The Start-up of the 35K Hammer Cell
“By the mid-2000s, we realized that SIFCO’s customer base had indicated a need for increased size capability,” said Matt Morrison, then operations manager, and current general manager. “We were seeing opportunities to bid packages of parts for key customers that required a 35,000 lb. hammer, and it was time for us to make a move.”
With the support of then-CEO and current Chairman Jeff Gotschall, SIFCO moved forward with building the justification and implementation plan. Jim Woidke, then GM and now COO, assembled a team that included Morrison, Purchasing Manager Greg Muniak, and Sales Manager Bud Kinney.
The sales team had been actively seeking opportunities for larger part quotations in addition to fielding customer requests. The team knew the game-changing potential this cell would have in aerospace structural and industrial gas turbine applications.
To maximize the revenue stream, the team designed a forging cell that would support and accentuate the 35,000-lb. hammer capabilities. The final design included the addition of two hydraulic presses, two furnaces, specialized handling equipment and upgrades to other support equipment in addition to the hammer itself.
There was no doubt that the capability to make larger parts could be transformational for SIFCO, potentially adding tens of millions of dollars in annual sales. However, the timing of a U.S. recession and worldwide financial crisis added substantial risk to the company. Based on the strength of the justification and a united desire to dramatically change the growth potential at the Cleveland facility, Gotschall and the board of directors strongly supported the launch of this project. SIFCO had decided to bet on itself and the abilities of its employees in the face of a downturn.
While financial justification and potential for the growth of SIFCO was extremely important in the board of directors’ decision to approve the project, the opportunity to better serve customers was consistent with SIFCO’s long-standing mission. “We always want to help customers,” Jeff Gotschall explained. “If a part required a larger hammer to make the part, we wanted to have that capability. It was true that these hammers were not being made anymore, so getting one or making one . . . that’s the real story.”
“The project kicked off in spring 2009,” recalled Morrison. “We divided the overall project into nine sub-projects ranging from the hammer itself, to foundations and electrical service upgrades, to the 5,000-ton hydraulic press. Each subproject had an owner, and we met every week to review progress and costs”.
In charge of the hammer subproject, Greg Muniak was also responsible for finding critical spare parts. “We identified early on the components with the highest likelihood of failure and went about procuring spares right along with the parts we would use to assemble the hammer,” he recalled.
“Two of the most memorable moments in the project were the digging of the pit for the hammer foundation and the delivery of the spare anvil,” recalled Morrison. The pit required for the hammer foundation was 30 feet deep and required 36-foot-tall steel piles around its perimeter to keep it from collapsing. Because of SIFCO’s proximity to Lake Erie, water had to be continuously pumped out of the bottom of the pit. Into the pit went two 250,000-lb. parts known as subbases, a four-foot-tall rubber vibration-dampening pad and an anvil as large as the subbases. More than 425 yards of concrete and tons of fill dirt were used to backfill around these components. Finally, the 280,000-lb. hammer was securely installed.
As Muniak looked into buying a spare anvil for the hammer he was met with the reality that steel components of that size were no longer cast in the United States. Working with a U.S. firm as a consultant, Muniak had to have the component made in China. After a lengthy sea journey, the massive part arrived on a 19-axle truck, accompanied by flashing lights and police cruisers.
“The largest part we could make before the 35,000-lb. hammer was 350 lbs.,” said Matt Morrison. “Now we’re making 850-lb. parts and quoting up to 1,000-lb. forgings. That was our goal from the get-go.”
SIFCO’s decision to move forward with the 35K project has paid off. In its centennial year, SIFCO is supplying performance-critical large forgings such as the landing-gear drag beam for the Blackhawk helicopter, a compressor blade for the GE Energy 7FA turbine and several Boeing 787 Titanium cargo door hinge components.