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Forgings, castings present unique supply challenges

By Stephen J. Baker, DSCR Public Affairs
April 28, 2010
Glen Morrell, Littlestown Foundry treasurer, gives DSCR employees a tour of the casting shop in Littlestown, Pa., April 21. The DLA aviation team members were there as part of a trip to learn about casting and forging issues that can have a serious impact on the agency’s ability to supply needed parts to America’s military aviation community. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)
Glen Morrell, Littlestown Foundry treasurer, gives DSCR employees a tour of the casting shop in Littlestown, Pa., April 21. The DLA aviation team members were there as part of a trip to learn about casting and forging issues that can have a serious impact on the agency’s ability to supply needed parts to America’s military aviation community. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)

Few things are more loathsome than unfilled orders in a military supply chain, whether for the buyers tasked with procuring the parts or for the warfighters awaiting their arrival. And when it comes to aviation items for America’s military that fall in either of those undesirable categories, a disproportionate percentage share a common trait:  forged or cast components.

That’s where the Aviation Forging and Casting Assistance Team (AFCAT) at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Va., enters the picture. Through the variety of services it provides to Defense Logistics Agency, Defense Department customers and industry, AFCAT aims to reduce the confusion, delays and cost associated with the supply of those parts.

Forging is the process of heating and beating a piece of metal into a desired shape, whereas casting is the pouring of liquid metal into a mold or pattern to achieve a similar result. Forged and cast components like these play a vital role in thousands of critical safety items on U.S. military aircraft – parts that, upon failure, could cause the loss of life or government property.

Last week, AFCAT took 23 employees from DSCR – which manages DLA’s aviation demand and supply chain – on the road for a crash course in the fundamentals of forging and metal casting. The employees learned how cast and forged components affect parts acquisition and about available tools that can help reduce unfilled orders and the amount of time it takes to both purchase and produce parts.

Forging is the process of heating existing metal, like the aluminum seen here at Cerro Fabricated Products in Weyer’s Cave, Va., and beating it into a desired shape. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)
Forging is the process of heating existing metal, like the aluminum seen here at Cerro Fabricated Products in Weyer's Cave, Va., and beating it into a desired shape. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)
 

The group got a first-hand look at both processes during a bus trip that included tours of Cerro Fabricated Products in Weyer’s Cave, Va., April 20 and Littlestown Foundry in Littlestown, Pa., April 21.

Cerro Fabricated Products is a forging shop that manufactures aluminum, brass, copper, bronze and other specialized forged and machined parts. Littlestown Foundry is a casting shop that produces primarily commercial aluminum parts. Both are Department of Defense suppliers.

While en route to the destinations, the group learned about AFCAT and the unique issues associated with parts containing cast and forged components.

 

Crash course on the road

Michael Bess, who represents American Metalcasting Consortium at DSCR, gives a presentation to DLA aviation team employees during a castings and forgings trip April 20-21. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)
Michael Bess, who represents American Metalcasting Consortium at DSCR, gives a presentation to DLA aviation team employees during a castings and forgings trip April 20-21. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)

Forging Defense Manufacturing Consortium (FDMC) and American Metalcasting Consortium (AMC) are DLA industry partners that work with DSCR on casting and forging issues. Dale Roberts, AFCAT program manager in DSCR’s Value Engineering Branch; Walker George, a contractor representing FDMC; and Michael Bess, a contractor representing AMC, each gave a presentation on the bus as it motored north along the interstate through Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

“In 2005, we conducted a study and found that even though only three percent of our parts contained castings and forgings, those items accounted for around 10 percent of unfilled orders,” Roberts told the group, pointing out related information displayed on monitors above the heads of bus passengers. Among the oldest unfilled orders, the number jumped to 15 percent.

Roberts said the reason those orders seem so difficult to fill is that castings and forgings typically require special tooling that is not readily identifiable. Tooling includes items such as forging dies, casting patterns and molds, and machining and inspection fixtures.

Without that tooling or knowing where to outsource that portion of a contract, suppliers can’t bid on solicitations from DSCR to produce needed parts.

On the other hand, contracts are sometimes signed before suppliers realize that tooling is required, resulting in delays due to contract cancellations, waivers and modifications.

Historically, this happened because buyers and bidders had a hard time determining whether items contained cast or forged components. Doing so typically required delving deep into the technical drawings and specifications in item descriptions – a time-consuming prospect when some parts solicitations are only posted for a one- or two-week period.

