Hot metal ingot
being loaded into a hammer forge
Forging is a manufacturing process involving the shaping of metal using localized compressive forces. Forging is often classified according to the temperature at which it is performed: “cold”, “warm”, or “hot” forging. Forged parts can range in weight from less than a kilogram to 580 metric tons. Forged parts usually require further processing to achieve a finished part. Today, forging is a major world-wide industry that has significantly contributed to the development of the manufacturing cycles.
Forging is one of the oldest known metalworking processes. Traditionally, forging was performed by a smith using hammer and anvil, though introducing water power to the production and working of iron in the 12th century drove the hammer and anvil into obsolescence. The smithy or forge has evolved over centuries to become a facility with engineered processes, production equipment, tooling, raw materials and products to meet the demands of modern industry.
In modern times, industrial forging is done either with presses or with hammers powered by compressed air, electricity, hydraulics or steam. These hammers may have reciprocating weights in the thousands of pounds. Smaller power hammers, 500 lb (230 kg) or less reciprocating weight, and hydraulic presses are common in art smithies as well. Some steam hammers remain in use, but they became obsolete with the availability of the other, more convenient, power sources.
Advantages and disadvantages
Forging can produce a piece that is stronger than an equivalent cast or machined part. As the metal is shaped during the forging process, its internal grain deforms to follow the general shape of the part. As a result, the grain is continuous throughout the part, giving rise to a piece with improved strength characteristics.
Some metals may be forged cold, but iron and steel are almost always hot forged. Hot forging prevents the work hardening that would result from cold forging, which would increase the difficulty of performing secondary machining operations on the piece. Also, while work hardening may be desirable in some circumstances, other methods of hardening the piece, such as heat treating, are generally more economical and more controllable. Alloys that are amenable to precipitation hardening, such as most aluminium alloys and titanium, can be hot forged, followed by hardening.
Production forging involves significant capital expenditure for machinery, tooling, facilities and personnel. In the case of hot forging, a high-temperature furnace (sometimes referred to as the forge) is required to heat ingots or billets. Owing to the massiveness of large forging hammers and presses and the parts they can produce, as well as the dangers inherent in working with hot metal, a special building is frequently required to house the operation. In the case of drop forging operations, provisions must be made to absorb the shock and vibration generated by the hammer. Most forging operations use metal-forming dies, which must be precisely machined and carefully heat-treated to correctly shape the workpiece, as well as to withstand the tremendous forces involved.
There are many different kinds of forging processes available, however they can be grouped into three main classes:
- Drawn out: length increases, cross-section decreases
- Upset: length decreases, cross-section increases
- Squeezed in closed compression dies: produces multidirectional flow
Common forging processes include: roll forging, swaging, cogging, open-die forging, impression-die forging, press forging, automatic hot forging and upsetting.
All of the following forging processes can be performed at various temperatures, however they are generally classified by whether the metal temperature is above or below the recrystallization temperature. If the temperature is above the material’s recrystallization temperature it is deemed hot forging; if the temperature is below the material’s recrystallization temperature but above 30% of the recrystallization temperature (on an absolute scale) it is deemed warm forging; if below 30% of the recrystallization temperature (usually room temperature) then it is deemed cold forging. The main advantage of hot forging is that as the metal is deformed work hardening effects are negated by the recrystallization process. Cold forging typically results in work hardening of the piece.
Drop forging is a forging process where a hammer is raised and then “dropped” onto the workpiece to deform it according to the shape of the die. There are two types of drop forging: open-die drop forging and closed-die drop forging. As the names imply, the difference is in the shape of the die, with the former not fully enclosing the workpiece, while the latter does.
Open-die drop forging
Open-die drop forging (with two dies) of an ingot to be further processed into a wheel
Open-die forging is also known as smith forging. In open-die forging, a hammer strikes and deforms the workpiece, which is placed on a stationary anvil. Open-die forging gets its name from the fact that the dies (the surfaces that are in contact with the workpiece) do not enclose the workpiece, allowing it to flow except where contacted by the dies. Therefore the operator, or a robot, needs to orient and position the workpiece to get the desired shape. The dies are usually flat in shape, but some have a specially shaped surface for specialized operations. For example, a die may have a round, concave, or convex surface or be a tool to form holes or be a cut-off tool.
Open die forgings can be worked into shapes which include discs, hubs, blocks, shafts (including step shafts or with flanges), sleeves, cylinders, flats, hexes, rounds, plate, and some custom shapes. 
