – improving flow, reducing work in process, and saving time and money. PFAST enables the analysis of hundreds to thousands of routings through a plant, and its application typically comes with a suite of training opportunities provided by OSU.

Not only has the program developed this algorithm, but it has also deployed graduate students in forges around the country to implement job-shop lean concepts so forges can satisfy the short-run requirements of the ultimate DOD customer. Successful engagements have occurred at Ulven Forging (Hubbard, Ore.), Consolidated Industries (Cheshire, Conn.), Weber Metals (Paramount, Calif.) and SIFCO (Cleveland, Ohio). Currently Trinity Forge in Mansfield, Tex., is experiencing a lean transformation of its tool room.

FIGURE 4: Naval aviators depend on forged hook points to “catch” an aircraft on the deck of a carrier. Petty Officer 3rd Class Jesse L. Alvarado ensures the tail hook of a F-14D Tomcat of Fighter Attack Squadron 31 is properly seated during his pre-launch checks aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Courtesy U.S. Navy.

FORGE-IT

Defying popular culture’s appetite for acronyms, FORGE-IT is a refreshing name for the FDMC’s forging supply-chain problem-solving team. This customer-focused, process-centric team attacks forging problems encountered along the entire length of forging supply chains. The FORGE-IT team is daily barraged with questions regarding forging supply chains.

Russell Beard is the FORGE-IT Team Leader. He leads the team from North Charleston, S.C. Members include application engineers located in Vermont, Ohio, Virginia, Arizona and South Carolina. The team is self-empowered and is guided by three simple rules: we work as a team; we invoke a process; if the process needs improvement, we suggest constructive solutions and implement process improvements. Eighty percent of the problems FORGE-IT encounters are enterprise problems. Questions encountered by the FORGE-IT team include:
  • Where can I get this forging?
  • Who has the die?
  • Why can’t we get forging stock?
  • Why are lead times so long?
  • Which forging company acquired that forging company?
  • Why don’t I own the steel that forges my parts? The forge tells me I only own the rights to a cavity.
Many of the daily encounters are solved with a phone call, e-mail or query to the NFTD. When the issues are more complicated, the team invokes sub-processes for answering questions about obsolete materials and providing training on how to sell to the U.S. government. Skirmishes occur throughout the supply chain from coast to coast and from north to south. Every day the FORGE-IT team defeats another enterprise or technical foe, while sharing their war tales with an industrial customer or government client so they, too, can solve that problem in the future on their own.

FORGE-IT supports the DLA within the procurement operation command centers located in Richmond, Va., and Columbus, Ohio. These centers, known as Inventory Control Points, are transforming themselves through something called Business Systems Modernization, which involves a major overhaul of its digital procurement systems, processes and workforce. While these sweeping changes occur, FORGE-IT has provided direct fire support by creating and deploying processes to defeat hidden ‘landmines’ within the supply chains. For example, procurements are stalled when contracts are awarded with inadequate intelligence regarding forging tooling. Orders are delayed when reviews of technical data reveal material lead times undermine delivery schedules. When this happens the contract is typically cancelled and subsequently re-competed, resulting in additional delivery delays.

A clear victory of the FORGE-IT team is its support of the Inventory Control Point in Virginia known as Defense Supply Center Richmond. At this site, the team established a website that assists government and industrial partners in identifying and fixing forging supply-chain problems such as weak or nonexistent technical data packages, obsolete materials or destroyed tooling. These problems are addressed daily with the objective of fixing any encountered and helping clients learn from the experience. Our industry partners have dubbed the FORGE-IT team the “concierge service” of the forging industry. I, however, view the team as the mercenaries of the industry, solving problems and promoting the program, its tools and its technologies for self-strengthening the forging industry’s supplier and customer base.

FIGURE 5: Forged steel lugs typically secure armament to the wings and fuselage of fighters. Courtesy U.S. Air Force.

Technical Research and Development

When PRO-FAST started, there were more projects. With time, the program sustained some losses, regrouped and pressed forward with a stronger vanguard. These program adjustments occurred when the DOD’s bills were mounting because of the military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the overall global war on terror. Instead of cutting this discretionary program completely, the Defense Logistics Agency opted to continue harnessing the program, albeit at reduced levels. Existing today are two projects: Rapid Tooling and Simulation for Small to Medium Enterprises.

RSP Tooling (Solon, Ohio), is revolutionizing forging dies. Instead of carving a cavity into a hunk of H-13 tool steel, RSP Tooling is spraying the die block around the impression. The result of this rapid toolmaking campaign is a tough, strong, dimensionally sound, smooth die half-ready to be squared and paired for use in a press or hammer to squeeze or bang out parts.

RSP Tooling has demonstrated this technology on palm-sized helicopter fittings, gears and connectors. The next generation RSP Tooling machine should again revolutionize the industry when cavities requiring 30-inch-diameter tool blocks are possible. During the concurrent development and deployment of RSP Tooling Technology, we encountered a forging challenge that at first seemed to defeat RSP Tooling’s brawn. By coupling the brains of computer simulation, the integrated forces of RSP Tooling and Scientific Forming Technologies Corporation (Solon, Ohio) defeated a combination of die-size and die-cracking threats related to a part for the Joint Strike Fighter.

At first glance, this part outgunned RSP Tooling in terms of tooling size. Recognizing the shortfall of firepower, SFTC was brought into the fray to simulate the forces within the forging die and workpiece. Using this intelligence, a new die design was created to wipe out deleterious tensile stress in the forging die while reducing the forging die size through the integration of a die holder. Initial field trials of the die indicate it will be successful.

Despite the gloomy reports on other manufacturing fronts, there are successes in the forging industry. From these battles we can all learn to be better customers and suppliers of forgings. Ultimately, the DLA and FDMC PRO-FAST team is ensuring that our soldiers, sailors and airmen have the forgings they need on the front.