Wodin Promises Service, Commits to Quality
Originally to be called New Forge, this name was already claimed in the incorporating state of Delaware, so a contest was held among staffers and stakeholders to come up with an alternative name. One employee’s wife came up with the name Wodin, a derivative of Odin, the chief god of Norse mythology as well as the god of war and the source of wisdom.
Wodin was run for eight years by Ed Hunt, forging parts for its parent company until, in 1975, Northern Natural Gas merged with Houston Energy. The merger of these two companies became the infamous Enron Corporation, but in 1975 the forging operation was purchased by Benton Murphy, whose family still owns and operates the privately held forge.
At the time Benton Murphy purchased the operation it had sales of approximately $1 million, about half of which were generated by supplying oilfield goods. By 1982, sales had doubled, but that year saw the boom in the oil industry turn to bust. For the next five years the company’s sales were challenged.
In 1980, Benton’s son, Grant, joined his father’s company. Grant Murphy took over the company as its owner and president in 1987, the year of his father’s retirement, and continues to run the operation to this day. Based on his experience with the stagnant oil sector, Grant’s operating philosophy and strategy for growth in his early years at the helm were based on diversification into other products and markets.
“Diversification is just the first tier of a growth strategy,” Grant Murphy said. “My experience suggests that it’s not enough to just know who your customers are and what they do. You also have to know who their customers are and what they do to form a solid foundation for continued growth.”
It appears that Grant Murphy’s strategy is a viable one. Under his management Wodin has successfully diversified into military applications. Its first such contract was with General Dynamics as a supplier of torsion bars for the Bradley Tank. The company now makes torsion bars for the Stryker emergency evacuation vehicle – an armored ambulance for use in combat zones. Its diversification has spread into other industries, including the various forms of energy production.
Capabilities and EquipmentThough nearly all its material inputs are round bar-stock alloys, Wodin forges a variety of materials. About half of its parts are of alloyed steels, 10% of carbon steel, 20% stainless grades, 15% nickel-based alloys and 5% copper-based alloys. At present, material supplies are not a concern, though about two years ago there was some problem obtaining aircraft-grade materials, whose prices were also escalating rapidly.
Because it usually heats round-bar billets, Wodin uses induction heating for most of its parts. There is also a large, gas-fired furnace available to heat larger parts. Anything under 3.5 inches in diameter is heated by induction. Preheated billets are formed into near-net shape in a variety of presses (upsetters), including five National presses and one Ajax press. Depending on part geometry and size, a heated billet may require multiple forming strokes and reheating before it reaches its final shape. Trim presses and grinding are used to remove flash from raw parts.
Although Wodin sends some of its parts out for certain machining operations (thread grinding, for example), it also operates its own machine shop, where many operations are performed. On its premises are two Okuma machine tools, one Colchester CNC lathe, a Mustang CNC mill and other machines. The company outsources any fabrication required. Heat treating is also outsourced, though the company has one furnace used to stress relieve parts.
The company prides itself on the traceability of the materials it uses and its part quality. Although it performs its dimensional and hardness quality checks throughout the various stages of production, additional metallurgical, mechanical and nondestructive testing are outsourced as needed.
“We have very, very, very few non-conforming parts pass through here,” Murphy said.
Products and CustomersFrom its origins as a supplier of valve stems for the water and oilfield equipment industries, Wodin has expanded its forging capabilities to include a full array of quality near-net-shape and finished forgings in all grades of forgeable materials. Its diverse range of products includes gears, axles and drivetrain components for trucks and off-road vehicles; and shafts, tubes, pins, rings, rods and hollow bars used by a variety of industry sectors and the military.
Among its varied customer base, Wodin is a preferred supplier to Cessna, the Kansas-based supplier of various types of light aircraft; Beaver Aerospace & Defense, a Michigan-based supplier of ball screw and actuator products; and Crane Nuclear, a Georgia-based producer of valve systems to the nuclear-power industry. The forge earned an ISO 9001:2000 quality accreditation in 2008 as well as the AS 9100B certification (similar to ISO 9001 but oriented to the aircraft industry’s quality requirements).
About 60% of the company’s output is destined for the private sector; the remaining 40% for government (mostly military) applications. Of these parts, about 35% are pipe valve stems used by oil refineries. Another 20% of output is destined for oilfield applications, such as parts used in directional drilling. As a first- or second-tier supplier to companies like Boeing, Cessna and Bell Helicopter, 15% of the company’s shipments are aircraft parts. These include helicopter transmission parts, landing-gear parts for Cessna aircraft, and landing-gear components and jet flap actuator parts for Boeing. Specialty fasteners comprise another 15% of shipments. The remaining 15% of Wodin’s production is for an assortment of parts, such as those for Bombardier railroad cars and Crane Nuclear power-generation equipment.
Looking ForwardWodin currently employs 35 people and ships $4-5 million in forgings annually to its customers. Like most forging establishments, it is not a large company. But it is a successful one that has weathered and survived the challenges of sector cyclicality and the setbacks of economic downturns. This company and hundreds of others like it form the backbone of the forging community in the U.S. today.
“I’d like to steer us into emerging markets, such as wind energy and mass transportation, which make sense in today’s economy,” said Grant Murphy with a forward-looking eye. “Because of the shrinking automotive sector, more forges will diversify into other markets, making the forging industry more competitive in the future.