Impact Forge Celebrates 20th Anniversary

April 2, 2006
What began 20 years ago in Bob Stevens’ basement is today an organization of four plants offering a broad selection of hot, warm, and cold forging capabilities.

As Impact Forge celebrates its twentieth anniversary it is interesting to note that its origin actually began 27 years ago when CEO Robert J. Stevens was recruited to run North Vernon Forge’s operations in Indiana, Ohio, and Mexico. He recruited a team of forgers from throughout the industry and encouraged each of them to establish strong customer relations as a way transform the North Vernon Forge operations.

The success of those North Vernon Forge operations led to their sale. So, just before Thanksgiving in 1985, shortly after he had moved with his family from Indianapolis to Columbus, IN, Bob learned that he was unemployed.

Working long hours during the next 30 days, Bob obtained purchase orders from a substantial customer, commitments for equipment, and the use of an empty 40,000-ft2 "shell building." He also pursued numerous loans. The latter effort culminated with a call from Indiana National Bank on Christmas Eve confirming that they would finance his new business. It was named Impact Forge Inc.

Bob called four friends and invited them to join him and his wife, Barbara, in their basement to plan the startup of Impact Forge. As a result, a management team was formed with Bob Stevens as president, Dennis Potter as v.p. of sales and marketing; Mike Thomas, v.p. of manufacturing; Paul Biggerstaff, chief design engineer; Bill Heidt, v.p. of engineering; and Barbara Stevens, general counsel. Bob also invited the team members to invest in the company as shareholders. (Today the owner/manager group of shareholders has grown to 25 current and past employees.)

The team did not have the luxury of taking a year, or even a few months, to transform the empty building into a viable forging operation. — despite having no utility services, no production equipment, no tooling, nor any workers, and the building didn’t even have a proper floor — because the first purchase orders were conditioned upon Impact Forge being in full production by the first week of March 1986, just 60 days later. The founders have many stories about those crazy days, but they managed to meet that customer’s requirements and deliver the first forgings on March 6, 1986.

Early on, Impact Forge adopted three "philosophies":
- "Quality would be our number-one sales tool"
- "Employee safety will be our number-one operating principle" and,
- "We will deliver the Best Total Cost to customers."

Bob Stevens credits these philosophies for Impact Forge’s growth internally, and allowing it to add three complimentary plants. And the company’s fast start drew the attention of a start-up magazine, too: Forging featured Impact Forge in its inaugural issue.

Stevens believes that the four plants in the Impact Group offer one of the broadest capabilities of hot-, warm-, and cold-forging equipment processes in North America, as well as special forging technologies developed with cross-wedge rolls and proprietary double-hydraulic upsetter processes.

Today’s management team consists of Stevens as chairman and CEO; Dennis P. Potter, president; Edward M. Hilger; v.p. of sales/marketing; Michael J. Thomas, executive vice president ; William L. Holstein, group executive vice president; Stephen E. Wright, chief financial officer; and Barbara Stevens, general counsel. Other team members include William S. MacColl as plant manager of Omni Forge, and Steven V. Young as plant manager of Impact Precision Forge.

Adding plants, one at a time

Net Forge Inc. was founded in 1989 in Columbus, IN. It was named and designed to manufacture "net shape" and "near-net shape" forgings that require little or no machining. To accomplish this, the Net Forge uses a combination of multi-action, split tooling in mechanical and proprietary hydraulic presses to produce precision hot, warm, and cold forgings in its 57,000- ft2 facility.

Net Forge has developed several unique products including a "net shape" cold forging produced without machining to ±12 micron tolerance capability from 52100 bearing steel. Currently, the company is involved in several design development projects with customers.

Today, Net Forge operates as a division of Omni Forge Inc.

Founded in 1990, Omni Forge was formed to purchase the assets of a forging facility in Remington, IN. It created new jobs for 37 workers by adding numerous new forging lines and expanding the plant to approximately 100,000 ft2.

"Omni" means "all," and the name was chosen to reflect Omni Forge’s focus on providing one of the widest ranges of forging equipment and capabilities in the industry, including mechanical presses, knuckle presses, a screw press, programmable hammers, upsetters, and a cross wedge roll.

Founded in 1998 in Coldwater, MI, Impact Precision Forge was established via the purchase of another forging operation. Its focus is on a wide range of precision cold-forging presses with both manual and automated capabilities to manufacture precision cold and warm forgings in a modern 28,000-ft2 plant.

Teamwork works

"Each plant has a separate management team for production, quality, and design that specializes in the types of equipment in each plant," explains Stevens, in response to a question about how the four plants work together. Quotations for a new job are prepared by one, two, three, or all four of the group’s plants, then consolidated and quoted through one sales team.

"Impact Forge Group management members and sales personnel visit the individual plants on a regular basis," Stevens says, "and we hold group staff meetings to obtain synergies in areas such as budgeting, die life improvements, etc."

The four plants have multiple equipment for producing forgings in each plant. "For example, we can produce forged shafts on a hot-, warm-, or cold-mechanical press, as well as on a screw-press, hammer, cross-wedge roll, double hydraulic upsetter, and vertical and horizontal upsetters. In each case it depends upon the shape, size, tolerances, and quantities."

As might be expected, the group works together in other ways. "We coordinate major purchases such as steel and equipment," Stevens points out, "and we coordinate via benchmarking to obtain the best computer software and upgrades. Based upon this benchmarking, each plant does its own engineering, but uses the same computer hardware as well as CAD/CAM and finite element software."

"Due to the compound issues of steel mill capacity shortages, steel price increases, and scrap and alloy surcharges, the past two years have been challenging for our group," Bob Stevens admits. He adds, however, "We are pleased with our prospects for 2006 and beyond based upon new business from both new and existing customers as well as significant productivity and operational improvements at all four plants."

"We just completed an expansion that doubled the capacity of Net Forge’s double-hydraulic upsetters. In addition to our normal capital expansion programs at all four plants, we have successfully increased our open capacities by concentrating on improved productivities. We also have a large inventory of surplus forging and support equipment in warehouses that we can use to meet customer requirements for additional capacities."