The FIERF Forum column in April 2018’s issue highlighted how industry can work with academia through the Forging Foundation-sponsored Technology and Workforce Development Summit held at California Polytechnic University. This month’s columnist, Joe Redfearn of Carlton Forge Works, was a participant in that Summit and shares his materials-engineering journey into the forging industry.

My name is Joe Redfearn. I am a quality engineer at Carlton Forge Works in Paramount, Calif., and I’ve been asked to share my story.

I graduated last spring from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in Materials Engineering. Though the “MATE” program is the smallest engineering program at Cal Poly, with only around 50 students per class, it is the only undergraduate materials program in the U.S. It is a specified curriculum focusing on materials – metals, polymers, composites, electronic materials, ceramics and more.

When I first started in the MATE program, I wasn’t sure of the path I wanted to take, but for the summer between my sophomore and junior years I landed an internship with the metallurgy department at Fluor Corp. I worked under a mentor who is a leader in the field of refinery pipes and fittings, and her passion and knowledge of metals sparked my interest to pursue a similar path.

Knowing my focus was helpful. In my junior and senior years I was able to choose classes tailored to both my interest and to the field in which I wanted to work when I graduated. I took classes such as welding metallurgy, corrosion and failure analysis.

For my senior project, I chose to study and test the natural aging behavior of 7050 aluminum. The project was for Weber Metals, a forging company. This project was a turning point in my education and, as it turned out, in my career. Not only did I gain insight into the properties of metals, but I also learned about the forging industry, a business I knew very little about prior to the project. 

The eye-opening moment for me was when I took a plant tour of Weber Metals’ facility. Reading about the forging processes in a textbook or seeing it online is nothing like experiencing it in person. Seeing the metal being formed in front of you, 10 yards from the blazing heat of the furnaces, and feeling the ground vibrate with the impact of the enormous press is extremely impressive.

As of this writing, I have been working at Carlton Forge Works for nearly a year, and to this day I am still in awe of some of the forging processes in the shop.

I was fortunate to discover my interest when I did. It narrowed my focus, and I graduated with a resume that reflected the path I wanted to follow. The job I have is challenging. My department oversees the review of all the parts that are in non-compliance with Carlton’s standards. It is complicated and demanding, and each day it tests my knowledge and reveals to me how much more I have to learn.

I returned to Cal Poly a few weeks ago, not as a student but as a professional, to contribute to a symposium on the future of research in the forging industry. It made me proud. I shook hands with the professors who had guided me on my journey, and when it was over I made a silent vow to return the favor if I ever had the chance.