Making the Choice to Repair or Rebuild

March 10, 2020
In a highly competitive forging market, determining how forging presses and machinery will be repaired or rebuilt, and who can be trusted to do that work most effectively, is make-or-break decision.

Forging plant operators are responsible for establishing and maintaining proper machine operating standards, the high impact nature of forging degrades that machinery. Over time, parts must be replaced, and at some point a rebuild may be necessary to extend the service life.

At that point, the operators face a choice: Contact the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to carry out the rebuild; or contract with a third-party rebuilder. The decision is significant, given the need for a correct, complete, and dependable repair or rebuild that will perform as expected for a reliable number of years to come.

Ajax-CECO is a Park Ohio company and well-established supplier of forging equipment, having begun operations in 1875. Through 145 years, the company has built and put into production more than 6,000 horizontal and vertical forging systems. Its portfolio includes the intellectual property of long-time press-builder Chambersburg Engineering Co. (CECO), purchased in 2005; and Erie Press Systems,  manufactures of hydraulic and mechanical presses, metal stretch-forming and carbon extrusion machines, incorporated in May 2019. 

Now, Ajax-CECO builds and supports all three equipment brands, and describes itself as "the largest forging machine manufacturer in North America." Manufacturing manager Daniel Baker offered his insights about the choice of relying on an OEM to rebuild forging equipment, or assigning the work to a third-party rebuilder.

Q: Can forging equipment be reliably rebuilt when it has been in use for decades?

A: In this era when capital equipment is rendered obsolete at an ever-increasing pace, forging equipment stands alone as the machinery that's built to work on a daily basis for decades – even for the better part of a century. Their built-to-last pedigrees are from a bygone industrial era, and their longevity is a testament to the quality of the original design and construction.

Specifically, these machines represent particular combinations of good design, manufacturing quality control, and proper operation and maintenance of equipment that makes it possible for it to work over such long periods. Good design begins with an OEM that builds forging equipment using sound mechanical design principles, together with proper material grade selection and correct heat-treatment specifications for internal component parts.

These details also represent a critical base of knowledge for future repair or rebuilds of forging equipment. In short, yes: well-designed and well-maintained forging presses and machinery can be reliably rebuilt.

Q: What role do third-party rebuilders play in the forging equipment rebuild market?

A: Over the decades, as some OEMs focused more on new equipment sales, many forgers turned to third-party rebuilders for parts and service. Today, rebuilders also play an important role in the used forging equipment market: These businesses often will acquire machines or whole plants at auction, and acquire machines they can repair and re-sell.

Q: How do third-party rebuilders approach the rebuild process? What are some potential challenges with this?

A: To repair or rebuild forging equipment, many rebuilders use reverse-engineering to manufacture replacement parts, or they may have these parts machined by a CNC shop. Although this approach may work in the short term to “get the equipment up and running,” it ignores the long-term view that favors a more holistic reconditioning effort.

In addition, rebuilders with experience working on a variety of other types of equipment, such as stamping presses or injecting molding machines, may not fully appreciate how the forces exerted during the forging operation affect machine design and reliability.

When an independent rebuilder reverse-engineers a part, a considerable amount of critical engineering design data is lost, resulting in inferior part construction and premature wear or component failure. Often, they are rebuilding a machine without fully understanding the original design intent or the loads that will be placed on the parts and equipment.

Q: With third-party rebuilders as competitors, what is the role for forging equipment OEMs?

A: Due to mergers and acquisitions, along with some OEMs going out of business, repair business has been pushed in the direction of rebuilders. However, the larger OEMs that remain have re-dedicated their efforts to providing parts manufactured to the original design specs, along with repair services with quicker turnaround at a competitive cost.

Our example — the combination of Ajax-CECO and Erie Press —has merged the Chambersburg (CECO), Ajax Manufacturing and Erie Press Systems brands as a Park Ohio holding. This is the largest forging equipment manufacturer in North America now, and services the original products of all three legacy companies, with the combined strength of all three brands' engineering resources and field services. OEMs like Ajax-CECO-Erie Press remain the repository of detailed forging equipment knowledge, which is a critical consideration for repairing or rebuilding a forger.

No one knows the equipment like the OEM, which will have a machine's original design: This is essential information, as it pertains to the design principles, engineering data, and critical component specifications, and is fundamental to understanding what the equipment was originally designed and built to do.

An OEM can provide vital information, such as the forging equipment’s design specifications, perhaps including critical data on high-wear parts, the material grade of the steel, the heat-treating process that was used, and the required clearances that were used in the engineering of that particular forger. All of this information is needed to plan and execute a quality repair or rebuild.

Q: What are the potential risks to the machine owner/operator if a third-party rebuilder does not have access to original design specifications?

A: Age and modifications over the course of the equipment’s operating life can obscure critical information, making it difficult for a rebuilder to source all the reliable details. For example, if a 60-year old forging machine had a secondary heat-treat surface coating applied as part of the original design specification, but that later wore off during years of use, that application would not be apparent to a rebuilder. Then, not applying a replacement surface coating during a repair or rebuild could compromise the longevity of the repair.

In contrast, the OEM keeps documentation on all modifications, and these will be reviewed when replacing parts during the rebuilding effort.

Given the decades of use, there are a lot of different, purpose-built forging machines in the market. While common forging knowledge can be amassed just by working in the industry, it is not possible for a rebuilder to know each brand and type of forger with the same degree of understanding. This gap in understand can end up costing the operator over time.

Without the benefit of the original design specifications, there is the risk of a wrong or suboptimal part being used in the repair or rebuild. Given the loads placed on a forging machine, even minor material changes can be a major differentiator in equipment longevity.

Q: What other issues should a forging machine operator consider when faced with the choice between an OEM and a third-party rebuilder?

A: Consider that forging equipment has to take the highest impact and accept the highest pressure of any type of metal forming equipment. Simple things like the size and placement of a corner radius can affect the longevity of a component.

There is also the risk of working with a rebuilder who takes short cuts. A conscientious rebuilder will try to reverse-engineer how the machine or press was built, which may lead that rebuilder to contact the OEM to source the correct part. But, there are also shops what will not take all the preparatory steps and do all the necessary repair work.

The cost of having an incomplete or incorrect repair is born by the operator, ultimately. Forging performance may be suboptimal, the forger may operate less efficiently, and the life of the equipment may be shortened. Often, there is no warranty offered on the repair or rebuild. Importantly, there also can be operator safety risks and OSHA-compliance issues.

Q: Are there other 'values' that a forging equipment OEM offers?

A: With large spare-part inventories, choosing an OEM can reduce service times, as compared to turning to a rebuilder that first would need to purchase a piece of steel and then machine it. Also, the parts and the rebuild will be backed with a warranty from the OEM.

Working with an OEM gives an operator the option to consider replacing forging machines rather than rebuilding it. Today’s advanced forging equipment benefits from automation and other modern options added to enhance product qualities and performance efficiencies. They also are built to comply with all required safety regulations without a need to retrofit.

Despite the cost-savings to be achieve by having an older machine rebuilt, it may not capture the savings in efficiency, operation and safety features that a new machine would accommodate with all the automated and modern options available in the 21st century.

Whether new or rebuilt, forging machinery is a significant investment for a manufacturer. Maintained correctly, the equipment will provide decades of productivity. How long that service life lasts is dependent upon how well the machinery is maintained. Selecting an OEM for a repair or rebuild gives an operator the confidence that the work will be based on the specifications unique to the machine ,backed by the people that originally built it.

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