What have you learned?

Q: What has your column-writing experience taught you about the kinds of problems facing the forging industry?

Thanks for asking this question. In an attempt to organize an answer, I have listed below the number of topics addressed in the “Ask Jim” columns; this might give you an idea about what I have learned about the problems troubling the industry.

I have written more than 90 “Ask Jim” columns since 1996. Here are the main topics featured in these columns and the number of times each one been covered: Dies and Tooling, 29 items; Forging Equipment, 16; Forging Processes, 15; Forging Materials, 12; Quality Issues/Forging Defects, 11; and Forging and Die Design, 10.

The questions have come from people representing a variety of interests, but mostly from forging operation engineers and other plant personnel. Other correspondents represent students and/or faculty from universities, customers of forgers, equipment suppliers, and some foreign firms.

Also, I have presented training programs on forging technology at several firms around the country, and as a result I have been in contact with persons from virtually all positions in this industry.

Since I have had first-hand experiences in hammer and press shops making aircraft and commercial forging, and with cold and warm forging of automotive steering and suspension components, I feel confident in my answers. And, I get good feedback from most of those who have asked questions and gotten answers from me.

One characteristic of the forging industry (and probably others, as well) that can be disconcerting is its widespread secrecy, for lack of a better term. Many of my correspondents are seeking help, but they are unwilling or unable to share enough information.

In my “Ask Jim” files are many examples of people who have questions but will give the details necessary to answer only on the condition that I agree to keep the question and my answer confidential. I get around this by creating questions on a similar topic and preparing similar answers for the column, thereby not betraying this request for confidentiality.

I have also written several essays on various topics, some of which have been published in short form in Forging. The subjects of these articles, based on my personal experiences, include forging of crankshafts, forging of connecting rods, die failures (“causes and cures”), and an aluminum forging overview.

Any reader interested to learn more about these columns and articles should contact me through Forging, which assigns to me the task of responding. By the way, you can access my “Ask Jim” columns and articles published in Forging since 2000 by visiting www.forgingmagazine.com; soon, the archives will be available and searchable according to the topic.

I should add that there are many economic issues that the forging industry faces, including off-shore competition, high steel prices, erratic scrap prices, etc. I do not venture into such discussions in “Ask Jim” columns. I try to confine my commentary to technical issues.

Let me take this opportunity, however, to share my views on one nontechnical topic: It is that in hiring new forging personnel, educating or testing candidates before hiring is the right way to go, rather than the hiring and then educating, which was typical in past years.

Why? How can you expect candidate employees to read and understand instructions if they have difficulties reading with comprehension, or carrying out instructions to the letter?

With the increasing sophistication of production equipment, our industry needs “trainable employees” — people who can read prints, understand the basics of math and statistics, and read operation manuals with comprehension. Once the candidates are evaluated and qualified in these skills by a local school, vocational or otherwise, then they are indeed “trainable” for the typical assignments in a modern forge plant.

I am confident that this industry will continue to improve its selectivity of employees and hire those who are trainable. As a result, I have a deep faith in the health of the forging industry.

For more than 40 years H. James Henning held key technical positions in the forging industry, including as director of technology for the Forging Industry Association, and as president of Henning Education Services, a Columbus, OH, firm specializing in customized education and training in forging technologies.

Guidelines and recommendations offered in this column are based on information believed to be reliable and are supplied in good faith but without guarantee. Operational conditions that exist in individual plants and facilities vary widely. Users of this information should adapt it, and always exercise independent discretion in establishing plant or facility operating practice.

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