Forging into the Future: A Brief Overview of the Metal Forging Industry
Metal forging is an ancient process that has existed in different forms throughout history. Today, many industries are using different types of alloys including carbon, stainless steel, nickel, and titanium. The majority of these are highly resistant to corrosion with a great strength tolerance and are being utilized in a number of applications for pulp and paper, pharmaceuticals, and petrochemical, among many others. (BIC Magazine)
This newsletter will dive into the metal forging process, how it has changed over time (including new advances), reliability and maintenance in forging plants, and safety tips for forging professionals.
What is Metal Forging?
According to Eric Weimar with PVF in an article from BIC Magazine, metal forging is a process of forming metal in which forces are applied on the material to create stress that exceeds the yield stress while staying under the ultimate stress, producing a permanent distortion in the material to be used to change the shape of the component. Simply put, the piece is heated to a high temperature, then placed on a die. Extreme compressive force is applied using a similar die, or alternatively, vertical hammers, intermittently or continuously, allowing for deformation of the workpiece.
The Federal Group USA explains that metal forging can produce some of the strongest existing manufactured parts. This is due to:
- Heating and pressing the metal seals minor cracks and closes empty spaces.
- The hot forging process separates and redistributes impurities in the metal, greatly reducing inclusions (compound materials embedded in steel during manufacturing which cause stress points).
- Forging strengthens metal through alteration of the grain structure, making it sturdier.
Metal forging has existed in various forms – from blacksmithing to hammers or presses – which have been improved upon dating back to before 4000 BC. See the timeline below courtesy of information from CFS Forge.
While the processes have advanced, some core concepts of metal forging are still in use today.
Metal Forging Today
Queen City Forging notes that while more commonly recognized forged products may have been replaced, metal forging is still used to produce many critical components in modern machinery. It continues to be considered as the premiere thermomechanical process to make durable and reliable components that meet specific product requirements through engineered metallurgy.
Most current forging is performed by hammers or presses using either open-die or closed-die forging. Roll forging is another metal forging process used today. Blacksmiths remain part of the process, leading the crews and making sure the process is correct and temperatures are maintained. (Weimar)
See the differences in open-die vs. closed-die metal forging in the following image.
Forged products are widely used today as structural components across many industries. The strong and durable forged components are excellent for safety-critical car parts such as connecting rods and crankshafts, as well as power generation and transmission equipment (turbine blades, rotor shafts). Forging can also be applied to make components for electrical motors and generators used in many different industrial and consumer applications. (IQS)
In agricultural equipment such as tractors, plows, harrows, and combine harvesters, metal forged components including gears, axles and blades are essential. Forged parts like pins, gears, and cylinders make up heavy construction equipment such as excavators, bulldozers, and cranes. For oil mining equipment, drill bits, couplings, valves, and pump components are metal forged. Wheelsets, couplers, and connecting rods are some of the components forged for railroad equipment. The quality and sturdiness of these components offers more safety, better reliability, and lower costs in these industries. (The Federal Group USA)
How the Metal Forging Industry is Growing and Advancing with New Technology
As reported by IQS Engineering Solutions, the metal forging market is expected to reach USD 130.51 billion by 2028 and grow ~6.34% between 2021 and 2028 due to an increased demand for advanced and high-strength components to be used in many industries.
Technologies—e.g. die designs with greater tolerance/tighter dimension control and modern computer-controlled forging machines—create better accuracy in the end product. Current metal forging technologies have improved versatility as well, making it possible to create a large variety of products that are more complex in shape, very small, products with high surface finishes, high yields, to produce a larger volume of products, and increase process flexibility. (360iResearch)
The popularity of lightweight materials and miniaturization is rising, which requires advanced techniques. 3D printing and computer-aided design are two of the automation and advanced technologies that are being used to enhance efficiency and reduce costs in the forging industry. Utilizing automation and digitization in forging improves efficiency and precision, therefore lowering cost. (IQS)
Reliability and Maintenance in Metal Forging Plants
As the metal forging industry grows and improves, it is important to establish good reliability and maintenance routines to keep up with production and keep costs low.
Essential equipment used in metal forging processes are the forge, hammers, presses, upsetters, ring rollers, and more. Each piece of equipment and component should be checked regularly in an effective preventive maintenance program.
Basic metal forging equipment maintenance tips include:
- Oil sampling, filter changes, lubrication, regular cleaning.
- Check running clearances, electrical systems, and pump performance.
- Check for key indicators of die wear such as cracks, chipping, excessive wear, surface finish, dimensional inaccuracy, misalignment, and poor material flow.
- Check KPIs including forging tonnage and die temperature.
- Repair even minor damages promptly.
- Store and handle equipment properly – do not overuse.
- Avoid thermal fatigue with adequate cooling practices.
OSHA Safety Tips for Forging Plants
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has provided an extensive list of safety requirements to be met while using equipment necessary in the metal forging process. Some of the items are as follows (see OSHA’s website for the complete list):
- Safety requirements for lead casts and when handling lead in the forge shop or die shop.
- All hammers shall be positioned or installed in such a manner that they remain on or are anchored to foundations sufficient to support them according to applicable engineering standards.
- Die keys and shims shall be made from a grade of material that will not unduly crack or splinter.
- Every steam or airhammer shall have a safety cylinder head to act as a cushion if the rod should break or pullout of the ram.
- All upsetters shall be installed so that they remain on their supporting foundations.
- A positive-type lockout device for disconnecting the power to the shear shall be provided.
- Shot blast: The cleaning chamber shall have doors or guards to protect operators.
The metal forging industry stands as a testament to the enduring relevance and adaptability of a process that dates back millennia. Evolving from ancient blacksmithing techniques to modern, highly sophisticated methods, metal forging continues to play a vital role in producing strong and durable components essential for various industries.
The industry has embraced technological advancements, such as computer-controlled forging machines and 3D printing, contributing to increased precision, efficiency, and a broader range of product possibilities. The demand for advanced, high-strength components across industries is propelling the metal forging market, with projections indicating significant growth in the coming years.
While forging processes have evolved, core principles persist, ensuring the production of reliable components. Maintaining and enhancing reliability in metal forging plants is crucial, requiring regular equipment checks, preventive maintenance programs, and adherence to established safety standards.
As the metal forging industry forges ahead into the future, it continues to demonstrate resilience, adaptability, and a commitment to producing components that meet the stringent requirements of diverse applications. With a focus on innovation, efficiency, and safety, the metal forging sector remains a cornerstone in the foundation of various industries, contributing to their growth and sustainability.
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