The trade of forging is known to date back to at least 4000BC, some scientists argue it even pre-dates 4500BC. This ages the forging process at over 6,000 years old! It’s fair to say that production processes have changed quite significantly over that time but the basic principles of the process largely remain the same.
In the early ages of mankind, fire was often feared due to its destructive powers and the devastation that can be caused if it is not controlled properly. Once techniques had developed techniques to tame fire, the benefits of it could be utilised. The earliest uses of fire were to provide warmth, cook and scare away animals to reduce the risk of attack.
Over time, mindsets towards fire changed from a thing to be fearful of towards a useful resource and subsequently early humans became more experimental of its use. They found that metals such as gold, silver and copper could be reshaped using the heat provided from small wood fuelled fires and heated rocks to heat the metals. This discovery in the land of Mesopotamia (between the Tigris and Euphrates) gave birth to the forging process.
The first recorded metal to be forged was fire. After the gold was heated, a stone was used as a makeshift forging hammer to bash it into its new shape. This process of heating the metal and bashing it with an implement by hand continued for many thousands of years until other power sources were established.
As the use of water generated power increased in the 12th century, the capacity of forging operations significantly grew both in terms of the quantity that could be produced and also the size of metals that could be forged. This was a direct result of innovations in machinery which saw water powered mechanical hammers and bellows lead to major efficiency gains across the industry.
The most significant change in the forging process came in the 19th century as steam engines grew in popularity during the industrial revolution. The ability to harness electrical power meant that forging technology was no longer restricted to river locations for power. Open die and hand forging methods used during the early-19th century were instead replaced by powerful steam hammers and air hammers which are still commonly used today.
Following the industrial revolution, World War II had major impacts on the forging industry. Demand for forged products drastically increased as the requirements for weapons surged throughout the war years. This paved the way for improvements in forging press equipment as it became apparent that investment in production techniques was required to keep up with demand.
The second half of the 20th century saw the growth of electrical induction heaters, leading to yet further greater production levels and enhanced dimension control of forged components.
Today, technological developments have led to the possibility of using computer-controlled hydraulic hammers as part of the forging process. Further investment in the industry is likely to focus on finding faults in production with computerised feedback loops being used to detect and prevent production problems before large quantities are produced that may require scrapping.