Forging plays a crucial role in providing a critical link between metal suppliers (both ferrous and nonferrous) and end-user industries. Over the past 20 years, fundamental forces have challenged the industry.[1] These include:

  • Fluctuating economic and market conditions
  • Accelerated technological change
  • Intensified global competition
  • Increasing customer demand

These forces have led to several strategic imperatives. This article will concentrate on operational excellence, capability development and collaborative partnerships.

This 6,000-year-old industry[2] needs help to meet these strategic imperatives and overcome modern-day challenges. New technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), have a critical role to play in helping provide solutions to today’s issues.

 

Operational Excellence

Driven by restrictions in R&D spending and capital available within the forging industry, many furnaces in use today are not explicitly designed for forging requirements. They cater to a broader need from other process-heating industries.

There is a compromised balance between an optimized solution for specific market segments and the benefit of volumes across the general industrial base to be able to lower overall capital costs. This compromise means that forging companies are heavily reliant on vendors to help improve equipment capability, repeatability and reliability.

Previous articles[3] have outlined the use of conventional furnaces in the forging industry. Among typical conventional furnaces used are car-bottom furnaces (Fig. 1), box furnaces (Fig. 2), rotary-hearth furnaces and batch integral-quench furnaces.

This article will focus on examples of the car-bottom furnace and box furnace. It is worth noting the following solutions can also apply across other furnaces and other types of equipment.

Current issues with modern forging equipment include process variation (meaning temperature uniformity for furnaces) and islands of process control. This variation and multiple platforms are typical due to several ages of furnaces present in most forging shops.

Process variation may be inherent in the design of the equipment or caused by the aging of the asset. It is more important than ever to have some form of asset-management solution to aid in not only uptime of the equipment but also consistent performance over time.

Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions have promoted the emergence of Ethernet-connected process-automation solutions and started to tackle the issue of islands of control through digital communication by enabling standard communication protocols across the factory. This real-time data is available to be leveraged by today’s AR platforms (see Augmented Reality sidebar).

It is now possible to provide an unprecedented level of clarity around machine health, performance and procedures. Access to clear, current instructions for machine setup, changeover and maintenance reduces time spent trying to find and interpret written instructions, which ultimately improves productivity and leads to operational excellence.

 

Capability Development

The attractiveness of the industry is critical to developing the future workforce. In addition to its continued work with academia for projects, internships and apprentice programs, the industry must raise its game to compete for today’s talent. It is imperative to develop the current workforce to remain competitive and continue to maintain and improve quality and productivity standards. Two action items[5] summarize this requirement:

  • Develop the programs and resources to retrain employees in the use of new technology and to support improved or redesigned manufacturing processes.
  • Find better ways to retain talented people and expand the labor pool for new hires.

Add to this the fact that a significant part of the current workforce, with years of valuable experience and knowledge, is preparing to age out. These experts act as mentors to new hires, demonstrating proper workflow methods as well as identifying shortcuts and tips. These experts also understand the importance of safety and how it aligns with industry and government standards.

IDC[6] recently collected data on how much of a concern manufacturing companies have about losing their most knowledgeable workers due to retirement. Two-thirds said they were concerned, and 8% believed AR could help address the issue of losing experience due to retirement.

 

Future Workforce and Retaining Talent

It is important to note that younger talent (such as Millennials and Generation Z) learns and behaves differently than the older generation. Baby Boomers and Generation X workers learned through an individualized approach and traditional means of coursework, lectures and training seminars. The younger generation, born as digital natives, has been instructed to work collaboratively and is comfortable using a variety of media and methods (video, audio, hands-on) and prefers to learn in bite-sized chunks. They have high expectations and low thresholds to monotony; work must be stimulating to keep them engaged and employed.

Research shows that it is more cost-beneficial to train and retain an employee than seeing them leave the company. According to estimates from the Association for Talent Development, the average training cost per employee is $1,252. Meanwhile, turnover costs can run as high as $15,000 (source: Work Institute’s 2017 Retention Report).

AR can step in and aid knowledge transfer as well as meet the technology preferences and learning styles of a modern generation. AR-based knowledge transfer flattens the learning curve and reduces the amount of time needed for training. Trainees can more easily recall what they saw and heard compared with remembering what they read in a manual, which also helps with employee satisfaction and retention.

 

Collaborative Partnerships

As previously mentioned, forging companies are heavily reliant on vendors to help improve equipment capability, repeatability and reliability. Along with AR technology, they can also directly support the forging operation.

Using see-what-I-see and expert-in-your-ear methodologies, furnace manufacturers, as well as other remote staff, can provide expert support from any distant location. The benefits to remote support include helping reduce overall service costs and speeding up time to repair or mitigate issues as well as maximizing the availability of experts (rather than spending time traveling to and from manufacturing sites). This closer connection to the forging operation helps the furnace manufacturer understand more of the operational aspects, and this can ultimately aid innovation in existing equipment enhancement and new equipment design.

Some typical solutions offered by AR include:

  • Side-by-side support with remote experts to get you back up and running quickly
  • Rapid access to critical information and equipment history
  • Walk the site without being on location for remote inspections
  • Remote furnace commissioning
  • Remote training

 

Conclusion

Augmented reality, along with other digital technologies, can help the forging industry meet the demands of operational excellence, develop the current workforce and attract new talent, and reach higher levels of collaboration with critical-equipment vendors.

 


For more information: Contact Peter Sherwin, Global Business Development Manager, Eurotherm by Schneider Electric, 44621 Guilford Drive, Suite 100, Ashburn VA, 20147; tel: 703-724-7300; cell: 571-246-3809, fax: 703-724-7301; e-mail: Peter.Sherwin@se.com; web: www.eurotherm.com.

 


References

  1. Hansen, F., Brindle, R., 2016, “Forging Industry Technology Roadmap,” Forging Industry Educational and Research Foundation, pp. 8-9  Viewed 31 March 2019, (https://www.forging.org/uploaded/content/media/2016%20Forging%20Roadmap%20Update%20(1).pdf)
  2. Grillo, F., 2017, “The History of Steel Forging,”  Viewed 31 March 2019, (https://www.steelavailable.com/en/history-steel-forging/)
  3. Huber, P., 2007, “The Use of Conventional Furnaces in the Forging Industry,” Viewed 31 March 2019 (https://www.forgemag.com/articles/83736-the-use-of-conventional-furnaces-in-the-forging-industry)
  4. Huber, P., 2007, “The Use of Conventional Furnaces in the Forging Industry,” Viewed 31 March 2019 (https://www.forgemag.com/articles/83736-the-use-of-conventional-furnaces-in-the-forging-industry)
  5. Porter, M.E., Heppelmann, J.E., 2017, “Why Every Organization Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy,” Harvard Business Review, Nov.-Dec. 2017
  6. Llamas, R.T., Mainelli, T., 2019, “How Augmented Reality Expedites Training and Knowledge Transfer for Frontline Workers,” IDC Technology Spotlight