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Forges

How Forges Can Use Cloud-Based Monitoring and other Advanced Technologies to Increase Efficiency

August 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


Any manufacturing executive tracking industry trends will no doubt run across terms like “big data,” “cloud computing,” and the “Internet of Things.” In fact, according to the results of a survey from Deloitte and the Council on Competitiveness, these types of advanced technologies have the power to put the U.S. back on the map as the most competitive manufacturing nation.

“CEOs say advanced manufacturing technologies are key to unlocking future competitiveness,” the report summary states. “As the digital and physical worlds converge within manufacturing, executives indicate the path to manufacturing competitiveness is through advanced technologies, ranking predictive analytics, Internet-of-Things (IoT), both smart products and smart factories via Industry 4.0, as well as advanced materials as critical to future competitiveness.”

As a forging executive, however, the question becomes: How does this technology apply to my operation? Or to put it another way: How do these “buzz words” play out on the shop floor?

One technology application, featured here in Forging magazine, gives a good indication of what cloud-computing and connectivity could look like in a metal-cutting operation. Specifically, the article features a cloud-based bandsaw monitoring system that offers three key features:

These are no small benefits. In fact, they fall right in line with two of the strategies listed in the Benchmark Study of Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations from the LENOX Institute of Technology. According to findings from the study, forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations can gain additional productivity on the shop floor by investing in smarter, more predictive operations management approaches and by taking a more proactive approach to equipment and blade maintenance. By using cloud-based monitoring to track blade life and machine health status, managers can do just that by anticipating downtime, which, as the study states, “translates into more jobs completed on time.”

Of course, bandsaw monitoring is just one possible application. As we reported here in our annual forging industry forecast, controls and sensors are also being developed and implemented to monitor the forging process in a bid to automatically sense and compensate for any variation in the process. This type of consistency not only boosts efficiency, but could have some major quality benefits as well.

An article from IndustryWeek provides a few more application examples. The article describes how three leading companies are using advanced technologies to connect just about everything and anything—video cameras to monitor workflow process, safety helmets to track employees, and end products to predict reliability—all of which shows that the potential applications are only as limited as a manufacturer’s creativity.

What possible applications could cloud-based monitoring and other advanced technologies have in your forging operation?

Forges

3 Strategies to Reduce Procurement Costs in Small and Mid-Sized Forges

July 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Cost reduction will always be a top priority for manufacturers. However, in today’s ultra-competitive and uncertain market, manufacturing executives need to be both creative and strategic as they look for new ways to reduce costs.

As stated in the white paper, Top Five Operating Challenges for Forges that Cut and Process Metal, there are several ways forges are reducing operational costs. Measuring total cost, monitoring blade life, and instituting ongoing preventative maintenance programs are just a few examples. According to the recently revised Forging Industry Technology Roadmap, the forging industry as a whole is also working toward finding new ways to reduce material and energy usage costs—two of the most significant cost factors in forging.

A recent article published by Thomasnet, however, notes that while the tendency is for small and mid-sized businesses to focus on reducing costs for their overall operations, there is also a huge benefit to reducing costs within specific business functions, most notably procurement.

“Small businesses spend between 45 and 65 percent of sales revenue on procurement of inputs,” the article states. “Therefore, procurement should be considered a viable opportunity to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Even basic changes to the procurement process can cut procurement costs by 5 to15 percent and start a smaller business on the road to strategic sourcing.”

The article goes on to list five strategies small and mid-size operations can use to improve procurement. Read below for a summary of three of the five best practices (You can read the full article here.):

  1. Build and Maintain Strategic Partnerships. Small firms should seek strategic partnerships with key suppliers. Purchasing from fewer suppliers saves time and resources while building trust. A small business owner can talk openly with a strategic partner and ensure the company is not overspending due to unnecessary costs.
  2. Improve Internal Procurement Processes. Procurement efforts should include annual analysis of spend and demand, with supplier pricing reviews occurring semi-annually or even quarterly. Use spend analysis to detail all costs and terms associated with procurement and demand analysis to define essential needs with a focus on improving cost and quantity.
  3. Organize with Others to Increase Buying Power. Partnering with other small businesses can yield volume discounts and achieve savings. Consortiums put the benefits of economies of scale into effect for small businesses that would otherwise be left paying premiums.

