A retrospective look at the Forging Industry Educational and Research Foundation’s activities – past and present – as it enters its 51st year.

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One of FIERF’s early board meetings. Closest to the camera is FIERF founder Charles Smith.

A half-century ago, a group of individuals from some of the largest custom forges in the country were concerned about the forging industry’s future. They felt that an organization of some kind was needed to address certain problems and issues facing the industry apart from the daily workings of the Forging Industry Association (FIA).

These industry leaders knew, for example, that many customers had a poor image of the forging industry and that competing metalworking processes were poised to take advantage of any perceived weakness shown by the forging industry’s customer base. Further, these industry leaders concluded that promoting educational and research activities within the industry would improve its image, increase awareness about metal-forging processes and establish a medium in which forgers could pool their resources in pursuit of solutions to technical problems facing the industry. In order to accept contributions and endowments to assist in achieving these goals, a foundation – the Forging Industry Educational and Research Foundation – was established in 1961.

Upon the occasion of FIERF’s 35th Anniversary, one of FIERF’s founding trustees, Charles H. Smith Jr., reflected that in the late 1950s “such traditional forged parts as crankshafts and connecting rods were being lost as a result of steady improvements in the properties of castings and powder metallurgy. Even the aircraft industry saw the forging industry losing market share as a result of important developments in investment castings and new materials.” Consequently, the first task faced by the founders of FIERF was to increase awareness of the various forging processes among leading universities, professors and students.

FIERF’s founders had their work cut out for them in the early days. They discovered, for example, that there was no technical university in the U.S. with courses aimed at training their graduates for work in the forging industry! Making matters worse, it was discovered that competing metalworking technologies had already made inroads into these universities in support of their processes. Consequently, FIERF took its early bankroll and started funding forging research performed at universities under the oversight of qualified professors and sometimes with the help of their graduate assistants and students. In 1991, FIERF endowed the post of “FIERF Named Professor” at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), a position held by Dr. Chester Van Tyne since its inception. Dr. Van Tyne works closely with the Foundation and other FIERF Magnet School professors. Although CSM is the only school to date with a professorial endowment, there are 18 affiliated Magnet schools across the U.S.

The Foundation has invested $650,000 in research projects since 2004 that further the technologies and competitiveness of forging processes. The stated mission of FIERF (see sidebar) is to support the forging industry through technology development and education. In support of that mission, the Foundation has three objectives: research & development, technical education and fund-raising. As part of this support, the forging industry has developed a Technology Roadmap, which is one of the main documents used in deciding which strategic directions research should take and which programs should be funded. First developed in 1997 and most recently updated in 2008, the Technology Roadmap outlines the technical challenges facing the industry and prioritizes the actions needed to overcome them. As a result, when a university or industry group seeks funding, one of the first and most important questions asked is: How does the proposed research project support the Technology Roadmap?

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Doug Brown of Inductoheat, then-president of FIERF, opens a day of technical presentations at the 28th FIERF Technical Conference in Schaumburg, Ill. 

The Foundation acts as a liaison for groups of industry stakeholders to work with outside suppliers or government bodies (such as the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy) to collaborate on certain programs that serve mutual interests. For example, there are currently several FIA workgroups collaborating with external organizations to work on common technical issues in the areas of ring rolling, forging aluminum and die-life improvement.

Additionally, FIERF facilitates industry technology transfer in the form of published reports, periodicals, online capabilities and technical conferences. The most recent FIERF technical conference (the 28th of its kind) took place last April in Schaumburg, Ill., and attracted more than 150 industry participants. Attendees heard technical papers on a variety of topics ranging from computer modeling to die-life enhancement.

Finally, FIERF recognizes that attracting young engineers into the industry is critical to its future. Through its affiliated Magnet schools, FIERF is a resource not only to the forging programs at these schools but also to their students. The Foundation supports students in the form of scholarships, graduate fellowships, undergraduate research programs and as a liaison with industry for internship programs that sometimes lead to future employment opportunities. Since 2004, the Foundation has awarded nearly $500,000 in Finkl Scholarships to deserving students.

As a charitable foundation, fund-raising is also part of FIERF’s activities. In its Honor Role of Contributors, the Foundation recognizes various levels of financial support from corporations and individuals. The Gold Anvil Society recognizes donors with annual support of more than $10,000 for three years or more; the Silver ($5,000-$9,999) and Bronze ($2,500-$4,999) Anvil Societies also recognize major financial supporters of the Foundation. Many additional contributors also support the Foundation.

In the last half-century, FIERF has gone from being just a dream of a few far-sighted industry leaders to the coordinating body of the forging industry’s research and educational efforts.

FIERF at a Glance

The Forging Industry Educational and Research Foundation was founded 50 years ago by Charles Smith Jr. (SIFCO) and Gordon Walker (Walker Forge), who were then the president and vice president, respectively, of the Drop Forging Association.

The Foundation is recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Code as a “charitable foundation” and “supporting organization” to FIA, which means that all corporate or personal gifts are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

FIERF’s Mission: To support the forging industry through technology development and education

FIERF is presently affiliated with 19 schools and participating professors as listed below:

  • California Polytechnic State University, Blair London
  • Case Western Reserve University, David Schwam
  • Cleveland State University, John L. Frater
  • Colorado School of Mines, Chester (Chet) J. Van Tyne
  • Georgia Institute of Technology, Jianjun Shi
  • Illinois Institute of Technology, Philip Nash
  • Kettering University, Charles V. White
  • Marquette University, Joseph Domblesky
  • Michigan Technological University, Barbara Lograsso
  • Missouri University of Science & Technology, Rajiv Mishra
  • Ohio University, Jay S. Gunasekera
  • Pennsylvania State University, Robert C. Voigt
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Roger N. Wright
  • The Ohio State University, Rajiv Shivpuri
  • University of Michigan, Jionghua (Judy) Jin
  • University of Toledo, Walter W. Olson
  • University of Waterloo, Mary Wells
  • University of Wisconsin - Platteville, Kyle Metzloff
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Diran Apelian