North American Forging is Advanced Manufacturing
(Part 7: Developing a Skilled Workforce)
As an advanced manufacturing sector, the educational efforts to attract young people to the industry have been led by FIA, FIERF and ASM International. Education has been geared toward people already working within the industry through FIA and FIERF. Younger students and those who teach them have been exposed to forging processes through the Materials Camps co-sponsored by FIERF and ASM.
Reaching back to the first article in our series, we would like to remind readers of this quote regarding the forging workforce: “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.”
On and Above the Shop Floor
The many facets of the North American forging industry offer ample opportunity for workers to earn high pay in challenging roles. Opportunities are both on and above the shop floor. On the shop floor, workers operate sophisticated furnaces, hammers and presses, working with basic and advanced alloys. Die makers utilize sophisticated software to design, machine and finish dies from high-performance tool steels. Quality assurance requires trained and certified inspectors to guarantee the forgings will meet the stringent requirements associated with their respective applications.
Above the shop floor, the front office is led by business owners utilizing an ERP system to manage and control the whole enterprise. Tool design engineers, process engineers, and sales and marketing engineers are all engaged with designing, making and selling a sophisticated, value-added product. Either way – on or above the shop floor – a forging enterprise requires talented, energetic, smart people that will be rewarded with a promising and fulfilling career.
Changing Educational Requirements
As the forging industry has morphed into an advanced one, its educational requirements have changed. For example, maintenance personnel are now responsible to troubleshoot and maintain sophisticated CNC machines, CMM measuring systems, computer-controlled forging equipment, robots and computer-controlled furnaces. The job requirements for maintenance staff require far more technical background than the analog systems of the past. For many forges across North America, companies are struggling to find skilled, trained workers. Despite the problem in filling these positions, there are solutions reaching all the way into our high schools and up through the North American university system.
FIA’s experience in developing a skilled workforce was brought to bear at the Defense Manufacturing Community’s 2015 Annual Conference (DMC 2015). FIA was invited to share its views on filling positions in manufacturing.
Within high schools, FIA and FIERF have collaborated with ASM International to support Materials Camps. These camps are offered as either week-long student camps (in-residence or day camps) or as teacher camps. Both are exciting and fun for the participants, but the teachers camps offer leverage. For each teacher we reach, they in turn reach approximately 30 students per year. Since materials science, technology and engineering is a broad topic, FIA and FIERF have worked with ASM International to provide both instructors and content to inform and inspire students to consider forging as a career. Recognizing that there are only a limited number of openings, the industry is not seeking legions of workers but rather the best and the brightest with a passion for hot metal.
Should a student be inspired to pursue forging beyond the high-school level, the Forging Industry Education and Research Foundation (FIERF) also promotes forging through its Magnet School Program. On an annual basis, FIERF awards a variety of scholarships and R&D grants to Magnet School students (undergraduate and graduate) and professors, respectively. Through these scholarships and grants, students often witness forging operations firsthand. Ultimately, with the completion of their degree, they are sought by forging companies for all roles in a forge.
FIA- and FIERF- Sponsored Education
For the professional entering the forging industry or sharpening his or her saw, FIA offers specialized workshops annually on die and press design. These courses are taught by Magnet School professors and experienced professionals. They cover a range of relevant and applicable topics, including: physics of forging equipment; metallurgy; analysis of tool-and-die failures; preform design; lubrication; heat transfer; forging operations; and others. These topics are but a small sample of the curricula offered to forging professionals. These courses supplement an engineering education and in-house training.
Once in the workforce, FIA offers Forging University to its member companies. This web-based tool provides a wide variety of training opportunities for anyFIA member to acquire or sharpen their skills. Offerings range from soft skills such as communication (spoken and written) to hard skills such as metallurgy, heat treating, forging physics, etc. Forging University is available 24/7, enabling lifelong learning any time and all the time.
FIA also has expanded its outreach into management training. A new FIA course is being offered to supervisors and young managers to take advantage of the latest in training for operations, sales and other fields in the industry. In 2015, as part of the Defense Manufacturing Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., FIA illustrated this program through a point-counterpoint panel discussion between manufacturing mentors and protégés. This debate was designed to illustrate both the benefits and challenges of manufacturing, especially as viewed by emerging professionals poised to lead the industry into the future.
Every 18 months or so, FIERF holds its Technical Conference, at which academia and industry gather to exchange technical ideas and emerging technologies. The next one is scheduled for next month in Columbus, Ohio. These conferences are a valuable resource in keeping the industry current on technologies that help it remain competitive and further the doctrine of advanced manufacturing.
FIERF collaborates with Magnet School professors on a range of forging-specific research. Some of the projects are intended to provide an operational advantage to the industry. Other funded projects are educational in nature. Since the general engineering curriculum is well defined, these relationships continue to develop the forging applications in education. Engineers and metallurgists going through these programs get a head start in learning a very challenging and technically advanced field.
Yes, the North American forging industry is advanced, and it requires the best talent available. To meet the workforce needs of the industry, a variety of programs are in place to inform and inspire high-school and college students to enter the forging business. Continuing education also exists through FIA’s Forging University and other FIA offerings.
Preparing this series of articles is clearly a team effort between SCRA Applied R&D, Scientific Forming Technologies Corporation (SFTC) and FORGE magazine. Jon Tirpak, the executive director of the Forging Industry Association – Department of Defense Manufacturing Consortium, and John Walters of SFTC appreciate the support received from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). “Forging is Advanced Manufacturing” was sponsored in part by the DLA’s Procurement Readiness Optimization – Forging Advanced Systems and Technologies Program (PRO-FAST).
Co-author Jon D. Tirpak is the executive director of FDMC and FAST program manager. He is also president of ASM International. He may be reached at 843-760-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Co-author John Walters is vice president of Scientific Forming Technologies Corporation, Columbus, Ohio. He may be reached at 614-451-8330 or email@example.com.