Independent Forging & Alloys Ltd (IFA) is a specialist open die forging and ring manufacturer, producing forgings of up to eight tons in a wide range of materials. The company was founded in 2001 with a unique vision to be a complete forging service center. A combination of experience, knowledge and on-going investments has seen IFA reduce manufacturing lead times down to an industry leading 6 weeks. Their quest for further improvement in both forged products and customer service continues. Stainless Steel world spoke to CEO Andrew McGuinness about the company’s focus on excellence and the advanced manufacturing solutions it offers its customers … wherever they may be.
“We provide 21st Century advanced manufacturing solutions, and are literally involved in projects from the deepest oceans to outer space” begins Mr. McGuinness. “Beneath the seabed, IFA supplies forged drive shafts for directional drilling tools; our valve bodies, tubing hangers, seals and gaskets are deployed in deep waters off Brazil, and we supply key components to nuclear submarines and other defence vessels. All Formula One race cars have our titanium press-forgings as a key component of their drivetrain and our forge produces aerospace engine and mainframe components for helicopters and civil aircraft – and we even forge titanium rings for communication satellites in outer space!”
“Our core products are seamless rolled and hammered forged rings, press forged rings, blocks for valve bodies and shafts, plus GFM forged round and flat bars for gate valves and turbine blading bar. We work with all materials, ranging from nickel alloys to titanium, stainless steel and carbon alloys. While the main sectors we supply are oil and gas, power and aerospace applications, it’s fair to say we supply to almost any industry that demands high integrity forged parts.”
Advanced manufacturing solutions
When IFA opened the doors in 2001, the existing site – which has over two and a half centuries of forging history behind it- operated a single forging unit. Over GBP 10 million has been invested in the last 12 years cumulating in five modern individual forge units covering the full range of products – ranging in weight from 1 to 8000 kg, with further investment planned over the next 3 years to support the company’s growth strategy. Forging facilities on site now include hammers, ring rolling mills (including the UK’s most powerful), heat treatment facilities, fast acting hydraulic presses, machining facilities and a range of supporting equipment. The GFM rotary forging machine – of which there are just two in the United Kingdom – is used to produce rounds and flat bars. The growth of the company over the years has also necessitated a significant investment to find the right, qualified staff, explains Mr. McGuinness.
“Our team has grown from 30 t 135 people, and in the past 12 years an enormous amount of effort has gone into recruiting, training, and developing the team. Fortunately Sheffield has a long history of forging and a strong skilled workforce. Traditionally forging was a profession that was passed from father to son; however times have changed and a more pro-active approach is needed. Therefore we have developed our own forging apprenticeship program to train our staff, in cooperation with Sheffield College.”
Fast Track Supply
Independent Forgings and Alloys was founded as a forging service center, which was quite different from the traditional forging houses, continues Mr. McGuinness.
“We treat our customers as partners and work very closely with them to understand their actual requirements. Our goal was to reduce industry’s standard lead times of 12 to 14 weeks to 6 to 8 weeks. Our heavy investment in the sites capability, combined with flexibility, adaptability and an understanding of how we could improve our lead-times has enabled us to achieve this. We have the capacity to rapidly increase production by over 15% when necessary and are now able to guarantee the fast track supply of as-forged and machined semi-finished components. When a part is needed urgently, for instance on an oil platform or deep-hole oil well, we can instantly react and get our forging to the customer before anyone else can.
The Independent Edge
“We deliberately chose to include the word ‘independent’ in our name,” explains Mr. McGuinness. “We felt it was important to highlight the fact that we are privately owned. This means that when it comes to sourcing raw materials we aren’t influenced by large corporations. We can’t enter into long term agreements with any qualified, approved mills we choose. This also means that we able to promote European manufacturing as a preference and only purchase our raw materials from within the Euro Zone whenever possible. We are great believers in practicing what we preach. It’s a pity that more companies don’t follow suit and buy from European manufacturers instead of thinking that they will find qualified, competitive materials at low cost elsewhere.”
IFA’s strategy has always been to focus on high performance alloys, such as the nickel alloys, 625, 718, 725 etc. and titanium, and to develop expertise in the processing from the ingots to the billet.
“As an independent company we are focused on continually improving our yields to allow us to provide cost advantages to our clients. Today our conversion yields are over 94% for all the high performance alloys and well above the industry standard which gives us the competitive edge.”
IFA’s customer base is worldwide and the company participates in industry trade shows in North and South America, Europe, Middle East and Asia. The company targets the growing sectors within the Aerospace, Energy – Oil and Gas and Power Generation (including Nuclear) and high-end Advanced Engineering where their chosen markets are driven by global demand. Both directly and indirectly, its products are used worldwide.
“Our specialty is supplying products for highly demanding applications, such as valve bodies for ultra-deep wells and the nuclear industry, airframe and engine components for the aircraft, helicopter and aerospace markets.”
“Of course we are interested in expanding our customer base further; the Brazilian market is of interest to us and we’re actively looking for partners in the US and Middle East. IFA takes a very analytical approach to the markets where we have an interest to determine how we can best serve the supply chain in each region,” says Mr. McGuinness.
“We’re also constantly looking at further developing our process routes to maximize the performance of the alloys we forge. Our customers have increasingly demanding requirements with a strong focus on improved safety and functional performance from the alloys they use. For instance in the oil and gas sector we are seeing an increase in use of both alloy 625 and alloy 725 due to increased technical demands from the industry.”
The company has been involved in many challenging projects, and was even involved in the development of alloy 725 back in 2003. “At that time, we forged the largest section size ever produced – 1,500kg – for a defence project,” says Mr. McGuinness proudly.
“It was still under patent at that time and we worked very closely with the mill.”
“One of the most challenging projects in which we’ve been involved was the forging of an alloy 690 ingot for a heat exchanger plate for the US nuclear industry. Our flexibility and willingness to support new projects meant that IFA had close improvement in the development of forged parts for both the Airbus A380 and Boeing787 Dreamliner projects.”
Successful completion of such demanding projects requires a great deal of close communication and cooperation with the client.
“We treat our customers and suppliers as partners because at the end of the day we need to work well as a team. With this in mind we keep a strong focus on finding ways improve material performance, reduce weight, and in particular minimizing machining waste. In fact minimizing machining waste is an important cost factor because it impacts both on lead time and material use. This is one area where our expertise can lead to significant cost savings for our customers as there is a tendency for designers to over specify. It’s not uncommon for us to see surp0lus material allowance in excess of 15%. When that happens, our knowledge can help advise the designers on how to avoid this, which is tremendously important in the oil & gas and aerospace industries where both weight and cost are critical factors.”
Long History, Bright History
IFA continues to build on a tradition of technical experience, innovation and flexibility. The company is renowned for its expertise in open die forging and it’s a process which the company continues to develop and further improve.
The Sheffield site is the one of the oldest forging sites in the world, with a history dating back to 1587. “Many of the alloys which we use in today’s industry were actually developed on this site and while today we use the very latest technologies and materials to achieve a superior result, the essential principles of the forging process remain the same,” explains Mr. McGuinness.
“We are very optimistic about the future due to positivity and confidence returning to industry. Mill deliveries are now extending and will soon be at pre-recession lead times. IFA are in a strong position to support our customers through our ability to provide a diverse range of products and materials on short and scheduled deliveries.”