Ohio Star Forge Plans Big

May 14, 2005
New capacity in Warren, OH, will enable the high-volume forger to produce more forgings, and larger ones, too. According to OSF management projections, the expansion will boost the company's sales by $30 million.

The number of forgings turned out by Ohio Star Forge (OSF) in Warren, OH, is mind-boggling. “We forge between 50 and 60 million parts per year,” says Jeffrey P. Downing, president and CEO, with obvious pride. The annual output will ramp up in 2006 with the installation of a new Hatebur Hotmatic AMP 50 XL HFE (hot forward extrusion).

The company currently operates three other Hatebur machines: one is a Hotmatic AMP 40, and two are AMP 30’s. All of them operate with the same horizontal multiple-stage forging concept: a bar is brought to the machine and heated in Newlco induction heaters to forging temperature in a three-stage process. Two pairs of grooved rolls remove scale from the bar and pull it into the forging machine.

Once in the machine, a forging slug of proper size is sheared off and indexed into the first horizontal forging station. Then, depending on the component configuration, the forging is indexed through one to three more stations for additional forming.

Multiple cam shafts powered by the main drive system actuate the individual operations. The forging process produces parts at an average speed of 110 per minute.

Then, depending on the customers’ requirements, the forgings go through normalizing or spheroidize annealing furnaces, cold roll forming, shot blasting, and inspection.

The Ohio Star Forge process provides some advantages over other forging technologies, including refined grain structures and near-net shape production. It also results in an advantage increasingly prized by forging customers these days: very high yield. That’s because for parts requiring a “punch-out,” it is relatively small. The schematic diagram (p.18) illustrates the production steps performed at OSF for a variety of end products.

As noted, OSF offers one additional forming step — cold roll forming, or CRF for short, in which a forging is placed over a mandrel and cold-formed against a rolling die for additional shaping. This operation can create a profile on the component that cannot be achieved by forging. OSF has nine Kyoei Seiko CRF machines.

“Customers today are looking closely at yield because of the higher cost of steel,” says Downing. “With our processes, not only can we make a part with higher yield, but we can create a profile, which reduces machining for another material savings. We can produce to a near net shape.”

The approach has been good to Ohio Star Forge. “We’ve been a profitable company for the last 10 years,” Downing points out.

Adopting new technology
Ohio Star Forge managers believe that the investment in the AMP 50 is indicative of their belief in the value of adopting new technology. “We rely heavily on new technology,” comments Jeff Downing. “Every year we spend a lot of money to keep pace with technology — in our furnace controls, machine controls, you name it: we stay with it. We have to stay competitive, worldwide.

“Adoption of technology helps us maintain lower staffing levels than other shops our size would employ,” he adds.

To ensure strict compliance with customer specifications, Ohio Star Forge uses DataMyte data-collection systems, installed about eight years ago by AIS DataMyte Inc. so that OSF operators can maintain real-time process control. To enter data into this system, an operator places a forging in the gages of a DataMyte workstation. Data is read and entered into the system automatically. “We can use the DataMyte system to provide the complete statistical package of quality information for a production lot,” says Downing. “It’s a very powerful tool, and we’ve used it religiously since we installed it.”

When required, Ohio Star Forge uses Daido Steel’s metallurgical laboratory facility in Chita, Japan, to perform complete failure analysis, including — but not limited to — scanning electron microscopy, spectrographic chemical analysis, and contact fatigue testing

One of the areas where new technology is being applied is in high-speed inspection. This operation checks forgings for proper weight, OD, and width. OSF has four high-speed inspection lines, which are used to automatically inspect about 70% of what it produces. Two of the four lines have been updated with bowl-feeding systems; the remaining two are scheduled to be updated in the near future.

OSF heat treats 90% of its output in-house. About 60% of its output is made of 52100 steel, the preferred grade for producing bearings. After forging, it must be spheroidize-annealed for 24 hours in a continuous furnace. Another 30% of the product is normalized with controlled cooling.

