As much of the forging industry’s dynamics were stalled with the threat of recession in the last two years, Fox Valley Forge saw an opportunity. By investing in a new automated production line, it is now positioned to not only serve existing markets and customers, but to cultivate new domestic and international markets as well.

The robot in the foreground is ready to perform billet/first pass/second pass transfers along with a second robot in the background (not seen).

Whole and cross-sectional views of a typical FVF part – a flanged axle spindle with partial cavity.

If you take the METRA train from downtown Chicago’s Union Station and make the 40-minute trip to the end of the line in Aurora, Ill., you will literally find yourself in the backyard of Fox Valley Forge (FVF). The company is located in a 76,000-square-foot manufacturing facility accompanied by a 12,000-square-foot finishing and distribution center. FVF is an ISO 9001:2000- and ISO/TS 16949:2002-certified upset and press forger and finisher of steel forgings ranging from 5 to 450 pounds, averaging 2 million pounds in a good month.

FVF is one of three business units comprising the Cleveland Hardware and Forging Companies. Cleveland Hardware, the original of the three companies, is located in Cleveland, although corporate headquarters is located at Green Bay Drop Forge in Green Bay, Wis. FVF and its two sister business units are privately held under the ownership and leadership of Mr. and Mrs. William E. Hoban and their son, William M. Hoban.

“Our three business units are full of energy, interaction and change. We are customer focused and value driven in all that we do,” said William E. Hoban, Cleveland Hardware and Forging president.

The heater and forger work as a team in the production of quality parts.

Military Background

Formerly a forger of military shell components during World War II, FVF was purchased in 1948 at the end of the war by a group of investors and established under its current name. For 25 years, the company supplied quality forged parts and services to its customers. Then, in 1973, FVF became a wholly owned subsidiary of Cleveland Hardware and Forging Co. under the new leadership of Bob Bender. Twelve years later, the company came under the joint ownership of Bender and William E. Hoban and his wife, Cynthia. When Bender retired in 1994, the Hoban family took ownership of FVF.

Until 2000, FVF remained exclusively an upset forger, but its owners saw the need to expand its markets. That year, the company invested in a new press-building addition and put in place its first mechanical press line. The success of that first press line made the company’s ownership and management recognize the new markets its addition had opened. Building on the growth fueled by its original expansion, FVF invested in its future by adding a new hydraulic press line that was commissioned in 2009 to produce near-net shapes.

Today, FVF represents a more than 60-year legacy as a leader in the supply of upset forgings, providing its customers with high-quality products for a variety of applications. The company prides itself on having the expertise and flexibility to provide alloy, carbon or stainless steel upset forgings in large or small production runs.

FVF’s cooling yard with bins of spindles, axles and pinions.

Plant Processes

Perhaps the best look at FVF’s processes and capabilities would be from the vantage point of incoming steel, which is purchased in round bar, tubing, flat, square or involutes based on the final part design. Most raw materials are purchased directly from the rolling mills in lengths that will maximize material yield and minimize loss.

Steel targeted for the upset process is cut by band saws for the accuracy and squareness of their cuts. After cutting, the racks of billets are staged at the upset forging cell. This consists of a gas-fired slot furnace, rotary furnace or electric induction heat station, a bar descaler and an upsetter. With their split dies, upsetters perform bar-end forging so the cut steel billets do not need to be heated along their full lengths. Once a billet is brought to forging temperature, it is transported to the descaling unit, where excess surface scale formed during the heating process is removed. The billet is then transferred to the upsetter operator to be forged in a set of progressive dies. Depending on the amount of stock to be gathered, a part may be formed in as little as one pass or as many as five. There are some shapes that, due to their complexity, may need to be finish-formed in another machine.

The press production processes are highly automated, incorporating sawing, weighting, heating and robotic part transfers throughout the process. Steel bars destined for use on one of the forging presses are placed on a bundle rack and automatically fed to the in-line cutoff saw. The cut billet travels over a scale, where it is weighed to ensure proper volume, preheated by a preheat induction furnace and lubricated. The lubricated billets continue their path through a series of in-line induction heating coils that raise them to the proper forging temperature. This in-line arrangement ensures that every billet will be heated consistently and uniformly.

