Getting a ‘Feel’ for Advanced Manufacturing
Readers of this magazine may have noted the start of a series of articles in our February issue tackling the subject of modern commercial forging as an advanced manufacturing industry. The second installment of that series appears on page 44 of this issue, and authors Tirpak and Walters make some excellent points about forging as an advanced manufacturing process.
The major metalworking processes have been around for millennia. Some metalworking techniques we take for granted today predate some of civilization’s greatest cultures and, in fact, helped give rise to them. Forging predates casting because our early ancestors learned how to beat metal into shape before they knew how to melt it and cast it into a mold. Because of their age-old existence and traditions, these fundamentally ancient processes have been stigmatized as being old-fashioned or not up to snuff when it comes to the application of modern technology. This notion is incorrect.
The first article in our advanced manufacturing series (February 2015, p. 24) presents some of the definitive characteristics of advanced manufacturing processes. These include the use of sophisticated design and development processes, high-performance computing, precision measurement and control systems, automation, advanced robotics and many other features. Today’s commercial forging operations employ all of these things. As you read through the rest of this issue, you will see that every feature article deals with some type of advanced technology, be it sophisticated pyrometric equipment, the customization of metal grain flow to suit a specific application or more efficient induction heating.
On close examination of our industry and how it works we can surmise that it is, indeed, advanced manufacturing in motion. And yet, though none of these advanced manufacturing characteristics were known to the forgemasters of even 100 years ago (much less those of the ancient Egyptian or Chinese dynasties), they still produced fine (and in some cases exquisite) work.
It is known that every industry has its “tricks of the trade” whereby experts make their craft look easy to the lay observer, much like a pro golfer may have a deft touch around the green that leaves hackers like me in awe. This has also been true of metalworking industries, where forgers and founders alike often claim that their process is part art and part science. But as we approach the realm of advanced manufacturing, mechanization and volume production, there is less room for the touch and feel of the craftsman and more demand for repeatability and consistent product quality.
Authors Tirpak and Walters touch on this in their article: “A common cause of variation in forgings has been the operator, resulting from a culture developed over the centuries. A forging operator had the latitude to make adjustments to the process based on judgment and experience. This has been the case in hammer shops where operators controlled the energy going into each ‘blow’ and other process variations. An experienced hammer operator developed an intuition in the production of forgings that varied from company to company or even shift to shift in the same plant.”
As forging assumes its rightful place among advanced manufacturing industries, “feel” for the process may (sadly, in a way) become a casualty.
Dean M. Peters, Editor