Simulation as a Sales Tool in Forging: When is it Worth it?
Prospective forging customers are more frequently asking for a complete part simulation as part of the sales process. The objective of a simulation is to convince the customer that your forge shop can precisely manufacture the required part. This costs money, time and effort, but is it always worth it? The answer, increasingly, seems to be “yes.”
Simulation in the forging business has numerous advantages. Increasingly, manufacturing companies are acquiring state-of-the-art software products so that they are able to understand, discuss and digitally represent a customer’s design and engineering needs. Sometimes simulations require a solid time and resource investment, however, so if they are used as a sales tool it is possible there will be no return in running the simulation if the order isn’t received.
From the customer’s view, they are under the pressure of competitive markets and the continuous evolution to better and more precise products from which they can choose. Therefore, they prefer working with expert forging companies with sound knowledge or experience dedicated to certain products or processes. Traditional forging plants, in response, are forced to narrow their sights and seek the niches in which they can best deliver their core competencies.
Undoubted Benefits of Forging Simulations
The objective of a simulation is to convince the customer that your forge shop can precisely manufacture the required part. Furthermore, all charges and costs associated will be mentioned, discussed and defined.
During a simulation, engineers are able to test the chosen material for microstructural changes, thermal reactions and flow stress in order to define the best process to forge a custom piece. The engineering staff can determine areas of possible failure and calculate the exact time needed to deliver the requested part. Die fill, load, energy and defect formation are predicted. Strain, stress and temperature are calculated. The detailed benefits of a simulation process for cold-, warm- and hot-forged parts can be summarized as follows.
- Cold forging is a forming process occurring below the recrystallization temperature of the material and characterized by the complexity of the workpiece. Simulation software, in this case, mostly targets the prevention of wrinkle formation, cracks and excessive press and die loads. The process should result in reliable preforms for near-net-shape production.
- Hot forging comprises all forming processes that occur above the recrystallization temperature of a metal, where the material’s strength is reduced (yield stress). Very high formability can be achieved during recrystallization during and after forging. In this case, simulation is expected to predict how the metal flows to prevent under-fillings, folds and laps. Furthermore, calculating grain flow and tracking central looseness guarantees the quality of the piece. Finally, the heat-treatment simulation determines product hardness, residual-stress distribution and geometrical deformations.
- Warm forging occurs at above recovery temperatures but below hot-forging temperatures. Its main characteristics are better formability than cold forging and better forming precision than hot forging. Simulation is used to define the exact forming temperature, which is of crucial importance in warm forging.
Case Study: Farinia Group
Farinia Group is a French manufacturing group with nine state-of-the art forging plants, one casting subsidiary and plenty of innovative projects. It is a company with a long history and strong values, dedicated to lean processes, limiting environmental impacts and respecting human fundamental rights.
During the last three years, the company has struggled with the increasing amounts of RFQs requesting expensive and time-investing simulations, which wouldn’t necessarily lead to any financial benefits.
R&D Director Thierry Chazot said, “To cope with demanding markets and tough competition, industrial manufacturers want to work with experts in forging. They want to be sure every time that when they buy – even in small batch quantities – that they have found the best forger with the best equipment, delivering the best product at the best price. For all this they require a sophisticated simulation, which wasn’t the case a couple of years ago.”
To manage the situation, Farinia Group has integrated the following guidelines.
- Customers trust only experts – The management team has worked hard to assign to each of its forging plants a certain specialty based on the industries it serves or a specific forging technique it performs and to provide the forge with the latest machinery and tools.
- Respecting the contractual commitment – This is essential in every stage of the manufacturing process. Very often, it is easier to produce prototypes and Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) than to sustain a smooth ramp-up without any delays, quality issues and other hurdles.
- Successful prototypes and PPAP phase – Consistent with the previously mentioned points, the company’s objective should be to succeed in the prototypes and PPAP phase but also in the Start of Production (SOP) and in the steady increase of the daily or weekly quantities required by the customer.
- Fixed price – The price defined at the moment of the order should be precisely calculated based on important criteria such as the forging batch’s quantity and other relevant parameters, and it should stay fixed.
Critical Role of the Engineering Team
Setforge is the forging subsidiary of Farinia Group. It has nine forging facilities throughout Europe. These facilities cover the whole spectrum of forging techniques and offer the complete development of components, from the design phase through to production. Setforge works with all types of steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, nickel and titanium alloys.
The subsidiary manufactures, among others, high-quality common rails for injection systems and parts for airplane landing gears. It supplies many different industries such as automotive, aerospace, agriculture, defense, energy, oil and gas, off-highway, railway and material-handling industries.
Each of the Setforge companies has its own design office, managed by the central R&D office of the group – Setforge Engineering. All these entities are attached to the company’s sales organization and support it during each step of the sales process. Besides the fact that they are under tremendous pressure to design products of premium quality keeping tight schedules, engineers are the ones to define the price. A solid R&D structure guarantees an optimized production cycle and thus the company’s success.
At Farinia Group, co-design and cooperation are considered an opportunity to explore new markets and acquire new customers. Participating in the design of the part at a very early stage side-by-side with the customer (and thus demonstrating expertise) is the best way to ensure that all aforementioned points have been followed and respected. Farinia makes its portfolio grow continuously by integrating employees’ competence during a simulation presentation to show the customer how to convert an established production process for a certain component into a modern forging cycle.
RFI, RFP, RFQ: Where to invest more time and effort and where less?
It is important to differentiate between RFI (request for information), RFP (request for proposal), RFQ (request for quotation) and their specific processing. Every company follows its own processes, but Farinia Group considers the following three golden rules.
- Because the processing of an RFQ is very engaging and expensive, it is important to distinguish it from an RFI and an RFP, which can be handled faster and easier but should be analyzed as an important part of the technology watch.
- It is necessary to define, company by company, the monthly potential of each category – RFI, RFP and RFQ.
- It is essential to set the appropriate key performance indicators (KPIs) in order to be able to follow the correct process.
The processing of RFPs and RFQs is getting more and more complicated. Prospects and existing customers are increasingly asking for part simulations in advance of placing an order. Engineering teams are losing a lot of time in consulting services, but the prospect rarely turns into a paying customer.
To successfully grow the customer base of a company, the engineering team should accept simulation as a serious sales instrument and opt for maximum precision. A close collaboration with the customer from the very beginning of the design phase and innovative suggestions for improvements and co-design are ideal. This type of collaboration lets prospective customers witness the competence of your employees and convinces them that your team is comfortable with the process and advanced applications.
It is certain that simulation is an extremely useful tool in a wide range of production and development applications. Companies should find a way to integrate it into their sales strategy because the technology will continue to mature, and simulation will continue to evolve into a daily production activity.