The 1913 formation of the American Drop Forge Association and the evolution through World War II of what today is the Forging Industry Association (FIA) were covered in April’s issue. Part 2 begins with the post-war period and continues through to the present.
Technology has changed throughout the past 100 years, as have the challenges and the people chosen to meet them. But amidst the trials and successes – and an alphabet soup of acronyms – what is now the Forging Industry Association (FIA) has always assumed the point, tasked with keeping the interests of the North American forging industry at heart.
Post-War Consumerism Fosters Growth
By 1946, as the Cold War began, the Drop Forging Association (DFA) boasted 116 members, and the forging industry was booming. The invention of the automobile and the airplane, as well as worldwide continuing industrialization, paved the way for development of the modern forging industry. The late-1940s would spur new growth. Following World War II, the number of automobiles on American roads climbed by 50% within five years as did the use of farm tractors, and natural gas established itself as a major fuel for industry. Despite a drop-off in orders for war materiel, the forging industry found new outlets for its capabilities.
Industry Battles Material, Labor Issues
DFA membership totaled 95 companies in 1955, but the industry was in the midst of a downturn after the Korean War. During this period, material supply and other business and association conditions were causing stress. For example, a huge four-month strike reduced profitability for domestic integrated steelmakers in 1959. For the first time, as a history of Bethlehem Steel details, steel users began ordering steel from foreign suppliers. This marks the beginning of worldwide competition – for material suppliers and forgers alike.
“Give the Association your vigorous support, and see the problems melt away,” said William A. Carlile Jr., DFA president, in his remarks to members during the DFA’s 1961 Winter Meeting. His goal was to ease member concerns and urge member involvement.
During the 1950s and 1960s, DFA assisted the military, not only in supply of critical defense-related parts, but in public-relations functions as well. For example, DFA debated allowing use of an association-produced film, Forging in Closed Dies, in a Hollywood movie chronicling U.S. Air Force exploits. The association gave its approval provided it was able to review the script and determine that the movie would not be detrimental to the industry, according to association board of directors’ meeting notes.
New Foundation Spurs Education and Research
DFA also recognized the need to promote the industry to students and to make up for research shortfalls. While large steelmakers maintained material-research facilities, such resources in universities and through the federal government were sorely lacking. In 1958, DFA President Charles Smith Jr. and Vice President Gordon Walker began efforts to create a foundation to foster industry education, awareness and research. In a letter to the Forging Industry Association (FIA), Smith describes the need for a new organization.
“(Gordon and I) spoke frequently about the need to create a better bond between our industry and the institutions of higher learning in our country,” he wrote, “particularly the engineering colleges emphasizing materials, manufacturing methods and design.”
In the late 1950s, according to Smith, “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 (these) developments.”
Association leaders followed through. The Forging Industry Educational and Research Foundation (FIERF) was born in 1961.
International issues were first addressed by the association during DFA’s 1962 Winter Meeting. It was at this gathering that the DFA considered hosting the Fifth International Forging Convention in 1965. DFA would ultimately decline owing to projected poor attendance. In 1968, however, the Forging Industry Association – the DFA’s successor organization – would host the 6th International Forging Conference in Washington, D.C.
DFA Becomes FIA
Concerned that the DFA had become “too constrictive for the varied operations of its members and does not adequately identify other important segments of the industry such as press and upset operations,” it was resolved that DFA become FIA as of June 1, 1965. That declaration, at DFA’s 1964 Winter Meeting, would open a new chapter for the association.
FIA Voices Concerns to Legislators and Regulators
Through the late 1960s and 1970s, FIA and its members rode the roller coaster that was the U.S. economy. A number of government actions forced FIA to recognize that a voice for the industry was needed in Washington, D.C. Price controls, energy policies and environmental regulations – enacted or proposed – most assuredly would affect forging operations. FIA and its members informally sought to deliver the industry message to elected officials and regulators, but results were mixed due mainly to the lack of a strong, unified voice.
In 1980, to give the industry a stronger voice in legislative and regulatory affairs, FIA increased its profile in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, FIA (in conjunction with three other organizations from other metalworking industries) founded the Alliance of Metalworking Industries (AMI) in 1974 to maintain good communications between Congress and the metalworking industry and to ensure understanding and appreciation of the industry in Washington, D.C. By 1980, AMI comprised six member industry associations. Although AMI was later dissolved, FIA continues to serve members’ interests in legislative and regulatory spheres today.
From 1979-1980, FIA accepted 25 new member companies, the sixth consecutive year in which more than 20 companies were added. That expanded FIA’s roster to 203 companies representing 260 forging plants in addition to 72 supplier members.
Also in 1980, FIA’s Institute for Forging Die Design conducted basic fundamentals courses, with classes swelling alumni ranks to 253 graduates from 125 companies. FIA’s formidable education efforts continued to pay dividends.
“Formal education with a forging flavor has probably been the most significant member service ever introduced by the association,” said Bob Atkinson, FIA executive vice president, in the 1979-1980 FIA Progress Report.
At year’s end 1981, the Open Die Forging Institute disbanded, with 85% of its members joining FIA. This action finally united open-die and impression-die (or closed-die) forgers in a single professional organization.
Leadership to Address Global Competition Needed
The early 1980s proved dismal for North American manufacturing and forging in particular. In 1983, one in every two U.S. forging companies operated at a loss, according to FIA statistics, and the industry as a whole showed an after-tax loss for the first time in history. Imports, aided by a “strong dollar,” were seen as a key factor in the tumult. Clearly, overseas competition was greatly stressing the domestic forging industry. From that point forward, FIA has tailored conferences, seminars and research projects to address the challenges of worldwide competition.
FIA Adapts to Meet Member Needs
FIA began producing CD training and marketing aids and also launched www.forging.org, the association’s official website, in the late 1990s. The organization’s embrace of media technology to promote member interests continues to this day.
FIA currently boasts 109 forging producer companies and 191 individual plants, representing more than 75% of total forging-industry sales, as well as 89 supplier members. FIA has witnessed and fostered technologies in the forge shop that association founders 100 years ago could not even imagine. It sees motivated, skilled workers producing critical components and assemblies that are still the envy of the world. Today, those workers are safer than ever.
FIA recently held its triennial (to become biennial in 2015) Forge Fair 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. The event was well attended and was the largest ever in terms of exhibit space.
Ask anyone in the industry, and they will tell you that turning hot metal into a useful shape has a powerful attraction. FIA gives that attraction a focus and pledges to push the industry to ever-greater heights. That is FIA’s mission now and in the future.
“The strength of FIA has always been the involvement of the member companies,” said Roy Hardy, FIA executive vice president, “and their leadership’s willingness to volunteer their time to advance the industry through FIA.”
A recent issue of FIA’s Directions newsletter says it best: “FIA is working hard at continuing to be your association for the next 1, 10, 100, 1,000 years.”
Author Lou Kren is a Cleveland-based writer who has written extensively on the metalworking industries. He can be reached at email@example.com. Visit www.forging.org for additional information.
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