“When you throw a bid out, it takes real time for suppliers to pull up the drawings and look at them and find issues like this,” Roberts said.

Of all the assistance requests AFCAT receives, 13.5 percent of them are made after a contract has been awarded to a supplier.

“We don’t want contract failures,” Roberts said. “But when they’re calling us after a contract award has been made, we’re already in trouble.”

From right-to-left, Scott Falls, tool and die manager at Cerro Fabricated Products, explains elements of the forging process to DSCR employees Gerol Meadows, customer account specialist; Phillip LaBranche, customer account specialist; and Desiree McCormick, acquisition specialist; during a tour of the forging shop in Weyer’s Cave, Va., April 20. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)
From right-to-left, Scott Falls, tool and die manager at Cerro Fabricated Products, explains elements of the forging process to DSCR employees Gerol Meadows, customer account specialist; Phillip LaBranche, customer account specialist; and Desiree McCormick, acquisition specialist; during a tour of the forging shop April 20. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)

Instead of giving up a contract, suppliers will sometimes request a waiver to “hog out” a component that is supposed to be forged or cast, meaning it will instead be cut from an existing piece of metal. The problem with hogging out parts is that they’re usually weaker than cast or forged components. The process also creates more waste, which represents a significant cost.

“Forging actually changes the physical properties of the metal … it’s the working of the metal that gives it the strength and durability, because that lines up the grain flow,” Roberts said. “Plus, imagine that you have to make a metal cup. What would be more efficient and economical:  shaping it out of just the right amount of metal or sculpting it out of a big block of aluminum?”

“Components that are cast often have intricate internal geometry that can’t be replicated by either forging or hogging out metal,” Roberts said.

 

Problem solver

One of AFCAT’s most significant functions is to highlight items requiring castings or forgings by working with industry as they conduct in-depth research on DSCR-managed items and tag those that might – or definitely do – have cast or forged components.

“Once we know there are either suspected or confirmed castings or forgings, we put a standard text object in the item description within EBS [Enterprise Business System] to alert buyers and bidders that special tooling or sourcing is – or may be – needed to produce the part,” Roberts said.

By working with industry and within DLA, AFCAT has identified close to 80,000 National Inventory Item Numbers (NIINs) as items suspected or confirmed to contain castings or forgings. About 7,300 of those NIINs have been confirmed and include one of the following text tables in EBS:

  • A1202 – parts that potentially contain a casting and/or a forging.
  • ZD003 – parts that contain a casting.
  • ZD004 – parts that contain a forging.
Aluminum, in its superheated molten form, is prepared for pouring into molds at Littlestown Foundry. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)
Aluminum, in its superheated molten form, is prepared for pouring into molds at Littlestown Foundry. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)

Another 17,000 that have been confirmed will soon be updated with the appropriate EBS text table. The AFCAT representatives cautioned DSCR buyers not to remove these tables when putting together solicitations, as it would ultimately put more work and responsibility on the buyer.

“That text becomes part of the solicitation,” Roberts explained to the employees. “It tells the bidders how to find sources through AFCAT by providing them with links to the suppliers and the tooling, so you don’t have to do it for them.”

Roberts said that once suppliers see and read the notice, they will know casting or forging is involved in producing the part. At that point, they can either locate the required tooling or choose not to make a bid.

“Providing this information up-front reduces contracts that can’t deliver,” Roberts said.

Tim Gore, a product specialist in DSCR’s Electrical Components and Cables Division, said that after seeing firsthand what is involved in forging and casting metal during the tours and learning more about related procurement issues, he is all in favor of AFCAT’s efforts to make that information more accessible to buyers and bidders. Gore said this message stood out as his number one takeaway from the trip:  “It’s best to get it right at the beginning.”

 

Forging and casting matchmaker

DSCR Procurement Supervisor Kim Licence watches as a worker at Littlestown Foundry in Littlestown, Pa., works on excess aluminum moving along a conveyor belt in the shop. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)
DSCR Procurement Supervisor Kim Licence watches as an employee at Littlestown Foundry works on excess aluminum moving along a conveyor belt in the shop. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)

AFCAT also provides direct support to buyers and bidders by maintaining databases that help match up DSCR parts with the companies that have the required tooling, sourcing and proprietary rights to make cast and forged components.

“We’ll search our databases and attempt to find existing tooling sources; and if we find them, then it’s a big win for everyone,” Bess said.

