I thought the conclusion was particularly interesting as well.
The (Mesta) company went under in the mid-1980s. It is not unambiguously
bad that it and the rest of American ultra-heavy manufacturing are gone.
But it?s not unambiguously good, either. Conventional wisdom would say
that the industry went to less-developed nations, freeing American
resources for higher-tech pursuits. In fact, the only companies today
capable of producing Heavy Press-size equipment are in the backwaters
known as Germany and Japan, with companies in Russia, Korea, and China
rapidly catching up and the UK actively rebuilding its top firm,
Sheffield Forgemasters, through cheap government loans. Just last year
four Japanese companies joined forces to build a new 50,000-ton press
for the aerospace and power industries, and while I was working on this
piece China Erzhong, a nationalized conglomerate, announced that it will
build an 80,000-ton press ? the biggest ever ? to support its nascent
Now is not the time for America to build new forges: eight really is
enough. But the original heavy presses, which have lived far longer and
spurred far more innovation than was ever imagined, set an example that
I think might yet be followed. Big machines are the product of big
visions, and they make big visions real. How about a Heavy Fusion Program?
Interesting. But I think that article misses an important detail: The idea
that we can't have a 747 without a B-52 misses the fact that technology and
tooling intended for military use is frequently restricted from commercial
use. So we get a forge that can stamp out an F-15 Titanium bulkhead. But
you can't use it for (unrestricted export) commercial parts.
Back when I was at Boeing (during the era of their B-2 subcontract and
fighter bid) they built a beautiful autoclave for curing composite
structures, including the B-2 wing parts. But due to the limited and lost
contracts, most of the time it sits idle. And I don't think its big enough
to do 787 wings. So they are built overseas.
If you want to support such tooling economically, you've got to keep it
working. But if Boeing wanted to use its autoclave's idle time to build
racing yacht hulls, for example, the DoD clearances they'd need would kill
According to a few friends in the yacht business, the state of the art
composite autoclave, capable of curing much larger parts (hulls around 50
meters long) is in Singapore, IIRC. That's one reason work will continue to
_VERY_ good and overlooked point...when I was consulting at the DOE
facilities in Oak Ridge, there was installed/operated a very large
multi-axis shaker table for centrifuge program development/testing.
When the centrifuge program plug was pulled, we worked for a couple of
years to try to get enough clearances lifted to be able for DOE and the
operating contractor to sell time on a state-of-the-art, world-class
facility. Never happened--despite there being absolutely nothing
classified in the facility any longer, simply the work to get
non-Q-cleared clients into the facility was insurmountable obstacle. It
still sits there, a mouldering away... :(