Of course, there are no quick fixes when it comes to cost reduction. However, by taking the time to approach cost strategically—and perhaps even one business function at a time—small and mid-sized forges can make improvements that may have a long-term and sustainable impact on the bottom line.

What strategies has your forge adopted to reduce costs?

Forges

Choosing the Right Band Saw Blade for Your Forge

June 25, 2016 / , , , , , ,


In band sawing, forges and other industrial metal-cutting companies typically rely on two types of blades—bi-metal and carbide-tipped blades. Both blade technologies offer more performance and life expectancy than carbon steel blades, and choosing between the two types used to be fairly straightforward. However, advancements in both technologies have made it a little more difficult for companies to make the best blade choice for their operations.

While sawing is just a small part of the forging process, achieving operational excellence requires managers to optimize all aspects of the forging operation. To help forges make the best decision about the “right” blade type for their band-sawing operations, below is a brief overview on both blade types from the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job.

Bi-Metal Blades
Bi-metal blades are a common choice for most metal-cutting applications, especially since they are more affordable than carbide-tipped blades. In bi-metal blade construction, high-speed steel edge material is welded to fatigue resistant spring steel backing, providing a good combination of cutting performance and fatigue life.

Generally speaking, bi-metal blades are sub-divided into the following two categories:

  1. General-purpose blades are often used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon steels, structural steels, and some alloy steels. These blades are also good for switching between different metal types and sizes, as well as from solids to structural pieces. However, some industry experts warn to be judicious when switching between different metal types, sizes and shapes, as subjecting blades to different types of cutting can shorten blade life.
  2. Production-sawing blades tend to be more versatile and are able to cut everything from the easiest-to-cut materials to difficult-to-cut nickel-based alloys. These blades are also ideal for cutting structural pieces and bundles, and they typically offer a long blade life and fast, straight cutting.

Carbide-Tipped Blades
Like bi-metal blades, carbide-tipped blades are made of at least two different types of material. In most cases, carbide tips are welded to a high-strength alloy back, providing a longer lasting, smoother cutting blade.

Although carbide-tipped blades are typically more expensive than bi-metal blades, shops may elect to trade up to a carbide-tipped blade for three key reasons:

  1. longer life
  2. faster cutting
  3. better finish

The various choices of carbide-tipped blades will cover the machinability spectrum, but they are most often used for hard-to-cut materials like super alloys. High-performance carbide-tipped blades work especially well with hard tool steel that needs to be cut fast. Some high-performance carbide-tipped blades—especially coated versions—can offer extreme cutting rates, while others can perform exceptionally well when cutting super alloys.

Weighing the Options
As explained in the white paper, Top 5 Operating Challenges for Forges that Cut and Process Metal, having the right blade for the job optimizes cut times, cut quality, and blade life, especially when cutting tougher metals like stainless steel and super alloys. This is particularly important in forged materials, which require aggressive blades with varied tooth geometries that can get underneath any scale buildup.

Of course, there will always be instances when the “right” blade choice won’t be clear cut and will require managers to strategically choose between a “good,” “better” and “best” option. For example, bi-metal band saw blades have been traditionally used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon and structural steels, and some alloy steels. However, as featured here in Modern Metals, LENOX offers a carbide-tipped band saw blade that has been designed specifically to cut aluminum and non-ferrous alloys. The new blade has a range of features that are optimized  for aluminum cutting applications, including a specialized grade of carbide on the tip, a multi-chip tooth pattern, and a high rake angle.