Kim Licence, a procurement supervisor in Aviation and Airframes Division I, had used AFCAT’s services before going on the casting and forging trip. Last fall, her team was still struggling to fill a purchase request received in January 2008 for a critical safety item on an Air Force T-38 Talon aircraft.

“The part was a structural support. Because of casting issues, we were getting a lot of no-quotes from vendors,” Licence said. Her division chief, who had been on one of the 14 previous casting and forging trips, recommended checking with AFCAT.

After almost two years of no bids, Licence took the advice and was amazed by the results. “We got the list of suggested casting sources from AFCAT on Nov. 3, 2009, and a contract award was processed on Nov. 24, 2009," she said.

AFCAT currently has about a 27 percent success rate in locating tooling for DSCR or suppliers, but Bess said that the supply base of foundries and forge shops is diminishing.

“In comparison to other supply chains, we have so many items that are critical to flight safety,” he said. “But some of our weapons systems are so old that the sources for items with cast and forged parts have either become fragmented or non-existent.”

Walker George, who represents the Forging Defense Manufacturing Consortium at DSCR, explains how an aluminum part was forged to customer account specialists Gerol Meadows (left) and Phillip LaBranche during a tour of Cerro Fabricated Products. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)
Walker George, who represents the Forging Defense Manufacturing Consortium at DSCR, explains how an aluminum part was forged to customer account specialists Gerol Meadows (left) and Phillip LaBranche during a tour of Cerro Fabricated Products. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)

Roberts said a prime example is the B-52 Stratofortress bomber, which the Air Force first brought into service in 1955. He said that certain parts of the aircraft, like major structural members in the wings, were never designed to be replaced.

“But nobody in their right mind back when the B-52 was being built ever thought it would still be operating in 2010,” Roberts said, explaining that many of the companies that made original parts for aircraft like the Stratofortress are now out of business.

Whether or not a match is made, AFCAT’s representatives agree that administrative and production lead time can be reduced if DSCR employees use them as their first resource when encountering issues related to cast or forged parts.

Bess said that employees who don’t know about AFCAT will often submit a Form 339 – a request for engineering support – to help resolve casting and forging problems. Although DLA has streamlined the process, David Gvozdas, a supervisor in DSCR’s Aviation Engineering Support Division, said a 339 for these issues can still take anywhere between 45-90 days to process.

Because requests related to castings and forgings are usually referred to AFCAT anyway, Bess said it's best to save time and contact them first.

 

Cost of tooling

Glen Morrel, Littlestown Foundry treasurer, explains the importance of casting in parts manufacturing to Michael Bess, American Metalcasting Consortium representative at DSCR; and DSCR Procurement Supervisors Kim Licence and Arla Allen. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)
Glen Morrel, Littlestown Foundry treasurer, explains the importance of casting in parts manufacturing to Michael Bess, American Metalcasting Consortium representative at DSCR; and DSCR Procurement Supervisors Kim Licence and Arla Allen. (Photo by Stephen J. Baker)

When sources for tooling aren’t available, new tooling must be manufactured to make needed items even if a purchase request calls for just one part. And the cost can be significant.

“Until I went on this trip, I didn’t know what suppliers were talking about – I didn’t really know what tooling was until now,” said Arla Allen, an Aviation and Airframes Division I procurement supervisor at DSCR responsible for buying safety-related parts for ejection seats, seat belts and the like.

“When contractors would quote $50,000 for tooling, I’d say ‘holy cow!’ But now I know why they quote $50,000. It’s what they call an ‘additive line,’ and it’s a one-time tooling charge they need for the set up,” Allen said.

George said one of the best things about the trip is that employees “really get a feel for what’s going on” and have a chance to become more familiar with what’s required to manufacture tooling.

“When a contractor comes in and tells you that a part’s going to cost $30,000; well the tooling for that part is two-thirds of the price – and we’re only buying one,” he said. “What I’ve done is gone back to the contracting officer at DSCR and told them:  ‘Look, you’re buying two parts. And the tooling is the biggest part of it.’ And they went back, renegotiated, and got 20 parts for what they were going to spend on just one.”

“I have more of an understanding now of why quotes are priced high when they come in, because I know what goes into the making of just one piece of the part,” Licence said.

Licence found the trip to be “eye-opening and enlightening” and encouraged fellow employees who might have dealings with items containing forgings or castings to sign up for the next one. “They will definitely come back to work with a whole new appreciation for what exactly goes into their manufacturing,” she said.

 

Learn more about or contact AFCAT