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All Metals & Forge
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Manufacturer of Custom Forgings Devises Innovative Methods to Save Time and Costs
A New Jersey-based metals service center and forge shop offers an enviable combination of production efficiencies, materials availability, and value-added services for its customers.
Manufacturing companies worldwide are often confronted with six- to eight-month waiting periods nowadays for metals critical to their production processes--whether they're steels, aluminum, or more exotic metals like titanium. This agonizing wait is an eternity when customers are desperate to get products to market. Many in the industrial sector attribute these shortages to increased manufacturing production in the Asian countries, while others believe that the shortages are due to limited production capacities at existing mills.
One American manufacturer, All Metals & Forge (AM&F) in Parsippany, New Jersey, is well aware of the problem of dwindling metal supplies.
"We produce 45 different parts for a jet engine for General Electric," says Lewis Weiss, president of AM&F. "The OEM was told by another vendor that they might have to wait 12 to 14 weeks for the material to arrive from their source. We were able to get the job finished on deadline for them because we had the billet stock already on our shop floor."
Not only are metal supply turnarounds slow (the largest steel company in the United States is quoting 35 weeks for most deliveries, according to Weiss), but prices fluctuate greatly on the world market. Titanium, for example, was selling for $15 a pound in January 2007; by December 2007, it was $50. "It costs about $2 billion to build a titanium mill," Weiss explains. "If everyone's talking about a recession, who is going to plunk down $2 billion for a new mill? In addition, chromium is in very short supply, an item needed for stainless steels, and so are nickel and cobalt, which are needed for other alloys."
All Metals & Forge has been in business since 1972. The company is a distributor and manufacturer of custom-produced open die forgings and seamless rolled rings, as well as milled products and warehoused specialty metals, such as nickel alloys, titanium, aluminum, and certain grades of carbon, stainless, and alloy steel.
The company offers very good turnaround times on parts because most of its materials are kept in stock or are coming in from regular mill orders. Most of these specialty materials are used for large OEMs in the aerospace, aviation, defense, and petroleum industries, and for contract parts manufacturers. Some of the firm's applications for die forgings include seamless rolled rings and contoured rolled rings for aircraft turbine engines, drive shafts for many different pieces of equipment, and near net-shape parts for machine shops and metalworking companies.
In terms of the technology, forging is still performed about the same as it was when blacksmiths first started making horse shoes and other metal farm implements. Basically, the steel is heated and pounded into the desired shape. All Metals & Forge can forge rings ranging from "a few inches up to about 150 inches in diameter," according to Weiss, as well as shafts, flanges, hubs, blocks, and other controlled shapes. "For example, a landing gear on a large commercial aircraft must be forged, instead of cast or milled from bar, so that it can withstand the enormous forces exerted on it during landing," says Weiss. "Forging produces a much stronger piece of material."
All Metals & Forge is able to efficiently control its supply of raw materials by carefully watching its inventories with sophisticated computer systems. The company makes supply estimates based on the number of inquiries that come in and for existing orders in the plant, so it's able to keep the proper amount of inventory in the shop and on order at all times. Inventory management also allows for long term agreements (LTAs) with customers. Weiss says that this is where a customer might need a thousand bars to produce a particular part over the span of a year. "We'll set up an LTA contract with them, get all of the metal for the whole year at a lower cost, and then ship 90 or 100 bars each month to feed their production line."
The company's global sourcing relationships with mills and suppliers of raw materials help AM&F maintain a sufficient stock of metals. One of the company's advantages is that it has been doing business for almost four decades. And the advent of the internet enabled a diverse approach to global sourcing for metals.
A New Specialty
A couple of years ago, AM&F began developing a custom melting specialty, whereby it provides designer alloys. The forging company partners with a mill that will make any alloy a customer calls out, in as little as 250 pounds, which is uncommon. All Metals & Forge will then take the small ingots and manufacture parts by forging and rolling them into whatever shape they need, whether it's a bar or ring or flange. Unfortunately, small quantities of a custom-made material will cost $40 to $60 per pound, but it's clearly cheaper than buying a minimum order of 25,000 pounds from a mill.
"We get many calls from shops that want to make a part from a blueprint that was used in 1950," says Weiss. "The blueprint calls for an unavailable alloy, and it can't just be changed arbitrarily. Most mills have to make 25,000 pounds of the material to make it economical for them. However, our mill can make the low quantity for them."
Custom Forgings and Value-added Services
The company's value-added service offerings are enormous and diverse. As a "one-stop-shop," AM&F can do a great deal to enhance a part for its customers. Forged shapes produced by All Metals & Forge include discs, hubs, blocks, shafts, flanges, sleeves, cylinders, flats, hexes, rounds, plate, and custom shapes. For value-added service, the company provides cold and hot forming, heat treating, cutting, machining, extrusions, rolling, and welding. Custom bar operations include production of hand-rolled bars in numerous materials and sizes (metric or U.S. units), and in shapes ranging from round bar to flat bar, square bar, hex bar, and custom shapes. Many of these sizes are not commonly available.
All of AM&F's forgings are custom-made for critical applications utilizing open-die forging. In open-die forging, every piece is produced individually as a custom-made product. Even though high-tech equipment is used today, it's still an expensive process, but the customer is getting a higher quality part for critical applications where strength and durability are paramount.
When hundreds of identical parts are required, the process switches to closed-die forgings, where a male and female die are used, says Weiss. First, the metal is heated and put in the die before it is struck into the shape of the die. The benefit in this process is that it produces little material waste and less machining. However, customers can get good cost savings from this process only if they buy large quantities. "In the automotive industry, for example, there are a lot of closed-die forged parts produced," Weiss explains. "But they use millions of parts, so they are saving on material and machining, even though the tooling is very expensive for the dies," Weiss explains. "The tooling is expensive because it has to be very strong and hard for forgings, because there is so much pounding, heat, pressure, and stress on the dies."
Forgings can be metal stamped as a secondary process. More likely, however, they will be machined on five-axis machining centers at AM&F. Initially, the company cuts the plates or blocks with laser or waterjet cutting tools. Rolled rings can be cut with a laser or waterjet tool and then machined, but only if grain structure is not an issue. But if the rings are used for critical applications, such as aviation parts, they will have to be forged to achieve the proper grain structure for added strength.
A Metals Information Resource Center
To keep its customers coming back, AM&F has become a metals information resource center for its customers. Information dissemination has become another value-added service. New information is added to the firm's website on a regular basis. An RSS news feed on the site posts new data every day for the aviation, military, and contract manufacturing industries. "It's not only U.S. news, but also European and Asian," Weiss says. "Our news feed company probably has over 500 different topics, but we can purchase the ones that relate to our business. We use about 12 different related topics for the industries we work with."
In terms of proprietary technology, the company helped design a couple of enterprise-wide software programs that they felt couldn't be obtained in a standard, off-the-shelf package. "The business has gotten so complex in terms of material use, material sourcing, and part documentation that we decided to build our own proprietary software that operates almost our entire business," says Weiss. "We started creating it about three years ago, and it is still not finished. It may never be finished, since industry is changing so quickly these days."
Because so many things are done automatically with use of the dedicated software, the company has been able to keep overhead low in terms of staffing. The software includes information about sales and marketing, and enables notification of vendors that are waiting for raw materials. It also enables the company to inform customers that their parts have been shipped, and it can take customer surveys about their performance that will then be analyzed.
For more information on All Metals & Forge, visit www.steelforge.com
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