Another example is noted in an article from Canadian Industrial Machinery. According to the article, bi-metal blades can be used to cut super alloys; however, as the article explains, cutting speeds will need to be slower and blades will wear out faster than when using carbide blades. “An experienced operator can adjust parameters to cut the occasional super alloy with a bimetal blade, but carbide is the choice to cost-effectively cut large quantities of hard materials,” the article states. “Blade choice comes down to a cost-per-cut situation and what fits with a shop’s operation.”

Making the Right Choice
Indeed, blade selection needs to take into account the total operational costs of running the blade, including maintenance costs and equipment requirements. Case in point: While carbide-tipped blades are more advanced in the right application, they do not perform well with a lot of vibration. Therefore, they can only be used with certain saws. Metal-cutting operations using carbide-tipped blades need to make sure they are using a saw that can run the blade speeds that are required.

In the end, the “right” blade choice requires forges to weigh the following:

By understanding some of the basic features of each blade type and then strategically assessing operational needs and goals, managers can make informed purchasing decisions that will factor into the bottom line and, ultimately, contribute to the shop’s overall success.

Forges

Using OEE as a Metric in Metal Forging

May 25, 2016 / , , , , ,


Regardless of what is happening in the market, there is one challenge that forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations are always fighting, and that’s downtime. In fact, despite a trend toward internal process improvements, an industry benchmark study revealed that machine downtime, blade failure, and operator error remain the top-three sources of frustration for industrial metal cutting operations on the shop floor.

To combat this issue, many shops are turning to metrics like overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Although this type of measurement has traditionally been used in large production facilities, smaller and medium-sized shops are starting to find OEE to be a useful way to track and improve the effectiveness of their production machinery.

What is OEE?
OEE is a best practices metric that measures the percentage of production time that is truly productive. It takes into account all six types of loss, resulting in a measure of productive manufacturing time.

In simple terms, OEE can be described as the ratio of fully productive time to planned production time. According to leanproduction.com, it can be measured in one of two ways:

(Good Pieces x Ideal Cycle Time) / Planned Production Time

or

Availability x Performance x Quality

(You can find a more detailed description of the calculation here, as well as a sample calculation.)

A plant with an OEE score of 100 percent has achieved perfect production—high quality parts as fast as possible, with zero down time. While that’s ideal, it’s not quite possible in the real world. According to oee.com, studies show that the average OEE rate among manufacturing plants is 60 percent, which leaves substantial room for improvement. Most experts agree that an OEE rate of 85 percent or better is considered “world class” and is a good long-term goal for most operations. The good news is that 85 percent is achievable. As this case study from Metalforming magazine describes, Magellan Aerospace in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada was able to improve its OEE from a mere 36 percent to a world-class 85-percent-plus after implementing a new “shop floor to top floor” software program.

Managers can use OEE as both a benchmark and baseline. Specifically, leanproduction.com says it can be used to “compare the performance of a given production asset to industry standards, to similar in-house assets, or to results for different shifts working on the same asset.” It can also be used as a baseline “to track progress over time in eliminating waste from a given production asset.”

How to Use OEE Effectively
So how do you use OEE correctly? Below are a few pointers from an article from IndustryWeek:

Also, just because you aren’t a high-volume producer, don’t assume OEE isn’t for you. Check out this article from thefabricator.com, which describes how automated data collection can help smaller shops better measure OEE in more custom manufacturing applications. Another archived article from Production Machining describes other ways to apply OEE concepts to medium and small-sized shops.

As the IW article states, OEE can be misused and misunderstood, but it is not a “bad metric.” When calculated and applied correctly, OEE can be very useful in helping companies quantify and uncover new improvement opportunities.

For more information on OEE, check out this article, “The ‘Quick & Dirty’ About OEE,” or you can find a more in-depth overview here.

Forges

Trends Affecting Forges in 2016 and Beyond

April 25, 2016 / , , , , , ,


As we reported in our 2016 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, forging shops and other industrial metal-cutting companies entered the year fairly optimistic. Unfortunately, expansion in the industrial manufacturing sector has been slow moving. While current conditions have left many companies cautious, long-term forecasts point to better times ahead.

