Like every homeowner, every manufacturing engineer dreams about a perfect home — a dream plant: an operation where production flows smoothly and material is available as-needed. Availability and flexibility are increasingly important features in plant design, as the Industrial Internet of Things compresses the supply chains and accelerates order-fulfillment standards. For forgers, this escalates the importance of establishing a reliable supply of raw materials, ready to fill orders.
For aluminum forgers, there is a new possibility to consider. Hormesa, a Spanish developer of metalcasting equipment technologies, is now distributing the Flextreme™ technology for continuous horizontal-casting. The proposition is that forgers may establish on-site production of ready-to-forge aluminum billets.
Flextreme is a process conceived and developed by Wagstaff Inc., later patented by Alcan (now Novelis), and described as modular and compact, easy to install and operate, and available for incremental capacity expansion, as may be necessary.
Each installed module includes a remelt furnace, allowing forgers to recycle internal returns as well as external process scrap, reducing material costs.
The proprietary molding unit is able to form billets from 25 to 150 mm (1 to 6 in.) diameter, as well as simple shapes. Casting capacities range from 1,000 to 6,000 mtpy (1,100-6,600 tons/year.) The process is powered by an automatic drive system, with in-line ultrasonic testing and surface roughness quality control, and an in-line automatic “soft start” saw.
Up to six Flextreme modules can be connected in a work cell, with proprietary process control that is fully compatible for IIoT/Industry 4.0 standards. Each module requires no more than two operators, though the same crew can manage additional modules in a work cell.
Flextreme casts many standard aluminum alloy series, including 1xxx, 2xxx, 4xxx, 6xxx and 7xxx series alloys. Hormesa is available to test other alloys too, according to a representative.
In addition to availability and flexibility, Flextreme is described as a cost-effective technology for manufacturing high-quality, ready-to-forge stock. The cast products offer high metal integrity compared to conventional processes, including fine and uniform metal grain structure throughout the billet and good surface quality. Those features eliminate the need for homogenization and scalping functions in preparation for most forging applications. Thus, the production cost, time, energy-consumption, and CO2 emissions incurred producing aluminum forgings can be positively affected.
A Hormesa source noted there are more than 10 Flextreme systems in operation in Europe, and a pilot plant operation in the U.S., though no forging operation has adopted the technology as yet.
The “clean sheet” approach to plant design is one that must be approached by every manufacturer, including forgers. While the IIoT/Industry 4.0 initiatives provide one justification for such plans, the continuing embrace of lightweight materials in automotive and commercial vehicle design is another factor that may shape the next wave of forgers’ capital investments. One technology developer appears to be ready for that planning process.