SIFCO Eyes Second Century of Operation
SIFCO Industries of Cleveland, Ohio, is the parent of SIFCO Forge (Cleveland), T&W Forge (Alliance, Ohio), Quality Aluminum Forge (Orange, Calif.) and General Aluminum Forge (Colorado Springs, Colo.). The company is a century-old, publicly traded supplier of forged components and machined assemblies for aerospace equipment, helicopters, engines, power generation and communications systems. Its fully integrated capabilities go beyond open- and closed-die forgings, extending to full process and product design services to its customers.
Not far from downtown Cleveland, and not far from Lake Erie’s shore, is a complex of industrial buildings that houses SIFCO Forge and the corporate offices of SIFCO Industries. SIFCO Forge is a global supplier of engineered forged components, primarily to the aerospace and energy markets. The company supplies flight-critical forged components and machined assemblies to all the leading aircraft and engine manufacturers around the world. Its products are found on virtually all types of commercial and military fixed-wing aircraft, as well as on helicopters and business jets. SIFCO Forge manufactures numerous products, including an assortment of engine, landing-gear, brake and wheel, transmission and other components.
The Cleveland facility is a significant local provider of jobs, employing 175 associates. The number swells to 190 if corporate staff is included. Work associates are members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
The Path to a Finished Product
The story of SIFCO Forge is probably best told by following a piece of metal through the facility. Incoming raw metal is received from suppliers in the form of long bar stock with primarily round or round-corners square geometric cross sections. The Cleveland plant primarily processes alloy and stainless steels, titanium and Inconel alloys. Last year, 4 million pounds of product shipped from the facility. Of this, about 500,000 pounds were finished titanium parts.
As in virtually every forging facility, an early step in the raw bar stock’s path through the plant is the sawing station, where it is cut to length for further processing and preheating as forging billets. The plant uses bar stock in a variety of diameters to produce forgings ranging from 0.5-1,200 pounds in finished weight. When the plant is running titanium parts, sawed lengths of titanium bar are sent to a separate workstation, where they are heated and coated with glass to prevent the excessive and problematic oxidation characteristic of the metal at high temperatures. Glass frit is used for this purpose. The billet coating chips away during subsequent deformation processes.
Hammers and Presses
While billets are being prepped for forging, the appropriate tooling for each production run is located and installed on the press or hammer that will form it into the desired shape. Once the correct die-set is installed in the hammer or press, production can commence.
SIFCO Forge employs a wide range of equipment types and capability ranges tailored to the part size, alloy, configuration and metallurgical requirements. The company’s drop hammers range from 2,000-35,000 pounds. SIFCO Forge also utilizes hydraulic presses ranging in size from 750-5,000 tons and a 3,500-ton screw press.
The hammers and presses are fed by forklifts that remove preheated billets from nearby furnaces and place them in the dies for deformation. After deformation is complete, the finished part is stored in a bin for cooling and further processing. Depending on part complexity, multiple forging cycles in dies of progressive feature definition may be required.
SIFCO has full die-making facilities, and dies are cleaned and inspected to determine if they need repair or servicing after every production run. If so, these operations can be done in-house.
Newly forged parts run through a myriad of finishing and quality-assurance operations on their way to final inspection. Many raw forgings are processed in a chemical bath to remove residual scale from heating and forming processes. Some parts require finish machining, which is done internally. The company also provides its own heat-treatment services, though some parts may be thermally treated off-site during periods of high production. Dimensional inspections are performed at the coordinate-measuring station, where finished parts are laser-scanned for dimensional accuracy and integrity.
The integrity of parts is verified through the company’s metallurgical lab and nondestructive tests such as magnetic-particle inspection and penetrant-dye inspection, depending on the type of material. Magnetic-particle inspection consists of creating an energized field around a part to visualize surface indications. Penetrant-die inspection is a controlled process that applies a dye activator to the surface of non-magnetic parts. (An article about SIFCO’s NDT operation, “Solving the NDT Bottleneck at SIFCO Forge,” was featured in our August 2013 issue.)
Formalized quality-assurance accreditations are not only key but mandatory to many of SIFCO’s customers. Consequently, the company has implemented processes and passed accreditations for ISO-9001/2000, AS9100 and Nadcap’s Heat Treat, Non-Destructive Testing and Chemical Processing disciplines.