Positive Thinking
While not everyone anticipated huge growth in 2016, very few expected it to be worse. According to an annual industry survey from Forging Magazine, almost half (49.2%) of forgers entered the year with a positive outlook, while 41.5 percent expected 2016 to be “about the same.” Based on the survey results, aluminum forgers (61.1%) and impression-die forgers (62.5%) were the most optimistic about rising shipments in 2016.

Confidence was also seen in forgers’ spending plans for 2016. According to Forging, 53% of all survey respondents have plans in place to add new manufacturing equipment at their operations; for nearly 14% of these respondents, the investment will encompass new building construction, either an addition to a plant or a separate, new plant. However, for those forgers affirming capital spending plans, 47.6% indicate the value of their investments will be about equal to their 2015 totals—an indication that many companies may still be a little hesitant to make huge investments.

Confident but Cautious
Based on current data, that hesitation is founded. Monthly data on manufacturing activity has been up and down this year, leveling out to little or  no growth. According to the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), manufacturing industrial production will likely register zero growth in the first half of 2016, with 1% to 2% growth in the third and fourth quarters. For the entire year, the research firm forecasts only 1.1 % growth.

Still, forges have reason to keep their positive attitude. Short-term forecasts for the manufacturing industry may be grim, but the forging industry has historically shown an ability to outperform the broader trends. In addition, a recent uptick in manufacturing activity in March provides some hope. The monthly Purchasing Manufacturers’ Index (PMI) from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) increased by 2.3 percentage points in March, putting the index above the 50-percent growth threshold for the first time in 2016.

Long-term prospects for forgers are also hopeful. According to a report from Zion Research, North America’s demand for the forging industry is expected to reach $15.4 billion in 2020, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.76% between 2015 and 2020. Global forecasts are even brighter. A report from TechNavio predicts that the global forging market will exhibit a healthy CAGR of around 8% between 2016 and 2020.

Tracking Trends
That’s not to say, however, that the industry doesn’t have some concerns. Based on Forging Magazine’s survey, forging producers expect to face the following challenges in 2016:

Like other industrial manufacturers, forges will have to approach the current market strategically by balancing internal improvements with external influences. According to the TechNavio report, there are four key trends forges should keep an eye on in 2016:

  1. Movements in Automotive. As the biggest end-user of forged parts, the automotive industry will continue to play a crucial role in boosting demand for forged products. However, the automotive segment is reaching a mature stage in the forging market, and the global economic slowdown has adversely affected its growth. As a result, sales of forged parts in this industry fell in 2015, compelling many vendors of the forging market to reduce their shares and investments in the automotive industry. Even so, the automotive sector is expected to grow at a CAGR of around 7% during the forecast period of 2016-2020.
  2. Expanding Business Opportunities. Recent trends suggest that major vendors are investing in R&D to explore avenues in the non-automotive sector to increase the market revenue. In fact, according to the report, “other non-automotive sectors will mostly contribute to the growth of the global forging market until 2020.” This includes sectors such as aerospace and defense, agriculture, construction, mining, general industrial equipment, and material handling. Some companies are also looking at fresh ways to approach the automotive market, including addressing the trend toward lightweight design.
  3. Technology Improvements. Following larger manufacturing trends, forges are looking to new technology to improve operations. “Vendors are developing new and improved die material interfaces and increasingly using new die designs and modeling software,” an analyst from the report’s research team said. “The market is also implementing controls and sensors to monitor the forging process in a bid to automatically sense and compensate for any variation in the process.”
  4. Growth in Asia-Pacific. The Asian and Pacific Coasts (APAC) region accounts for the largest share of the forging industry, contributing about 61% of the total revenue generated. The report expects the region to grow at a CAGR of around 9% between 2016 and 2020. “Increasing outsourcing of forging activities to low-cost countries in the region is expected to drive this regional market,” the report states. “Demand for infrastructural development in developing countries and the emergence of India as the manufacturing hub for the automotive industry will propel the growth of the market in this region.”

