When forging operations need to expand production volumes to meet increased demand from current customers for ongoing programs, or to add new product lines, it can be a challenge to select a satisfactory option from the available choices for brining new equipment online. Ultimately, that forger’s decision involves striking a fine balance between the budget constraints and the ability to wait out what often will be a very long lead-time.
Despite the forceful nature of the forging process, forging equipment is designed for precision and it’s built to last decades; it is not uncommon to find equipment designed 50 or more years ago still in use.
Equipment reliability is a great advantage, but it’s also something of a hindrance in regard to adding production capacity or purchasing new equipment. The sheer scale of these systems, as well as the complexity of the machinery design mean that items such as massive cast steel frame may require six- to eight-month delivery schedules, which may be followed by four to six months needed to install all the internal components and operating systems.
Ken Copeland, president of Ajax-CECO, offered a closer look at the several options available to forging operations preparing to add production capacity – repair, rebuild, remanufacture, or new investment, along with the advantages and challenges presented with each of these.
Ajax-CECO is a Park Ohio company and holds one of the longest legacies among suppliers of forging equipment, having begun operations in 1875. Over more than 140 years, the company has built and put into production more than 6,000 horizontal and vertical forging systems.
In 2005, Park Ohio purchased the intellectual property of the Chambersburg Engineering Company (CECO). In May 2019, it announced the acquisition of Erie Press Systems, a manufacturer of hydraulic and mechanical presses, metal stretch-forming and carbon extrusion machines. Now, company is building systems and machinery for all three brands and supporting the installed base of equipment for each one too, allowing it to claim title as the largest forging machine manufacturer in North America.
Q: What is the fastest way to bring forging equipment online to expand production?
A: The most immediate option is simply to repair existing equipment or out-of-commission units. However, often this will come down to locating adequate replacement parts, which can be quite difficult.
The tremendous longevity of horizontal and vertical forging equipment can create unique challenges for a forging operation when a part it needs to replace was built decades ago. Is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) still in business? Does a drawing of the part still exist?
Fortunately, when the Park Ohio Co. acquired the intellectual property rights to all Chambersburg (2005) and Ajax Manufacturing (1984) equipment, and now Erie Press Systems in 2019, the company was able to maintain all the original drawings, bills of materials, and service manuals for the respective forging equipment of each acquired business.
Q: Are replacement parts readily available from the OEM?
A: Today, most OEMs stock replacement parts using MRP (material requirements planning) systems that monitor inventory levels and track historical trends for common wear items, such as friction plates, driving plates, piston heads, piston rods, rings and packings.
In addition, some OEMs offer stocking programs for long lead-time items, such as main gears, centric shafts, rams, frames and anvils that most customers will not stock due to the cost. In this type of program, the part is held in inventory for the customer. The customer pays a percentage of the cost and then the balance when they take possession of the part – even if that takes place several years later.
Q: Is there an advantage to getting parts from a machine shop, instead of the original forging equipment manufacturer?
A: Some forging operations send parts out to be reverse-engineered and machined, but this comes with unintended risk.
Machine shops often will not have access to critical specifications about high-wear parts, including the material grade of the steel, the heat-treating process utilized, and tolerances that all were engineered specifically for that piece of equipment. The result can be parts that fail prematurely or wear much faster.
Q: Can used equipment be rebuilt? How much time and money might that approach save?
A: In a rebuild, all high-wear items such as bearings, bushings, seals and liners are replaced to restore the machine to good working condition. The frame will be inspected and repaired, if necessary.
Given the extent of the work involved however, this approach represents a significant investment in time. Machine rebuilds can take up to six months, depending on the number of components involved in the project. While this is a significant amount of time, a rebuild can save an operator six months or more in contrast to the time requirements of purchasing new forging equipment. The rebuilding approach also reduces the overall cost to bringing the equipment online.
Q: What is a “remanufacturing”? How much does it cost in comparison to investing in new equipment?
A: Starting with a used machine, we strip all components off the frame then subject the frame to NDT (non-destructive test) inspection. We will repair any defects discovered in the frame, and then machine all the critical areas to achieve dimensional accuracy. Next, new internal components are installed to bring the machine back to OEM specifications. Basically, the result is a new machine housed in the cast frame of an old machine.
Given the extent of the work required, a remanufactured forging unit is still a significant investment; it may cost 85-90% of comparable new equipment, but delivery time will be reduced by about six months. However, it is worth emphasizing that when it is finished a remanufactured machine is supplied with a new-machine warranty.
In essence, a remanufacturing project will save the cost and the time of acquiring a new cast frame. The frame on a 3-in. upsetter press weighing 55,000 pounds, for example, could take six months to produce, plus another month for shipping from overseas.
Q: So, if used equipment can be remanufactured or rebuilt, what is the advantage of purchasing new equipment?
A: The ‘buy new’ option may offer a forging operator the most confidence in long-term performance and the most tailored solution to the particular forging needs, despite longer lead times.
However, the decades of value that will be generated from the new equipment means the return on investment will be significantly prolonged. New design technologies will allow the new equipment to be easier to install, and to maintain with a greater proportion of commonly available spare parts.
New equipment also will give forgers the opportunity to take advantage of the most advanced automation options available today. For example, entire forging line “cells” can be created that include sophisticated communications that report production rates and machine performance back to company networks.
Q: Which of the four options is the most advantageous?
A: It is difficult to select one specific strategy as the only reasonable option. Rebuilt or remanufactured equipment can be delivered in about six months and it will reduce the impact on the budget, but the dwindling global supply of used equipment is taking this option off the table at an accelerating rate.
Some forging operations choose to hedge their bet by adopting more than one strategy. Given the shortage of available used equipment, some of our customers order a new machine while another is being remanufactured. Others get quotes on new equipment while continuing to seek out used equipment opportunities as they emerge.
Regardless of the approach, forging operations have a lot to consider when they set out to meet increasing production demands by adding capacity. Whether they repair or rebuild an existing unit, remanufacture an old machine, or invest in a new design, bringing forging equipment online requires careful consideration and foresight, as well as a fully developed understanding of the options.
Ken Copeland is the president of Ajax-CECO, and currently is overseeing the integration of Erie Press Systems into the Park Ohio organization. He began his career in the forging industry in the 1980s as part of a team that designed and built a fully automated high-speed crankshaft forging line for a Tier One automotive supplier. With Park Ohio he was tasked with managing a start-up forging operation in Arkansas, successfully managing the retrofit of a 6,000-ton forging line to a fully automated high-speed operation in 2007.