The United States Department of Defense (DOD) and its major purchasing arm, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), buy weapons, parts and components from many enterprises. Most of the weapons used by the war fighter contain critical parts that are forged, and many of these forgings require part-specific tools that are expensive to produce. Without forgings, turbine engines, aircraft structures, load lifting systems and other high-stress and high-toughness products would not be possible. Consequently, an uninterrupted supply of high-quality parts for new and legacy weapons is vital for systems that depend on guaranteed mechanical properties and the high part integrity afforded by forging processes.
Procuring forged parts for legacy weapons can be challenging. The DLA uses a system of 13-digit National Stock Numbers (NSNs) to identify parts it buys. Virtually everything DLA buys, whether a complete airplane or a small part, has such a number. However, a part’s NSN is not the same as the part number assigned by the forge that originally made the part and that owns the tooling from which the part was formed. This information, which was embedded in the supply chain linking DLA to the original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) – through tier-one and tier-two suppliers to the machine shop and finally to the forge – is sequential.
In time, unexercised supply chains atrophy, and important supply-chain information becomes lost. For instance, companies may go out of business or merge, focus efforts on new, active and profitable market segments or replace old information systems (such as microfiche) with new technology without upgrading the information on legacy parts. Regardless of the actual mechanism, supply-chain information linking part numbers to die numbers (forges, in fact) is lost, creating a host of problems when DOD needs to reorder forgings for legacy weapon systems.
National Forging Tooling DatabaseThe National Forging Tooling Database (NFTD) is a single repository within which companies that supply forgings to DOD may find the tooling and, by association, the company with the engineering and technical capabilities to make the part. Tooling costs can range from a few thousand dollars to one-half million dollars, with a typical cost ranging from $15,000-$20,000. A process that took place early in the NFTD project estimated the average cost at $18,000 per set of tools. By finding the tooling and a capable supplier quickly, the NFTD avoids unnecessary costs. It reduces both administrative lead time (it finds a capable supplier in minutes rather than weeks) and production lead time (it eliminates delays in procuring new tooling).
It should be noted that, in most cases, forging companies do not sell directly to DOD. Forging companies usually sell parts to other companies that further transform the raw forging by machining, heat treating and assembling the forged part into a component purchased by the government. As a result, the concept design for the NFTD focused on providing a database that would have open access to all private-sector companies that sell to the government.
PartnershipThe NFTD began as a partnership between the Forging Industry Association (FIA) of Cleveland, Ohio, and the Department of Defense Manufacturing Consortium (FDMC), which represents the teamed relationship between the FIA, the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) of North Charleston, S.C., and the University of Toledo (Ohio), which leads the NFTD project under the direction of ATI. As ideas for the NFTD were transformed into a working alpha model to test concept feasibility, efforts were begun to build a project team that would provide open access to potential users. The intent was for the NFTD model to not only support initial data uploads but also opportunities for continuing updates. During this process, the FDMC and the University of Toledo worked to identify potential partners who had the market reach, technical know-how and self-interest to successfully commercialize the NFTD.
IHS (Denver, Col.), a provider of information systems (including significant work with DLA) to a vast customer network around the world, showed interest and was selected to provide the platform for the NFTD. Because of this decision, the NFTD is part of an integrated system called Haystack Gold. Haystack Gold is a collection of more than 70 databases with information on millions of parts purchased by DLA. The system provides extraordinary connectivity to the NFTD, enhancing its value by linking it to procurement history and other relevant data.
Plexus Systems (Auburn Hills, Mich.), which excels in developing integrated enterprise software solutions and possesses a strong background in the forging industry, was selected to develop and maintain the software to upload tooling information to IHS. Plexus works with forging companies to support the initial upload and to update the tooling data. Plexus also works with DLA and other DOD groups such as commodity councils and arsenals to load government-owned tooling into the NFTD. The University of Toledo, supported by the FORGE-IT Team, collects tooling data, links it to NSNs and provides visibility from the forge shops to DLA/DOD.
NFTD Projected PaybackDuring the project, 25 case studies were completed that illustrated NFTD’s value in avoiding tooling costs, saving time or both. In one case, DLA had been searching for a capable supplier for two years. Finally, the NFTD was used to locate a forging supplier for this back-ordered part, and in 30 days the forging was produced and delivered. In addition to these case studies, the NFTD was successful in locating tooling for 27 additional requests. The total cost savings were in excess of $500,000 – direct savings to American taxpayers. This represents only a part of the value of the NFTD during the two-year period from 2005 to 2006.
Currently, the NFTD has information for more than 280,000 NSN or part numbers. This information includes either the location of the tooling to make the part or access to the companies that have supplied the part. The total value of the tooling encompassed by this database is more than $5 billion, at an average value of $18,000 per tool. Even if only 1% of the tools are ever used during the life of the NFTD, that represents savings of more than $50 million, which is approximately 50 times the cost of the project.
Activities Under WayIn addition to what has been accomplished, four activities are under way and, at the time of writing, were to be completed by June 30, 2008:
- Some of the NSNs do not have part numbers. Haystack Gold has been used to identify the missing part numbers, and these part numbers are being loaded into the NFTD.
- In other cases there are part numbers that do not have NSNs. Again, Haystack Gold has been used to identify the missing NSNs, and these NSNS are being uploaded into the NFTD.
- An e-mail alert system is in place that will allow IHS to compare the list of DLA Open Orders to the NFTD and notify forging companies if tools they have can be used to meet DLA needs. The process of loading this information into the e-mail alert system has begun.
- Similarly, batch search capabilities have been included in the NFTD to allow easy comparisons of DLA back-order lists to the NFTD to identify sources for tooling of forged parts.
If your forge possesses dies for forgings procured by the DOD or its supply chains, it only makes sense to upload this information into the NFTD. If customers don’t know where the forging dies are located, how will they know to place an order with you?
Dynamic PartneringFor situations in which the tooling for a part cannot be located or in which there is a newly designed part that has never been produced, it is necessary to find a supplier with the capabilities of making a part. Dynamic Partnering, a sister project to the NFTD, has been developed to offer the ability to scan and evaluate the capabilities of forging suppliers and identify qualified vendors with the requisite capabilities. For the DLA, this makes forging acquisition fast, easy and economical. Dynamic Partnering is also useful to OEMs, component suppliers and machine shops that transform forgings into items purchased by the DOD.
At the heart of Dynamic Partnering is a system that matches the part characteristics, such as metal type and part size, with the abilities of forging companies. Dynamic Partnering consists of a National Database of Forging Suppliers that lists capabilities, a search engine that asks the “right” questions and a carefully designed set of sequential decision rules that select forging companies that have those capabilities.
The potential benefits of Dynamic Partnering are to:
- Improve weapon-system performance
- Reduce weapon cost by substituting a less-expensive forging for other types of material
- Reduce administrative lead time
- Reduce production lead time
- Reduce the procurement cost for forged parts
- Improve weapon readiness
The NFTD and Dynamic Partnering projects are jointly supported by the Defense Logistics Agency and industry through the DLA ManTech Program known as PRO-FAST; the R&D Contracting Branch at Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa. and the Logistics R&D Division of Headquarters, Defense Logistics Agency, Fort Belvoir, Va.
Should your forge be interested in participating in these or other projects, please contact Jon D. Tirpak, Executive Director, FDMC, email@example.com. For additional information about: FDMC visit http://fdmc.aticorp.org/; University of Toledo visit http://utoledo.edu/business/; Haystack Gold and its integration with NFTD visit http://aero-defense.ihs.com/products/procurement/haystack-logistics/nftd-haystack.htm; Plexus Systems visit http://www.plex.com/