Forges

Developing a Training Strategy for Your Forging Operation

March 25, 2016 / , , , , , ,


It should go without saying that training is critical to the success of your forging operation. However, many shops still lack formal training programs and simply rely on seasoned operators to casually show “newbies” the rope. While this tactic may have worked in the past, the industry’s growing skills gap is changing the way many companies train both new and existing employees.

As described here in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, skilled production workers are one of the largest workforce segments facing retirement in the near future, which will have an impact on the number of experienced workers. In fact, according to the paper, one of the largest challenges metal-cutting executives will face in the years to come is an unequal balance of talent on the shop floor. This means a strong training program is more critical than ever.

“Most facilities have multiple shifts, which means inexperienced night-shift operators may be running the same machinery as seasoned day-shift operators, causing inconsistencies in quality and productivity,” the white paper explains. “At the same time, seasoned operators may not be familiar with some of the more recent technology advancements in metalworking equipment, blades, and techniques. By instituting regular operator training, managers can level the shop floor talent and add consistency to production procedures.”

While formal training programs are certainly not a novel idea, research shows that historically, manufacturers have invested more in technology than in people. As the workforce landscape shifts, however, so does the focus. Multiple reports, such as this one from Forbes and another from Training Magazine, confirm that people have become a top priority, and companies are investing more in maintaining and training their talent.

As a result, some manufacturers are scratching their old ways of training and building brand new programs, while others are simply improving what they already have in place. In most cases, however, experts believe the real change needs to be in the way companies approach training. Instead of looking at it as a necessary evil, executives should treat it as another opportunity to apply strategy and achieve optimization.

According to an article from small business publication Chron, an effective training strategy can be vital to a company’s success. “Developing a strategy for training gives your company a competitive advantage and helps propel you into the future,” the article explains.

To help forges build an effective training strategy, below are five key steps managers can take, as listed in the Chron article:

Even if you manage a small forging operation, some form of formal training program or training strategy should be on your radar. By investing time and resources in building a skilled workforce, you are ultimately investing in your company’s long-term success.

In what ways could you improve your operations training program?

Forges

Using Visual Devices to Improve Your Forging Operation

February 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Workplace organization is one of those management principles that everyone knows is a good idea, yet it often falls by the wayside as managers focus on more pressing priorities like meeting deadlines and customer expectations. However, manufacturing experts continue to stress the importance of having a clean and organized manufacturing floor—not as a slap on the wrist, but because organizational tools are simple to implement and can offer a big return.

One tool that is often overlooked but can offer huge improvements is the use of visual devices. In fact, according to visual management expert and author Gwendolyn Galsworth, the visual workplace is one of the most misunderstood opportunities for a safer, more efficient, and reliable manufacturing operation.

“The entire world of work now strives to make work safer, simpler, more logical, reliable and linked, and less costly,” Galsworth writes in an article appearing in Fabricating & Metalworking. “Central to this is the visual workplace – not a brigade of buckets and brooms or posters and signs, but a compelling operational imperative, central to your shop’s war on waste and crucial to meeting daily performance goals, vastly reduced lead times, and dramatically improved quality.”

Specifically, Galsworth says in the article that managers should use visual cues to create a work environment that is self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating, and self-improving where what is supposed to happen actually does happen.

What does this look like? According to Galsworth, an effective visual workplace should follow some basic guidelines:

As an article from Modern Machine Shop explains, visual tools can include everything from different-color walkways marked for pedestrians and motorized vehicles, to foam cut-outs used as tool drawer organizers. One industrial metal-cutting company, featured here in a white paper, color-coded its blade stocking process. Each blade is marked with a colored tag, which corresponds to a chart that helps operators easily determine the right blade for the job. Stocking shelves are also color-coded, allowing operators to quickly locate and restock blades. This has improved operator efficiency, reduced the occurrence of operator blade selection errors, and prolonged overall blade life.

