Whether by product, process or management perspective, the North American forging industry easily meets the criteria to be considered “advanced manufacturing.” Read on to find out why.
Forging is not only an enduring industry, but it is also an advanced industry. Despite Western society’s disdain for old and improperly labeled “archaic” metalworking industries (such as foundry or forging), the U.S. forging industry is anything but archaic. In fact, the industry is vibrant, technologically challenging and critical to the country’s economic health and defense. Not unlike the ancient workers of bronze or iron, today’s workers of steel, aluminum, superalloys and titanium are critical to the current prosperity and future defense of the U.S.
Recognizing that there are many so-called “advanced manufacturing” technologies – e.g., nanotechnology, additive manufacturing, energy systems (batteries, wind power, compressed gas systems, etc.) – we have collaborated to write this article (and those to follow) to illustrate the significance of this critical, enabling metal-forging industry. This is the first in a series of articles we prepared to illustrate the value and necessity of forgings that enable the design and manufacture of high-performance systems in transportation, energy, biomedical and defense, to name but a few. Without the forging industry – an advanced manufacturing industry – the U.S. would be at a tremendous disadvantage in the international marketplace.
Defining Advanced Manufacturing
Along with the current renaissance of manufacturing in America, the label advanced manufacturing has been applied to “new” manufacturing technologies. Considerable discussion amongst the “manufacturing intelligentsia” has offered numerous definitions of advanced manufacturing depending on the viewpoint of the industry.
Product Perspective – What follows are characteristics of an advanced manufacturing industry by virtue of its product output:
• Products with high levels of design
• Technologically complex products
• Innovative products
• Reliable, affordable and available products
• Newer, better, more exciting products
• Products that solve a variety of society’s problems
Clearly, this perspective points toward modern, sophisticated products such as cell phones, tablets, wearable devices, etc. From a forging perspective, forgers can claim their forgings meet these criteria.
Process Perspective – These are the characteristics of an advanced manufacturing industry that hinge primarily on information technologies:
• Sophisticated design and development process
• High-performance computing
• Precision measurement systems
• Integrated information technologies
• Advanced robotics
• Control systems with real-time process monitoring and feedback loops
• Low-rate and high-rate production capabilities
• Requires elaborate, complex and expensive equipment
Again, with respect to processing techniques, the forging industry meets many of these criteria.
Business Management – From the perspective of management techniques, manufacturing could be defined by the following characteristics:
• Use of quality controls
• Dependence on lean production technologies
• Integration of supply-chain elements
• Requirements for advanced planning and scheduling
Again, metal forging meets many of these criteria.
We have our opinion and definition of advanced manufacturing that is balanced between the technology itself and the demanding applications served by the technology. The following quote from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report about advanced manufacturing applies to forging.
“The advanced manufacturing entity makes extensive use of computer, high-precision and information technologies integrated with a high-performance workforce in a production system capable of furnishing a heterogeneous mix of products in small or large volumes with both the efficiency of mass production and the flexibility of custom manufacturing in order to respond quickly to customer demands.”
If we were to modify this definition further, we offer that forgings serve in functions – typically very demanding applications – that nearly no other product form will adequately serve, truly making forging a unique and advanced manufacturing industry.
Forging involves and integrates a spectrum of operations, each designed to impart unique metallurgical properties to a component. Many forge shops are small-business operations that are hot, noisy operations of hammer and press shops that create high-performance forgings in a job-shop environment (e.g., low volume, high mix).
Another realm of forging is isothermal forging, which operates in inert atmospheres or vacuums, with advanced processing technology no less demanding than the manufacture of cell phones, batteries for electric cars, wind turbines, fuel cells, etc.
Cold forging, high-volume production which is prominent in Japan and enabling of the high production requirements of the automotive industry, is extremely precise and highly automated. Although a single forging company might be capitalized to forge within all of these business segments, the American forging industry as a whole is providing advanced forgings spanning a wide range of applications for its customers.
Service in Advanced Applications Attained Only by Advanced Forging
The next obvious question to ask is why does the forging industry endure? Application is the answer. Typically, forgings are called on to meet the needs of demanding applications such as gas turbine engines, aircraft structures, subsea components, automotive drivetrain components, forging tooling and others.
The common thread of these applications is the need for the combination of superior properties of strength, toughness and fatigue resistance imparted by the forging process as it tailors the microstructures. This is an area that is probably taken for granted by too many individuals. Many materials can meet strength requirements. Some ceramics have very high levels of tensile strength in a lab environment. The toughness and fatigue properties are critical elements that are frequently overlooked or underemphasized.
Without toughness and fatigue strength, the drivetrain in any vehicle would fracture on a road that isn’t perfect. Without toughness, an airplane landing gear or wing spar would collapse with a hard landing, making flying in rough weather very risky. While composites may achieve some of the properties, many critical applications are compounded by wear, corrosion or temperature requirements. Some forgings operate at temperatures in excess of 1000?F (538?C). Turbine disks are one of many such applications.
By the very nature of the products forged for demanding applications, forging inherently is an advanced manufacturing industry. If the application is important, it depends on a forging. Why would any designer choose any metalworking process not capable of providing the optimum combination of strength, toughness and fatigue resistance required of the application?
In this first of a related series of articles, suffice it to say that forging is an advanced manufacturing industry. This status is achieved not only by meeting the myriad criteria defining “advanced manufacturing” but also by supplying the parts for critical applications unmatched by any other manufacturing process.
In our next article, we will further explore the underpinnings of advanced forging as supported by innovations in equipment, especially highly automated and highly controlled equipment requiring sophisticated technologies.
As we write this series of articles, we would also like to engage our readers for comments and questions about advanced manufacturing.
Here is the rest of this series:
This series of articles is being produced collaboratively between John Walters of Scientific Forming Technologies Corporation (SFTC) and Jon Tirpak of the Forging Defense Manufacturing Consortium (FDMC). Presently, the FDMC is supported by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) as part of the Procurement Readiness Optimization – Forging Advanced Systems and Technologies Program sponsored by the DLA’s R&D Division located at Fort Belvoir, VA.
Co-author John Walters is vice president of Scientific Forming Technologies Corporation, Columbus, Ohio. He may be reached at 614-451-8330 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Co-author Jon D. Tirpak is the executive director of FDMC and FAST program manager. He is also vice president of ASM International. He may be reached at 843-760-4346 or email@example.com