BIG, BIG MACHINERY-- 16 million pounds of a forging press goes back on line
Here at ManufactureThis, we have to laugh when economists, pundits, and clueless academics talk about transitioning into a "post-manufacturing age." If, in fact, the world were to move beyond manufacturing, there'd be no one to make the cars, bridges, iPods, air conditioners, shoes, and bicycles of the future.
But more accurately, if only the U.S. moved beyond manufacturing, we'd be entirely dependent on other countries for all of our basic goods-- not just new computers and iPads, but screwdrivers, screws, and wrenches to fix the cars and washing machines we already have.
This amazing complexity and overarching importance that manufacturing has to the U.S. economy can't be understated.
But we're reminded of just how vast the scale of manufacturing is, and how hard it would be to replace, when we read Tim Heffernan's terrific article in The Atlantic regarding Alcoa's 16,000 ton forging press in Cleveland.
Heffernan reports that Alcoa's staggeringly oversized operation came to a halt three years ago when its giant metal forging machine-- essentially a giant wafflemaker that presses metal into gigantic shapes for industrial use-- broke down. But the machine has now been repaired and is scheduled to go back online.
Reading some of the forging press's specs provides an eye-opening look at just how complicated and integral manufacturing prowess and expertise is for a first world economy:
- The eight steel bolts anchoring it are 40 inches thick;
- Its 14 major structural components weigh as much as 250 tons each
- Its steel bolts are 78 feet long;
- In total, the machine weighs 16 million pounds;
- Its eight main hydraulic cylinders deliver up to 50,000 tons of compressive force.
- The overall power of the press is capable of lifting the battleship Iowa, with 860 tons to spare.
- Despite its massive size, portions of the machine are so intricately designed that parts tolerances are measured in thousandths of an inch.
All of this should serve as a reminder of why the U.S. needs to hold on to its manufacturing prowess, and the skills to build and operate such monumental equipment.
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