Open-die forging lends itself to short runs and is appropriate for art smithing and custom work. In some cases, open-die forging may be employed to rough-shape ingots to prepare them for subsequent operations. Open-die forging may also orient the grain to increase strength in the required direction.
Advantages of Open-Die Forging
- Reduced chance of voids
- Better fatigue resistance
- Improved microstructure
- Continuous grain flow
- Finer grain size
- Greater strength
Cogging is successive deformation of a bar along its length using an open-die drop forge. It is commonly used to work a piece of raw material to the proper thickness. Once the proper thickness is achieved the proper width is achieved via edging. Edging is the process of concentrating material using a concave shaped open die. The process is called edging because it is usually carried out on the ends of the workpiece. Fullering is a similar process that thins out sections of the forging using a convex shaped die. These processes prepare the workpieces for further forging processes.
Impression-die drop forging
Impression-die forging is also called closed-die forging. In impression-die forging, the metal is placed in a die resembling a mold, which is attached to the anvil. Usually, the hammer die is shaped as well. The hammer is then dropped on the workpiece, causing the metal to flow and fill the die cavities. The hammer is generally in contact with the workpiece on the scale of milliseconds. Depending on the size and complexity of the part, the hammer may be dropped multiple times in quick succession. Excess metal is squeezed out of the die cavities, forming what is referred to as flash. The flash cools more rapidly than the rest of the material; this cool metal is stronger than the metal in the die, so it helps prevent more flash from forming. This also forces the metal to completely fill the die cavity. After forging, the flash is removed.
In commercial impression-die forging, the workpiece is usually moved through a series of cavities in a die to get from an ingot to the final form. The first impression is used to distribute the metal into the rough shape in accordance to the needs of later cavities; this impression is called an edging, fullering, or bending impression. The following cavities are called blocking cavities, in which the piece is working into a shape that more closely resembles the final product. These stages usually impart the workpiece with generous bends and large fillets. The final shape is forged in a final or finisher impression cavity. If there is only a short run of parts to be done, then it may be more economical for the die to lack a final impression cavity and instead machine the final features.
Impression-die forging has been improved in recent years through increased automation which includes induction heating, mechanical feeding, positioning and manipulation, and the direct heat treatment of parts after forging.
One variation of impression-die forging is called flashless forging, or true closed-die forging. In this type of forging, the die cavities are completely closed, which keeps the workpiece from forming flash. The major advantage to this process is that less metal is lost to flash. Flash can account for 20 to 45% of the starting material. The disadvantages of this process include additional cost due to a more complex die design and the need for better lubrication and workpiece placement.
There are other variations of part formation that integrate impression-die forging. One method incorporates casting a forging preform from liquid metal. The casting is removed after it has solidified, but while still hot. It is then finished in a single cavity die. The flash is trimmed, then the part is quench hardened. Another variation follows the same process as outlined above, except the preform is produced by the spraying deposition of metal droplets into shaped collectors (similar to the Osprey process).
Closed-die forging has a high initial cost due to the creation of dies and required design work to make working die cavities. However, it has low recurring costs for each part, thus forgings become more economical with more volume. This is one of the major reasons closed-die forgings are often used in the automotive and tool industry. Another reason forgings are common in these industrial sectors is that forgings generally have about a 20 percent higher strength-to-weight ratio compared to cast or machined parts of the same material.
Design of impression-die forgings and tooling
Forging dies are usually made of high-alloy or tool steel. Dies must be impact resistant, wear resistant, maintain strength at high temperatures, and have the ability to withstand cycles of rapid heating and cooling. In order to produce a better, more economical die the following rules should be followed:
- The dies should part along a single, flat plane if at all possible. If not, the parting plane should follow the contour of the part.
- The parting surface should be a plane through the center of the forging and not near an upper or lower edge.
- Adequate draft should be provided; a good guideline is at least 3° for aluminum and 5° to 7° for steel.
- Generous fillets and radii should be used.
- Ribs should be low and wide.
- The various sections should be balanced to avoid extreme difference in metal flow.
- Full advantage should be taken of fiber flow lines.
- Dimensional tolerances should not be closer than necessary.
The dimensional tolerances of a steel part produced using the impression-die forging method are outlined in the table below. The dimensions across the parting plane are affected by the closure of the dies, and are therefore dependent on die wear and the thickness of the final flash. Dimensions that are completely contained within a single die segment or half can be maintained at a significantly greater level of accuracy.
