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Partners in Precision

A mechanical forging operation finds a collaborator in its pursuit of quality and accuracy in machine design and performance.

There is plenty of attention paid to the high-precision designs of advanced materials and parts developed for critical applications, but even parts that are seemingly ordinary or standard run projects require an exceptional degree of precision in concept, engineering, execution, and operation.

Valley Forge & Bolt Manufacturing Co. in Phoenix has been producing high-quality hot forged industrial fasteners for over 40 years. The manufacturer — which also has heat-treating, threading, and machining capabilities — is well known for its novel (and patented) MaxBolt load-indicating fasteners. Each MaxBolt™ fastener features a tiny, built-in gauge that continuously measures and indicates the level of tension being exerted on the bolt.

Maxbolt fasteners are manufactured by inserting highly accurate and durable load-monitoring devices into high quality bolts and studs. Accurate assembly and continuous monitoring during production reduce the potential for premature wear, expensive downtime, and catastrophic joint failure.

According to Valley Forge & Bolt, load-indicating fasteners are compatible with conventional tightening and tensioning equipment and eliminate the need for ultrasonic, strain gages, and torque measuring devices. The system offers a simple and reliable method for accurate joint assembly, and helps to maintain the integrity of the bolted joint.

MaxBolt fasteners appear simple, but are critical for the types of projects carried out by Valley Forge’s customers, including fabricating and maintaining sub-sea platforms, mining equipment, and assemblies and fabrications used in nuclear laboratories, oil-and-gas processing, construction cranes, and power plants.

In order to operate at the level of reliability and efficiency required for these high-stakes jobs, Valley Forge & Bolt also needs precision and reliability in its manufacturing operation, which is centered on a dozen or so hot-forging machines, mainly mechanical upset presses and punch presses.

Some time ago, Ron Clarke, Valley Forge & Bolt president contacted Sutherland Presses to discuss a new approach to the process of making extra-long bolts. The project continued and evolved into a multi-year collaboration, reviewing existing processes, and developing new targets for safer production and higher output.

At an early stage of the collaboration it became clear to Clarke that Valley Forge & Bolt had an area of opportunity particularly suited to the strengths of Sutherland Presses. “The conventional forge presses we had were not ideal for long bolt heading,” he recalled. “They forced us to have more moving and rotating parts in our dies in order to load and extract the long bolts.

“When we met with the team from Sutherland, they came to the table with a fresh idea for a Front-Loading Sliding Table (FLST) Forge Press.” Since it was installed in 2013, the 600-ton vertical press at Valley Forge has become “a signature innovation,” according to Sutherland Presses. The California-based press builder has previously implemented the FLST design for manufacturers producing extra-long bolts for fasteners supplied to aerospace programs.

Valley Forge & Bolt’s Sutherland hot-forge press has been in service for several years now, successfully forging extra-long bolts.

“Due to the front-loading design, the press can be operated manually or automated,” Clarke explained about the machine’s advantages. “There’s less heat loss due to the faster heater-to-forge cycle which creates better material flow, and the precise, close-tolerance slide guide structure has improved die life.”

The extra-long bolts being produced by the FLST press go on to secure some of the most vital connections needed to build heavy industrial equipment. And, those applications are possible because of the precision design and performance, as well as the partnership formed between two industrial innovators.

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