April Terreri learns how National Forge Company flexes its ‘mettle’ as a leading manufacturer of steel crankshafts, pipe molds, and penetrators.
For More than 85 years National Forge Company has maintained its leading role in the steel-making, forging, heat-treating and machining industry by coupling its manufacturing capability with its manufacturing capacity. “You might be a small shop with tremendous capability, but you’re in trouble if a customer suddenly wants you to produce 100 units in a few months and your capacity restricts your production to only 10 or 12 units in six months,” explains Rick D’Alessandro, National Forge’s director of planning. “Our combination of capability and capacity makes us unique in the industry, especially regarding the number of crankshafts, pipe molds, and penetrators we are able to manufacture and supply.”
Completely Integrated Facility
National Forge has built its steel-solid reputation on its varied capabilities as a completely integrated facility. “The whole process begins when we melt our own steel from scrap metal and alloys,” says D’Alessandro. “We then forge it, heat-treat it, machine it, subject it to destructive or non-destructive testing, and finish it to the requirements of the customer, which could include surface hardening, polishing, or honing.”
Established in 1915 on a core technology of machining large, deep-hole steel components by proprietary boring and coring techniques, the Irvine, Pa., company has a long and successful history of manufacturing quality products. Its Irvine location is home to the company’s headquarters and main manufacturing plant. With over a half-million square feet of manufacturing space under one roof and 620 skilled employees, National Forge can turn ideas at one end of the plant into masterworks of forging ingenuity at the other.
National Forge has an impressive array of furnaces, including 22 vertical furnaces capable of heat-treating products up to 50 feet in length. Its 12 horizontal furnaces are capable of handling products up to 46 feet long, and all furnaces are state-of-the-art controlled to assure accurate temperature and uniformity of product. The company’s extensive quality assurance laboratories and ISO-9002 certification bear testimony to its commitment to manufacturing quality.
National Forge’s distinction as a forge company capable of deep-hole boring and precision machining is unique in the industry. “On any one day we have 100 or more machine tools in operation,” says D’Alessandro. With capabilities to bore holes to 50 feet, to melt its own steel in its 45-ton steel-melting furnace, and to utilize its 3,000-ton open-die forging press, National Forge is literally a one-stop shop. The company boasts 220,000 square feet devoted exclusively to machining, and has capabilities for trepanning, turning, grinding, boring, and honing used to manufacture close-tolerance pipe molds, pressure vessels and rolls.
National Forge’s three major product lines include crankshafts, pipe molds, and penetrators. “Our crankshafts are extremely precision-machined and precision-balanced components,” says National Forge’s CEO Roger Clark. The company’s crankshafts daily work worldwide in diesel engines used in locomotives and in power-generating applications so necessary in critical workplaces where power outages could have disastrous results. Hospitals and military bases utilize these crankshafts, as well as ships needing them to produce electricity aboard ship and to run the ship’s pumping systems. “We manufacture our crankshafts at Irvine in the 1,000 to 6,000 horse-power range,” explains D’Alessandro. The company’s United Kingdom subsidiary manufactures crankshafts for engines exceeding 20,000 horsepower.
“Crankshafts are extremely difficult components to manufacture,” explains Clark. “The geometry of this piece is all angles and elbows.”
Readers can virtually examine these engineering marvels at the company’s website at www.nationalforge.com under the “Products” heading.
Pipe Mold Prowess
National Forge’s original core technology is its capability for deep-hole boring, necessary in producing its line of well-engineered and fully machined pipe molds. “These pipe molds must be manufactured in lengths to 20 feet to tolerances within thousandths of an inch,” explains D’Alessandro. Each time you draw water from your faucet, you might want to thank National Forge. The company manufactures pipe molds used by ductile iron pipe manufacturers, who produce pipes for water transmission systems, or the water mains running through Main Street USA. The making of pipe molds requires machined holes in components typically weighing tens of thousands of pounds. Typically the interiors of these components must have near mirror finishes, and must be finely honed and polished.
Security is a Well-Crafted Penetrator
You might say that National Forge supplies national security as well. The company has the distinction of having provided penetrators for government defense applications. “Penetrator is a name for a special purpose bomb,” explains D’Alessandro. The company manufactures penetrating bombs, weighing 2,000 and 5,000 pounds, as opposed to bombs that merely explode on the surface. National Forge’s penetrators were first extensively used in the Gulf War, where they proved their excellence. They have been used by the US government since then for attacking reinforced targets. “We assemble the entire bomb, including all of the mechanical parts, with the exception of explosives which the government loads into the bombs,” continues D’Alessandro. Government personnel then attach the electric guidance systems when the penetrators are to be utilized.
National Forge enjoys a high percentage of repeat business, especially in its crankshaft and ductile iron pipe mold product lines. “People know who we are, and we have a long-standing reputation in the industry,” says D’Alessandro. Penetrators are sold only to the United States government or to governments approved by the U.S. “Once they have seen how our penetrators prove themselves, foreign countries want to buy them as well,” D’Alessandro says.
As a fully integrated facility, National Forge has been able to manufacture challenging “one-off” high-tech products. The one-off units are once-only productions. For example, a laboratory contacted the company, asking for some test chambers to be built for a space-flight simulator they were constructing in the middle of the desert. “They came to us and said this is how we think they should be built. Can you build them for us?” explains D’Alessandro. Although the company has manufactured several space-flight simulators D’Alessandro admits it is risky business. “Once you quote a price, you might have to make and re-make the product. It’s wonderful bragging rights if everything goes right.” A recent bragging-right project for the company was its participation in a research center’s Large Energy National Shock Tunnel (LENS) Leg II. National Forge supplied one large, double-diaphragm nut and five-driver truck forgings to this endeavor.
Privately owned, National Forge has three additional operations, including two in the Manchester area of the United Kingdom. Mitchell, Shackleton, Ltd. is a producer of very large crankshafts and Northwest Forgemasters Ltd. is a quick-service custom job shop. National Forge Components with 750 em-ployees worldwide is a subsidiary crankshaft refurbishing operation located in Wheatland, Pa. Worldwide, the company employes over 750 employees. National Forge exports about 35 percent of its crankshafts and pipe molds worldwide, selling to companies in over 26 countries including Europe, South America, China, India, Egypt, and Japan. “It is unique for a company of our size to be a global competitor with respected presence,” says CEO E. Roger Clark. For now the company forges ahead into the millennium as it continues its strength in its core business manufacturer,General Electric Transportation Systems of Erie, PA.