Visual tactics can also be used to improve safety. LENOX Tools, for example, has implemented a Safety Sticker program, which visually displays whether or not its operation has had any safety incidents. Sticker dispensing stations and a safety calendar are located at every entrance to the facility, and every employee is required to put on a green sticker with the number of days “accident free” written on it. When a recordable accident occurs, everyone in the facility changes from a green sticker to a red sticker for a seven-day period. After seven days, everyone reverts back to the green sticker. According to Matt Howell, senior manager, the program has been “a good rallying point for the facility and builds energy around safety.”

No matter what visual strategies you decide to institute in your forging operation, the goal is to use them to enhance communication and foster learning. The concept may seem a bit simplistic, but research shows it is effective. Studies by educational researchers suggest that approximately 83% of human learning occurs visually, with the remaining 17% occurring through the other senses. To put it another way: Your operators learn to work with their eyes first and their hands second.

What visual devices could you use to improve efficiency and safety at your forging operation?

Forges

Tips for Preventing Premature Band Saw Blade Failure in Your Forging Operation

January 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


For any metal-cutting operation, blade life is critical. Premature blade failure not only results in increased tooling costs, it can also increase downtime, rework, and scrap—all of which eat into the bottom line.

For forges that cut and process metal, however, blade life is even more crucial. The scale that forms on forged metal pieces can quickly deteriorate blade life, which makes blade selection extremely important. In most cases, forges require aggressive bandsaw blades with varied tooth geometries that can get underneath any scale buildup (i.e., carbide-tipped blades).

While choosing the right blade is a good start, blade life also relies on a variety of other variables, including proper cutting speeds, feed rates, blade tension, lubrication, and break-in procedures. As an article form Fabricating & Metalworking explains, “Saws are very much like the people who use them: they don’t react well to heat, shock, abrasion, stress, and tension.” Far too often, managers and operators ignore these critical factors and, as a result, experience premature blade failure and end up going through far more blades than necessary.

To help forges extend the life of their band saw blades, below are a few troubleshooting tips from the reference guide, “User Error or Machine Error?”, from the LENOX Institute of Technology. By understanding some common blade issues and their root causes, operators can reduce and, hopefully, eliminate premature blade failure.

Issue #1: Heavy Even Wear On Tips and Corners Of Teeth
The wear on teeth is smooth across the tips and the corners of set teeth have become rounded.

Probable Cause:

Issue #2: Wear On Both Sides Of Teeth
The side of teeth on both sides of band have heavy wear markings.

Probable Cause:

Issue #3: Wear On One Side Of Teeth
Only one side of teeth has heavy wear markings.

Probable Cause:

Issue #4: Chipped Or Broken Teeth
A scattered type of tooth breakage on tips and corners of the teeth.

Probable Cause:

Issue #5: Body Breakage Or Cracks From Back Edge
The fracture originates from the back edge of band. The origin of the fracture is indicated by a flat area on the fracture surface.

Probable Cause:

For more information on extending blade life, download the full reference guide, “User Error or Machine Error?” here, or check out The LENOX Guide to Band Sawing.

Forges

Four Ways Forges Can Get More Value Out of Their Supply Chain

December 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


In today’s competitive marketplace, it is tempting to base supplier relationships on price. Yes, quality is always a consideration, but cost typically makes or breaks the deal. However, a growing number of manufacturers are starting to place more value on their supply chain by focusing less on price and more on building strategic partnerships that offer long-term benefits.

In fact, supply chains are expected to be “a key value driver” for engineering and manufacturing companies over the next 10 years, according to the report, Building the World: Engineering & Manufacturing 2025+ from DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. Specifically, the report says that manufacturing leaders will understand the importance of collaboration and will create new supply chain concepts to differentiate themselves in the market and stay competitive. For example, some companies may build regionalized supply chains to better adapt to shifts in economic activity.

