“A Waffle Iron For Metal”

Feb 21 2012 @ 8:47am

Tim Heffernan studies the Heavy Press Program, a federally-funded series of forging presses that became the backbone of the military-industrial complex in the 1950s:

P12

What sets [Alcoa’s 50,000-ton forging press] apart is its extraordinary scale. Its 14 major structural components, cast in ductile iron, weigh as much as 250 tons each; those yard-thick steel bolts are also 78 feet long; all told, the machine weighs 16 million pounds, and when activated its eight main hydraulic cylinders deliver up to 50,000 tons of compressive force. If the logistics could somehow be worked out, the Fifty could bench-press the battleship Iowa, with 860 tons to spare.

It is this power, combined with amazing precision—its tolerances are measured in thousandths of an inch—that gives the Fifty its far-reaching utility. It has made essential parts for industrial gas turbines, helicopters, and spacecraft. Every manned U.S. military aircraft now flying uses parts forged by the Fifty. So does every commercial aircraft made by Airbus and Boeing.

Heffernan has further details and photos over at BoingBoing.