SIFCO prides itself in having built its longevity and success on a foundation of technical expertise and customer responsiveness. Its continuous-improvement capabilities are highly valued and very active. The company’s SMART (streamlined manufacturing activities to reduce time/cost) program was initiated in 2007. The program blends Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) and Theory of Constraints (TOC) methodologies. More than 150 continuous-improvement events and projects have been completed since 2007. The SMART program was rolled out in 2012 as a corporate-wide business process.
If a customer needs a specific part, SIFCO’s engineering team works to see how best it can be produced. The company has made substantial software investments to provide the tools its engineers need to model processes, tooling and techniques to yield finished products.
SIFCO Forge places a high degree of importance on the development of technical talent in design, manufacturing and quality engineering. The company maintains active co-op programs with both Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University. In addition to the co-op program, SIFCO Forge is introducing an Engineering Development Program (EDP) so that incoming personnel are exposed to various technical aspects of the business in the interests of developing future leadership.
To anyone who has visited SIFCO or talked with its management, it would come as no surprise that the company is well positioned in the marketplace as it begins its second century of operation. Jim Woidke, SIFCO’s Chief Operating Officer, stated, “We have worked hard the last few years repositioning the company and strengthening our portfolio of businesses. It’s this strategic focus that will guide us as we transition into our next 100 years.”
A Centenarian with a Rich History and Open Heart
In 1913, five men formed a small company in Cleveland, Ohio, for the purpose of applying new scientific principles to improving the strength of metals, specifically through the use of thermal cycles. They called their company the Steel Improvement Company, and it had an industrial next-door neighbor called the Forest City Machine Company, which manufactured hardware for the burgeoning power-transmission industry across the country. Within three years, the neighbors combined to create a new company with new capabilities – Steel Improvement and Forge Company. When this company went public on the American Stock Exchange in 1969, it used its acronym and officially became SIFCO Industries Inc.
Still in its relative infancy during World War I, the company supplied forgings for ordnance, ships and the then-emerging aircraft industry. In post-war 1919, SIFCO’s founders convinced C.H. Smith Sr., an Alcoa metallurgist who established the company’s first aluminum forging operation, to become SIFCO’s sales manager. Smith Sr. cut his teeth opening new markets for the company, and forgings in general, in the forklift industry and in oil and gas operations. In 1925, Smith Sr. became the company’s president and relocated it to its current Cleveland facility.
The company weathered the Great Depression by continuing its quest for new markets, including specialized forged products for the still-growing aircraft industry and forged golf-club heads for a sport starting to catch on in the U.S.
Then World War II started. The company was prepared, however, because it had been working with the Naval Ordnance Station in Newport, R.I., to develop torpedoes in the 1930s. SIFCO engineers developed a four-bladed, alloy-steel propeller that could withstand the shock of launch from an aircraft. Consequently, the company supplied every U.S Navy aircraft-launched torpedo propeller in the entire war. SIFCO also collaborated to develop a turbine disk alloy that GE used in its aircraft engines to help the Allies gain air superiority in the conflict.
Smith Sr. passed away unexpectedly at the early age of 55 in 1942. He was succeeded by a young man just six months out of MIT, his son C.H. Smith Jr. The new president was no stranger to SIFCO, having worked there during the 1930s in a number of factory jobs. He learned the business from the ground up and in future years would be remembered for his creativeness, compassion and willingness to get his hands dirty to get the job done.
It was the younger Smith’s vision that led to SIFCO’s international presence after the war, when he established manufacturing operations in Canada, Argentina, Brazil, India and Europe. Smith Jr. served as a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, for decades.
It was Smith Jr.’s leadership that led to several innovative practices. SIFCO became the first company to successfully forge titanium in 1949, and the company also forged complex alloys used in rocket nozzles.
SIFCO’s legacy would be incomplete without mention of its charitable foundation. In the spirit of giving back to the communities in which it operates, the SIFCO Foundation was, according to its mission statement, “formed to make charitable contributions to trusts, funds, foundations or corporations in the United States organized and operated exclusively for charitable, scientific, literary, cultural or educational purposes, with special attention directed toward those endeavors in which SIFCO employees are involved.”
At the company’s centennial celebration last year, SIFCO chairman Jeffrey Gottschall said, “I think I speak for those SIFCO personnel, both here and gone, when I say that we are very proud of our heritage and excited about our future.”