Embracing The Pressure: Isothermal Press Key to Supporting Parts Ramp
He stands before a technological marvel, a work station that is basically unlike anything else in the world.
"This is our main control station," said Ricky Cummings, a working leader at Georgia Forgings. "We sit right here and run the whole process."
Cummings is monitoring an engine part composed of nickel super-alloy and titanium inside an isothermal press, known on the floor as "C4." If you are unfamiliar with this technology, Cummings has the ability to explain it to you as if you are a student in his classroom.
"(The part) is a pancake. The part has already been taken from a mult, and pancaked down to a flat part. We take it from there and we do forging on it. Everything is forged under a vacuum. All the heat is contained inside of a machine. It's forged at a high temperature, under a vacuum," Cummings said, still standing in front of his work area.
The highly integrated process begins when employees identify a part, a journey that starts when it rolls down a conveyor belt. These critical rotating engine parts are then put through a pre-heating stage, until a robot picks it up and places it into the press. It is here where the magic happens.
"See those numbers going up right there," Cummings said, pointing to a computer screen. "That is your vacuum."
Cummings instructs his visitors to peer through a circular glass peep hole several inches thick. Instantly, your eyes are drawn to an orange glow in the center of the machine. The temperatures at this point are soaring now as the part is forged. What happens in Georgia, during every shift, is a rarity in the modern world, said Keith Bagley, general manager of the facility.
"We are only one of three sources that have the capabilities to do isothermal forging. We are also the only ones that can go near net of a shape versus our competitors," Bagley said.
That is a huge advantage for Pratt & Whitney. The isothermal process makes Pratt & Whitney's parts more durable and more affordable. While some on the floor joke that the machine's shape resembles the head of "Homer Simpson" from the Fox television series, they are also quick to point out that they had a say in how the press and the process to go with it should work.
"We actually made it out of cardboard," said Mike McMurray, operations manager. "We mocked it up out of cardboard and moved it all around to where we wanted the parts and pieces. It involved everybody in this business from a quality to maintenance to operators, engineers, supervisors; we all had a piece in it."
For Ricky Cummings, he thinks it's amazing that parts made at high temperatures inside an isothermal press will soon withstand high temperatures inside an engine that exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Pratt & Whitney parts that are able to support a force equivalent to 384 cars pulling on each individual disk – Pratt & Whitney engines that, like the press, are unlike anything else in the world.
"(This machine) does everything," Cummings said with a smile.
Hear Ricky Cummings and Keith Bagley tell this story in their own words. [via YouTube]