Representatives from the Defense Logistics Agency headquarters, Defense Supply Center Richmond, DSC Philadelphia, and the U.S. Army's Aviation and Missile Command gathered in Cleveland on May 30 for a meeting of the Forging Defense Manufacturing Consortium. The agenda included visits to SIFCO Forge Group and Alcoa Forging Division operations, and to the Forging Industry Assn. headquarters, in Cleveland.
The DLA and DSC are concerned with reducing the frequent, long lead-times they experience when ordering critical aircraft parts. To address the issue, the DLA several years ago formed the Forging Defense Manufacturing Consortium with the forging industry.
FDMC is a manufacturing technology program sponsored and financed through an industry-government costsharing program. "The FDMC is managed by the Advanced Technology Institute (www.aticorp.org) whose contract is paid for by the casting and forging program in J-339, the research and development division at DLA headquarters," explained Dean Hutchins, DSCR casting and forging program manager in DSCR's Aviation Engineering Directorate. (For more details on the FDMC, visit http://fdmc.aticorp.org/)
During their Cleveland visit, DLA and DSC officials received a state-of-the-forging-industry briefing from the consortium's board of directors.
The consortium helps DSCR with forging technical data packages and sources, and is building a national forge tooling database, according to Dan Gearing, program manager, Defense Logistics Agency headquarters, J3371 Process Improvement Research and Development Branch. "Chances are, when you have located the original tooling (through the database), you have found the place with the trained people and knowledge to make good parts."
Hutchins says he uses the resources of the consortium to help solve forging supply problems. Hutchins and the Aviation Engineering Directorate have built a team called Aviation Forging and Casting Assistance Team (AFCAT), which includes FDMC engineers, to help find sources and fix problems with technical data packages.
The consortium has built the forge tooling database so that DLA suppliers can save time and money by using existing tooling and experienced people. "The database is now part of Haystack Gold, which is on the DSCR desktop," Gearing said.
(DSCR's website is http://www.dla.mil/dla_pubsite/ default.aspx.)
The usefulness of this tooling database is illustrated by a tale Gearing related. "An aviation part was in backorder situation for almost two years, because no one could successfully make the part," he recalled. "During this time, the tooling database was built and someone checked it. It turned out that the tooling existed, and in fact some extra forgings were in stock, so a two-year-old backorder was solved in a month."
One of the objectives of the May meeting was to pass along background on the forging industry. "Most are small businesses," said Gearing. "They are niche producers who specialize in a single market segment (material, part size, customer type, etc). The forge business is cyclical and requires heavy capital investment. Forge owners are independent minded. The tooling required to make a particular part is unique, might weigh thousands of pounds, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"The process knowledge (in a kitchen, this would be the recipe) to make a forging successfully is not well documented, except in the heads of artisans who run the massive hammers and presses. When the original forge goes out of business or can't be located, and you try to go to a new forge, you can lose a lot of time while the process knowledge is reinvented and the new tooling is built," said Gearing.
The commercial forging industry in the United States has shrunk from over 400 firms 25 years ago to just 290 today, Gearing points out. Meanwhile, worldwide demand for forgings is the highest in history. The predictable result is much longer lead times.
Gearing highlighted another problem: "The special metals which are forged are in short supply. After over 20 years of shrinking demand, the pendulum has swung and there has been a great increase in demand for metals due to aerospace, railroads, the oil and mining industries, China, India, etc.," he lists.
Gearing said that the price of aluminum has doubled since 2002, but lead times remain reasonable at four-to-six weeks. "Lead times for steel used in helicopter gears has increased from 12 weeks in 2003 to 74 weeks — while the price has doubled," Gearing said. "Some stainless steels have tripled in price since 2003, and nickel has gone up sevenfold from $3 a pound to $22."
All these factors complicate DLA's job to supply the services with the forged parts — the landing gear, turbine blades and aircraft parts of all kinds — which are so critical to the mission. "DLA must make the investment in long lead-time spare parts if it is to remain the supplier of choice," Gearing said.
This report is based on a summary prepared by Amy Clement, DSCR Public Affairs.