Big name companies like Cargill, Coca-Cola, and Amcor Asia-Pacific are already establishing more collaborative supplier relationships, and they are seeing results. A case study on Bob Evans Farms and Gordon Food Services (GFS) featured here in Supply Chain Quarterly provides a great example. For the last four years, Bob Evans and GFS have been working to jointly identify and actualize opportunities for profit growth through the use of cross-functional teams. So far, the financial benefits have exceeded $31 million dollars, according to the article.

Forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations can take a similar approach with their supply chains. While smaller operations may not have the time or resources to adopt the in-depth methodology utilized by Bob Evans and GFS, there are some simple ways forges can position their supply chain to bring more value. A new eBook from the LENOX Institute of Technology provides four strategies managers can use to build more value into their supplier partnerships:

Ultimately, the goal is to build a relationship that benefits both you and your suppliers. How can you create more of a win-win relationship with your supply chain?

To read more about the benefits of value-added supplier relationships, including some key areas where suppliers can help, download the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, or check out the white paper, Managing Your Blade Manufacturer Relationship.

Forges

Key Considerations When Forging and Cutting Aluminum

November 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


Anyone working in the metals industry knows that use of aluminum is growing. Even with fluctuating prices, aluminum demand is still much stronger compared to other metals, including steel and copper.

Thanks to rapid growth in the transportation and construction industries, aluminum’s upward trend is expected to continue over the next several years. According to one market report, the worldwide market for aluminum alloys is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.8 percent through 2020, with market revenue rising in the U.S. from $91.2 billion in 2013 to $126.5 billon in 2020. Another report states that in the global automotive industry alone, aluminum use is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.4 percent over 2015-2020.

As key suppliers to the automotive and other aluminum-consuming industries, forges need to ensure their skills and equipment line up with market demand. Like any material, aluminum’s unique properties require manufacturers to be equipped with the right metalworking tools and techniques.

Out of all of the various groups of alloys, aluminum alloys are the most readily forged into precise, intricate shapes. As explained by the Forging Industry Association, this is because aluminum alloys are:

While these properties certainly make aluminum alloys ideal for forging, they also have different requirements compared to other forged materials. For example, as an archived article from Forging magazine explains, temperature controls and furnace construction for aluminum are different from those used with ferrous materials. Specifically, indirect-fired or electric resistance-type furnaces equipped with internal fans are often preferred for aluminum. In most cases, the article states, this usually means new furnaces for the steel forger contemplating forging aluminum.

Other forging processes such as trimming, heat treatment, and quality inspection also need to take aluminum’s distinctive attributes into consideration, as described here in the Forging article. The same holds true when sawing aluminum. Forges that cut and process metal need to make sure they understand what is needed to cost-effectively and efficiently cut aluminum.

While aluminum is a softer material, it is also abrasive, which can present some machining challenges. According to a recent article published in Canadian Industrial Machinery (CIM) magazine, aluminum’s abrasive property can wreak havoc on a saw blade, accelerating tooth wear and diminishing blade life. This not only increases blade costs and downtime due to constant blade changes, it can also affect cut quality and overall productivity. However, smart blade choices can help overcome this common cutting challenge.

To combat aluminum’s abrasive quality, most manufacturers recommend carbide-tipped band saw blades over bi-metal blades. This is because carbides are harder, tougher, and more durable, Matt Lacroix of LENOX  explains in the CIM article. “Carbide tips are slower to wear and better suited to handle the high machining speeds,” Lacroix writes. Other blade factors, such as backing steel and tooth geometry, can also help improve the efficiency of sawing aluminum, he adds.

As the use of aluminum grows, it is more critical than ever for forges to fully understand the material’s unique characteristics and machining requirements. For more information on how to cut aluminum, you can read the full CIM article, “Taking the Hard out of Cutting Soft,” here. The Aluminum Association also provides a brief overview on aluminum forging here.

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