Dimensional tolerances for impression-die forgings
|Mass [kg (lb)]
||Minus tolerance [mm (in)]
||Plus tolerance [mm (in)]
A lubricant is used when forging to reduce friction and wear. It is also used as a thermal barrier to restrict heat transfer from the workpiece to the die. Finally, the lubricant acts as a parting compound to prevent the part from sticking in the dies.
Press forging works by slowly applying a continuous pressure or force, which differs from the near-instantaneous impact of drop-hammer forging. The amount of time the dies are in contact with the workpiece is measured in seconds (as compared to the milliseconds of drop-hammer forges). The press forging operation can be done either cold or hot.
The main advantage of press forging, as compared to drop-hammer forging, is its ability to deform the complete workpiece. Drop-hammer forging usually only deforms the surfaces of the work piece in contact with the hammer and anvil; the interior of the workpiece will stay relatively undeformed. Another advantage to the process includes the knowledge of the new part’s strain rate. We specifically know what kind of strain can be put on the part, because the compression rate of the press forging operation is controlled.
There are a few disadvantages to this process, most stemming from the workpiece being in contact with the dies for such an extended period of time. The operation is a time-consuming process due to the amount and length of steps. The workpiece will cool faster because the dies are in contact with workpiece; the dies facilitate drastically more heat transfer than the surrounding atmosphere. As the workpiece cools it becomes stronger and less ductile, which may induce cracking if deformation continues. Therefore heated dies are usually used to reduce heat loss, promote surface flow, and enable the production of finer details and closer tolerances. The workpiece may also need to be reheated.
When done in high productivity, press forging is more economical than hammer forging. The operation also creates closer tolerances. In hammer forging a lot of the work is absorbed by the machinery, when in press forging, the greater percentage of work is used in the work piece. Another advantage is that the operation can be used to create any size part because there is no limit to the size of the press forging machine. New press forging techniques have been able to create a higher degree of mechanical and orientation integrity. By the constraint of oxidation to the outer layers of the part, reduced levels of microcracking occur in the finished part.
Press forging can be used to perform all types of forging, including open-die and impression-die forging. Impression-die press forging usually requires less draft than drop forging and has better dimensional accuracy. Also, press forgings can often be done in one closing of the dies, allowing for easy automation.
Upset forging increases the diameter of the workpiece by compressing its length. Based on number of pieces produced, this is the most widely used forging process. A few examples of common parts produced using the upset forging process are engine valves, couplings, bolts, screws, and other fasteners.
Upset forging is usually done in special high-speed machines called crank presses, but upsetting can also be done in a vertical crank press or a hydraulic press. The machines are usually set up to work in the horizontal plane, to facilitate the quick exchange of workpieces from one station to the next. The initial workpiece is usually wire or rod, but some machines can accept bars up to 25 cm (9.8 in) in diameter and a capacity of over 1000 tons. The standard upsetting machine employs split dies that contain multiple cavities. The dies open enough to allow the workpiece to move from one cavity to the next; the dies then close and the heading tool, or ram, then moves longitudinally against the bar, upsetting it into the cavity. If all of the cavities are utilized on every cycle, then a finished part will be produced with every cycle, which makes this process advantageous for mass production.
These rules must be followed when designing parts to be upset forged:
- The length of unsupported metal that can be upset in one blow without injurious buckling should be limited to three times the diameter of the bar.
- Lengths of stock greater than three times the diameter may be upset successfully, provided that the diameter of the upset is not more than 1.5 times the diameter of the stock.
- In an upset requiring stock length greater than three times the diameter of the stock, and where the diameter of the cavity is not more than 1.5 times the diameter of the stock, the length of unsupported metal beyond the face of the die must not exceed the diameter of the bar.
Automatic hot forging
The automatic hot forging process involves feeding mill-length steel bars (typically 7 m (23 ft) long) into one end of the machine at room temperature and hot forged products emerge from the other end. This all occurs rapidly; small parts can be made at a rate of 180 parts per minute (ppm) and larger can be made at a rate of 90 ppm. The parts can be solid or hollow, round or symmetrical, up to 6 kg (13 lb), and up to 18 cm (7.1 in) in diameter. The main advantages to this process are its high output rate and ability to accept low-cost materials. Little labor is required to operate the machinery.
