Special Report
Thursday | 22 October, 2020 | 11:32 am

Forging the future

Written by By Del Williams

Taking care of any necessary forging equipment repairs, rebuilds or remanufactures now ensures that forgers will be ready for the economic rebound in 2021

October 22, 2020 - In the forging industry, the recent economic slump, disruption of the international supply chain and consolidation among forge operations has created a potential opportunity for domestic operators to pick up new business in 2021.

Forgers should be poised to satisfy demand and take advantage of new business that gets reshored as North American manufacturers look to shorten lead times and the supply chain with domestic suppliers.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” With this proverb in mind, many forgers are taking time to prepare for the possibilities 2021 will bring. This means re-evaluating their processes and seeking out ways to improve production efficiency as part of their post-crisis rebound and recovery strategy.

To the extent funding is available, that includes finding fast, economical ways to repair or acquire equipment that will enable production at higher volumes. For the far sighted, it can also mean rebuilding or even remanufacturing equipment to take advantage of high-production, labor-saving automation.


Economical options

Scheduling necessary repairs is the obvious first step to be ready for an economic rebound in the new year.

“The most immediate and economical option is to repair existing or out-of-commission units to get them up and running to spec with greater efficiency.  This can be as simple as replacing parts that are worn, out-of-tolerance, or broken to bring the machinery back online,” says Ken Copeland, president of Ajax-CECO, a manufacturer of forging equipment since 1875.

In recent years, the Ohio-based company has continued to expand into a one-stop, expedited domestic source for forging equipment with the acquisition of Erie Press Systems under parent company Park Ohio. As a result, the company is now the largest OEM forging equipment supplier in North America.

According to Copeland, the most needed repairs on forging equipment usually involve perishable items that are common to every machine, including friction plates and driving plates for presses and upsetters, or piston heads, rods, rings and packings for hammers.

He says that the parts for these most needed repairs should be in stock at reputable domestic suppliers.

“However, forging operations can still get into trouble when a part they need to replace was built decades ago and the forger doesn’t know if the OEM is in business or if a drawing of the part exists,” he points out.

When forgers send parts to machine shops to be reverse-engineered and machined, problems can occur. Machine shops often do not have access to critical specifications about high-wear parts including the material grade of the steel, the heat-treating process used and tolerances that all were engineered specifically for that piece of equipment.

“The result can be parts that prematurely wear or fail,” Copeland cautions.

In comparison, Ajax-CECO offers stocking programs for long lead time items such as main gears, eccentric shafts, rams, etc., that are usually not stocked by forgers due to the cost. In such programs, the part is held in inventory; the forger pays a percentage of the cost and then the balance when they take possession of the part, even if that occurs years later.

According to Copeland, a custom stocking program with minimal up-front investment can eliminate months of down time due to long lead times to get specific parts. Instead, multiple machines with parts of similar size and design can have the parts manufactured to a semi-finished state in preparation for use with any of the machines. When needed, the exact dimensions for the idled machine can be provided so the part can be completed to specification, ready to install.

With the economy still in a slump, however, most forgers are less comfortable with placing a purchase order for a new machine that may take one year to deliver. They want economical options that can be brought online quickly.

In this way, a rebuild or remanufacture of existing forging equipment are still feasible options. A plus to this approach is that high-productivity, labor-saving automation can be added.

Expediting work

“Depending on the scope of the work, equipment rebuilds are ideal because the process can take as little as a few months to be operational.  In a rebuild, all high wear items such as bearings, bushings, seals and liners should be replaced to get the machine in good working condition,” says Copeland.

Rebuilds can be performed on site or the unit can be shipped to the equipment builder’s factory where the machine is disassembled, cleaned and inspected. A report will give the customer a list of missing components, compared with an “as-built” bill of material; findings of concern that might impact operation; and a description and pictures of the general condition of the parts. This comes along with a general scope of work and price estimate for the rebuild and re-commissioning of the machine.

If more extensive work is required, remanufacturing the equipment can still save time over buying new.

“Remanufacturing basically means stripping down the machine to the cast frame and replacing all the internal parts,” says Copeland. “With a remanufacture, you save time by not needing to cast a new frame. Remanufacture can be completed faster than buying new at about 85 percent to 90 percent the cost, and would usually carry a new machine warranty.”


The scope of work can include upgrading the equipment with automation. Many of the tasks that are performed manually—such as moving heavy steel rods, pipe and other stock in and out of equipment—can be automated.  This could be with the mechanical “hand” of a robot or by integrating servos that can lift, insert and deposit materials. Even tasks such as automated tooling changes can be completed with the push of a button.

Automation creates a safer environment for forging operators and increases productivity.  “By automating forging operations to perform some of the tasks of a human operator, productivity can increase from several hundred pieces per hour up to 3,000, depending on the type of products being forged. At the same time, it gives the plant the ability to maintain recommended social distancing," says Copeland.

Among the challenges forging shops still face in 2020 is shutting down their lines for repairs for any length of time. Equipment builders can work with forgers to develop a plan to minimize downtime by reviewing the machine’s bill of materials, reviewing past repair orders and manufacturing key components that will need to be replaced.

In addition, the machinery manufacturer has the original design specifications, critical materials and clearance specifications to jump on repairs or rebuilds and quickly get the work done. Information such as critical data on high-wear parts, the material grade of the steel, the heat-treating process that was used, and the required clearances that were used in the engineering of that particular forger are all needed for a quality repair, rebuild, or remanufacture.

Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California.


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