Automotive and other markets
Currently, Ohio Star Forge produces carbon and alloy steel forgings within the 1- to 5-in. outside diameter size range. The company produces a wide range of parts for Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers to the automotive industry. Among the products are deep grooved-ball bearings; tapered bearings; Generation 1, 2, and 3 hub inner bearings; and Generation 1 hub outer rings, for wheel and transmission components. OSF also produces a line of gear blanks and synchronized sleeve blanks for transmission applications, a variety of fasteners for the heavy truck industry, and balls in 1- to 2-in. diameters for various ball bearing applications.

Looking ahead to the expansion, Downing says, “We will go up to 105 mm diameter by 100 mm length, with the addition of the AMP 50 XL HFE. By including the HFE option, we’ll be able to make complex extruded parts, in addition to the traditional round parts that we make now. I think there’s a lot of demand out there, and there’s not a whole lot of supply,” he notes.

Carl Paglia, sales manager, adds, “The AMP 50 will enable us to serve an even greater variety of markets when it starts up in Q1 2006. We see a considerable market for this capability in industrial and off-highway applications.”

Additional plans for Ohio Star Forge
O hio Star Forge, founded in 1988 as a joint venture between Copperweld Steel (51%) and Japan’s Daido Steel (49%), is housed in a 161,319-ft2 facility on a 10-acre site in Warren, OH.

Beginning in 2000, manufacturing of some bearings migrated offshore, because of the lower production costs overseas. American companies made it known to their suppliers that they didn’t care where parts and components were acquired. As a result, OSF began a three-year program to expand the markets it served, and it successfully entered several non-bearing markets. Whereas in 2001, 95% of OSF’s output was directed to the bearing market, today only 65% is directed to that market.

Facility expansion was one of the first plans. Ohio Star Forge recently received a 60% 10-year tax abatement from county commissioners for the expansion project. In return, OSF pledged to spend between $10,765,000 to $13,155,000 on new construction; facility improvements; new machinery and equipment; new fixtures; and new inventory. The company also indicated that it planned to hire up to 14 workers within one year after the project is completed.

After expansion is completed, recruiting and hiring the right workers is the next step for OSF.

“When I came here in 1995, it was tough recruiting people,” Downing recalls. But he doesn’t expect any problem finding qualified people to hire when the new machine starts up. “We’re one of the ‘last men standing’ in this area. There have been several companies that have closed down, like CSC Steel, right next door, which closed in 2001,” said Downing. “Our jobs are attractive now. We have great benefits for our people now, and a very good pay packages. When we have hired new employees recently, we were able to get some extremely good people.” The result has been a productive workforce.

Training new workers won’t be a problem, either. OSF has a Japanese operator with several years experience operating the AMP 50. Most of the experienced operators have are capable of overseeing the new machine.

New workers will be able to take advantage of in-house training and training done off-site at nearby Kent State University. “They perform some of our training,” continued Downing. “We have some outside people that come in and do programs like forklift training and back-injury prevention training.”

Safety training is another aspect of preparing a qualified workforce. According to OSF human resources manager Brent Currington, the safety-awareness effort was initiated in 2003. “Before that we only did the training that was required, but we decided we could do more.”

Safety-awareness training consists of two elements: The Close Call Program and the Lost Time Reward Program. Both are a reward system for managing a safe work environment.

The Close Call Program is an effort to identify hazardous conditions, to thwart potential accidents. When an employee experiences an “almost” accident, a form describing the situation is filled out and shared with other employees in the affected department. Then, the safety committee reviews the report for any necessary remedial action.

The Lost Time Reward Program rewards employees for safe behavior that avoids lost-time injuries. For this purpose, a lost-time accident is defined as a work-related accident in which an employee missed eight or more calendar days. Employees are rewarded with free lunches, and there is a raffle of gift certificates at the end of each month.

“We are working to make the employees more aware of their environment, which helps them prevent accidents,” says Currington, and the efforts are paying off.