There is no flash produced so material savings are between 20 and 30% over conventional forging. The final product is a consistent 1,050 °C (1,920 °F) so air cooling will result in a part that is still easily machinable (the advantage being the lack of annealing required after forging). Tolerances are usually ±0.3 mm (0.012 in), surfaces are clean, and draft angles are 0.5 to 1°. Tool life is nearly double that of conventional forging because contact times are on the order of 0.06 second. The downside is that this process is only feasible on smaller symmetric parts and cost; the initial investment can be over $10 million, so large quantities are required to justify this process.
The process starts by heating the bar to 1,200 to 1,300 °C (2,190 to 2,370 °F) in less than 60 seconds using high-power induction coils. It is then descaled with rollers, sheared into blanks, and transferred through several successive forming stages, during which it is upset, preformed, final forged, and pierced (if necessary). This process can also be coupled with high-speed cold-forming operations. Generally, the cold forming operation will do the finishing stage so that the advantages of cold-working can be obtained, while maintaining the high speed of automatic hot forging.
Examples of parts made by this process are: wheel hub unit bearings, transmission gears, tapered roller bearing races, stainless steel coupling flanges, and neck rings for LP gas cylinders. Manual transmission gears are an example of automatic hot forging used in conjunction with cold working.
Roll forging is a process where round or flat bar stock is reduced in thickness and increased in length. Roll forging is performed using two cylindrical or semi-cylindrical rolls, each containing one or more shaped grooves. A heated bar is inserted into the rolls and when it hits a stop the rolls rotate and the bar is progressively shaped as it is rolled through the machine. The piece is then transferred to the next set of grooves or turned around and reinserted into the same grooves. This continues until the desired shape and size is achieved. The advantage of this process is there is no flash and it imparts a favorable grain structure into the workpiece.
Examples of products produced using this method include axles, tapered levers and leaf springs.
Net-shape and near-net-shape forging
This process is also known as precision forging. It was developed to minimize cost and waste associated with post-forging operations. Therefore, the final product from a precision forging needs little or no final machining. Cost savings are gained from the use of less material, and thus less scrap, the overall decrease in energy used, and the reduction or elimination of machining. Precision forging also requires less of a draft, 1° to 0°. The downside of this process is its cost, therefore it is only implemented if significant cost reduction can be achieved.
To achieve a low-cost net shape forging for demanding applications that are subject to a high degree of scrutiny, i.e. non-destructive testing by way of a dye-penetrant inspection technique, it is crucial that basic forging process disciplines be implemented. If the basic disciplines are not met, subsequent material removal operations will likely be necessary to remove material defects found at non-destructive testing inspection. Hence low-cost parts will not be achievable.
Example disciplines are: die-lubricant management (Use of uncontaminated and homogeneous mixtures, amount and placement of lubricant). Tight control of die temperatures and surface finish / friction.
Unlike the above processes, induction forging is based on the type of heating style used. Many of the above processes can be used in conjunction with this heating method.
(a) Material flow of a conventionally forged disc; (b) Material flow of an impactor forged disc
The most common type of forging equipment is the hammer and anvil. Principles behind the hammer and anvil are still used today in drop-hammer equipment. The principle behind the machine is simple: raise the hammer and drop it or propel it into the workpiece, which rests on the anvil. The main variations between drop-hammers are in the way the hammer is powered; the most common being air and steam hammers. Drop-hammers usually operate in a vertical position. The main reason for this is excess energy (energy that isn’t used to deform the workpiece) that isn’t released as heat or sound needs to be transmitted to the foundation. Moreover, a large machine base is needed to absorb the impacts.
To overcome some shortcomings of the drop-hammer, the counterblow machine or impactor is used. In a counterblow machine both the hammer and anvil move and the workpiece is held between them. Here excess energy becomes recoil. This allows the machine to work horizontally and have a smaller base. Other advantages include less noise, heat and vibration. It also produces a distinctly different flow pattern. Both of these machines can be used for open-die or closed-die forging.
A forging press, often just called a press, is used for press forging. There are two main types: mechanical and hydraulic presses. Mechanical presses function by using cams, cranks and/or toggles to produce a preset (a predetermined force at a certain location in the stroke) and reproducible stroke. Due to the nature of this type of system, different forces are available at different stroke positions. Mechanical presses are faster than their hydraulic counterparts (up to 50 strokes per minute). Their capacities range from 3 to 160 MN (300 to 18,000 short tons-force). Hydraulic presses use fluid pressure and a piston to generate force. The advantages of a hydraulic press over a mechanical press are its flexibility and greater capacity. The disadvantages include a slower, larger, and costlier machine to operate.
The roll forging, upsetting, and automatic hot forging processes all use specialized machinery.