While there is no record of when or how the forging process was “discovered” by humans, we can imagine the origins of the process. Liquid metals smelted from crude ores needed to be fashioned into more useful objects. Hammering the lumps of metal was the means to change them into more useful shapes.
There are some who still think forging is nothing more than “heat it and beat it” to make crude end products. This may have been the original concept but working metal into high quality products has been a hallmark of civilization for thousands of years.
Metalsmithing, also called blacksmithing, was an important occupation. Those who could blacksmith would expertly ply the trade having positions of status in their communities. The number of people with the surname “Smith” and its counterpart name in other languages reflects the number of people once involved in metalworking, and the importance of those with special knowledge and skills.
When most people are asked to envision forging, the image is of a burly blacksmith in a dark and fiery forge, wielding a hammer to pound hot metal on an old-fashioned anvil – sparks flying. While blacksmiths and metalsmiths still ply the trade, hammer forging has come far beyond those original processes. Our advanced technology and methods are some that no blacksmith of even 100 years ago could have ever imagined.
From Industrial Revolution era steam powered forges, the industry has advanced to highly automated equipment. The industry is continually evolving alloys and forgeable composites, and computational modeling and simulation to speed and assist design and engineering. Most forge shops, today, no longer resemble the dark caverns with flame belching furnaces.
“Factories of the Future”
Today, forging is performed in factories that may resemble any of the advanced manufacturing facilities often featured as “factories of the future”. Forging has advanced with technology as the need for true wrought products are still in demand as the best forged parts on earth.
Why do other processes continue to seek to claim “wrought properties” when touting the quality of their end products? The deformation process of shaping and forming materials, especially metal alloys in a solid state, causes transformation to the microstructure in ways that no other process equals. The common analogy is kneading dough to mix and transform the constituent materials.
Working dough, like working metal, is not just to shape it into a specific form, but to improve the material for an intended use. The solid-state deformation of forging improves metal alloy properties. Toughness and durability, expressed as impact toughness and fatigue properties, are key benefits essential to any item to be used in safety critical application. Providing maximum metallurgical properties is the task forging will continue to provide well into the future.
The materials market, and the proliferation of new ways to process materials and produce products, has expanded significantly during the past several hundred years. Each process and type of material has come to occupy a product or process niche. The cost to provide a specific use benefit has proven successful in the marketplace. Many of these processes have displaced forged products, leading many to believe forging is becoming obsolete.
Evolution of Technology
More useful is to recognize this as the continuing evolution of technology. This affects not only products traditionally forged, but also items once carved from bone, wood, or stone, items cast in metal or made of glass, or demand for paper for books or newsprint. New manufacturing technologies take over wherever a function can be performed more effectively and efficiently. More commonly recognized forged products may have been supplanted over the years, but forging is still used to make the critical components that underpin the machines on which civilization relies.
Forging continues to be recognized as the premiere thermomechanical process. Not only to shape metals, metal matrix and metal composite materials, but to refine and transform the metallurgical structure as well. Forging achieves both durable, reliable component shapes and the need for engineered metallurgy to meet specific product requirements.
The variety of materials and processes available to design engineers for creating components and structures used in products has never been greater. That includes forging as well as all the other processes now available.
Forging has gone from being the way “anything good” was made or repaired to one of dozens of approaches in how to make a desired object. As the materials market expands , forging remains one of the critical techniques to turn raw materials into the most reliable, durable, metallurgically sound parts, pieces and components. Modern forging allows us to create and build products with confidence.