Art and science of metal forming

An interesting read (Registration required):

I crossed through the low bay, where the workers were unloading long steel bars off the trucks and cutting them into billets to feed the presses. Farther on, I came to the high bay. It was a dark, smoky, loud place, busy with men and machines. It seemed as if the only light came from the burning orange glow of the hot parts.

The line of forging presses towered above the factory floor, their flywheels spinning and their rams pounding, each machine operated by a crew of men covered head to toe in the black graphite used to lubricate the dies. When you get home after working in a forging factory, you sneeze out dark gray snot for the rest of the night.

I stood and watched the fifteen-hundred-ton mechanical press with its long, powerful stroke, a machine I’d spent many hours on as a young engineer learning the art and science of metal forming.

The press operator gripped the iron tongs with two hands and pulled a glowing billet out of the induction heater and placed it in the press. The lubricant on the dies boiled and snapped like oil in an overheating frying pan. When he stepped back and pushed the palm buttons, the clutch engaged with a loud screech and the iron mountain above his head came slamming down. Standing thirty feet away, you felt the blow in your chest. The concrete floor shuddered as the crankshaft turned and the ram returned to top dead center.

He reached into the machine and grasped the now flaming, perfectly formed steel part with his tongs. As the parts came out of the press they were so incandescent you could barely look at them. He placed them carefully side by side in a large metal bin. He worked with such deliberateness that it was impossible not to feel that despite the difficult work, and the harsh physical conditions, he gained a certain satisfaction in the creation of these perfect objects. The glowing parts lay in even rows, their colors fading as they cooled.

By the way, thanks to one of my colleagues, I recently attended a lab class where steel was melted and cast in a centrifugal die; to say, it was fascinating is an understatement; and, I believe, but for that, I might not have appreciated the above paragraphs as much as I do now.


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