Once a billet is properly heated, a robot located on the feed side of the press picks it up and positions it in the first forging pass. A second robot on the backside of the press transfers billets from pass-to-pass (as many as three) and also cools and lubricates the dies. The feed robot transfers the finished forging to the exit conveyor. A computer system monitors, controls and coordinates the movements of the robots, press and heated billets as they seem to dance in choreographed movements under the baton of the computer and its programmer’s code. The rapid billet heating in the induction coils precludes the descaling operation. All forgings are then transferred to the cooling yard before further processing.

Most upset forging must be run across snagging grinders to remove the parting-line flash inherent in the split-die upset process. Press forgings need very little, if any, touch-up grinding. Because every billet is checked for proper volume, underfill or overfill conditions are rare.

Prior to final shipment to customers, many parts require heat treatment to normalize their grain structures, obtain proper hardness for subsequent machining operations and, in some cases, enhance physical characteristics. FVF has developed good working relationships with a number of local heat-treat facilities and can arrange for this and many other customer-specified needs.

Quality inspectors examine a spindle.

Product Capabilities and Equipment

Throughout its long history, FVF has been a reliable supplier of upset steel forgings to such markets as agricultural machinery, trucks and buses and ordnance, as well as automotive, off-highway equipment, construction and mechanical power markets.

With its new, enhanced near-net shape capabilities made possible by its Clearing 2,500-ton mechanical press and Bliss 3,000-ton hydraulic press, FVF has made inroads into energy and extractive industries such as oil, gas and mining. The company emphasizes its production of near-net “down-the-hole” percussion bits as well as extruded hollow shapes such as truck and trailer axle spindles.

The hydraulic press recently brought online was a collaborative effort by vendors and FVF’s engineering department, which is managed by Bob Kearney. Contributors to the project included Erie Press, which engineered and remanufactured the Bliss 3,000-ton press. The billets for the press are being cut by an in-line Nishijimax CNC saw system with an automated in-feed rack supplied by Pat Mooney Inc.

The billets are heated in an induction system from Inter-Power Corp. Automation integrator Rimrock Corporation supplied the two ABB robots used for die lubrication, billet feeding and part extraction, and it performed all the necessary integration and programming to make this line fully automated.

In addition to the process equipment, the installation project involved rigging and fabrication services from Milwaukee-based Doral Corp., with Platt Electric Inc., a long-time supplier and working partner of FVF providing electrical engineering and installation.

FVF’s upset forges range in size up to 7.5 inches, forging all typical carbon steels, alloy steels and micro-alloy steels as well as stainless steels in bar diameters up to 5.5 inches and part flanges up to 11 inches in diameter.

FVF has a fully equipped tool and die shop, acting as its own supplier of forging inserts and dies, with backup supplied by its Green Bay business unit.

An overview of FVF’s new hydraulic press line.

Looking Forward

In 2008, when much of the industry was starting to hunker down and sit on its reserves as they prepared for an eventual recession, FVF saw an opportunity. The company knew that to survive the global economic downturn, it had to not only efficiently serve existing customers and markets but also be prepared to serve new markets that would become opportunities of circumstances as the economic climate evolved.

It was this thinking that prompted FVF to move ahead with plans to install its new automated hydraulic press line. Concessions and sacrifice by management and plant labor alike, optimization of its corporate resources in the form of its sister companies and reliance on its cultural strength and financial stability made it possible for FVF to continue this growth.

With a newly reorganized sales team now regionally oriented, along with their engineering and manufacturing support teams now integrated into the sales and support process, FVF is ready to accept new challenges and partnerships. It is positioned to effectively service its existing markets and customers and seek new domestic and international markets as well.

With its philosophy of long-term alliances and relationships with its valued customers and an absolute uncompromised dedication to a quality product, Fox Valley Forge looks forward to 2010 as a year of stabilization and moderate growth.

SIDEBAR: The Culture of Cleveland Hardware and Forging

President William E. Hoban has articulated a set of values for conducting his company’s business. He believes that living up to these values will ensure that customers grow their businesses, employees will improve their futures, the community will be positively affected and shareholders will build their wealth. These values are as follow:

Connecting with People –We embrace people: customers, employees, suppliers and members of the community.
Looking for Opportunities –People that we embrace are the source of the opportunities we thrive on.
Plan/Vision Direction –We know where our customers need to go, where we are and where we need to go together.
Responsibility and Ownership –We are proud of our customers, ourselves and our mutual achievements.
Supporting Each Other –We challenge, envision and invest in each other’s success.