Over 3 millennia have passed since the Hittites first began forging iron, forever changing the course of our civilization. With the march of time, we’ve learned and adapted new ways of extracting and transforming harsh metals into valuable industrial products.
Although the craft of blacksmiths has long been left relatively untouched by modern technologies, things are changing. The next industrial revolution is likely to affect this age-old artisanal form of manufacturing.
Would it be for the better?
Let’s find out!
What Does the Future Hold for the Iron Craft?
Labor-intensive and manual industries like iron crafting and steel manufacturing are yet to adapt technologies at the level many of the other industrial sectors have.
Foundries, mills, and smaller forging companies seem reluctant to change processes that have been perfected over generations and have proven successful in delivering quality products every time.
And that’s fair.
Blacksmithing, for example, is an ancient trade that despite some downturn during the Industrial Revolution, is still very much alive and thriving. Today, iron forging is a symbol of artistry more than anything else, and is often associated with custom hand-made iron projects.
However, big-scale iron forging projects not only require considerable investment in time but are sometimes impossible to do. A problem technology can resolve.
But fear not, as technology is not here to replace the experienced touch of an artisan who has spent their life learning how to create unique pieces of wrought iron and steel. Technology, as before, will provide the tools to ease the work and multiply the speed with which blacksmiths can fulfill a project.
One modern advancement that will offer a hand is robotic blacksmithing.
Robotic Blacksmithing/ Metamorphic Manufacturing
Robotic blacksmithing, referred to also as metamorphic manufacturing, is a process that relies on machines to form and shape metal. Its idea steps on the shoulders of established manufacturing ideas. It borrows from the same methods of metal processing it improves upon from metallurgy, blacksmithing, and CNC machining.
Unlike casting, where molten metal is poured into a shaped mold, or machining, where metal is cut away, so a final form can be achieved, metal forging involves manual hammering, pressing, or rolling repeatedly to reach the desired shape. All very labor-intensive and time-consuming processes, which robotic blacksmiths can help with.
Developments in robotic blacksmithing technology will allow these processes to be performed by a machine, paired with a press and interchangeable tools. Robotic blacksmiths could be programmed to perform most of the usual tasks a blacksmith has. From heating the metal when necessary, applying force to particular areas, hammering, to rolling.
More than that the technology takes the forging processes a step forward by combining the traits of a blacksmith with automated process monitoring, dimensional control, and repeatability.
The process is also called metamorphic manufacturing, because of the microstructural changes of the properties of metals, it employs rather than subtracting like in CNC (computer numerical control) machining processes, or adding in processes like 3D printing.
There is great potential for robotic blacksmithing to change the way the steel and iron industries move ahead. But before that, there are some challenges industry leaders need to deal with.
Industry Hiccups that Need Overcoming
The steel and iron industries are particularly slow in implementing changes to their processes and technologies. On one hand, there is the considerable investment required, and on another, there is the deeply entrenched culture and methodologies of the craft.
Company owners who pride themselves on implementing the same manufacturing formulas their great-grandfathers did and still succeed are understandably hard to get on board.
There is a lack of data on the efficiency of processes and production, which makes it hard to evaluate the current situation and set goals for the technology to improve upon.
With an industry relying on older equipment that is unable to track that data, this challenge becomes particularly tough. Newer equipment might be able to track valuable data. In a lot of cases even if manufacturers do have such machines, they are not properly set to track strategic data consistently.
While processes like melting, milling, and annealing, can be analyzed and improved without connected data, there are those finishing operations that are tricky to measure.
These challenges, however, are not insurmountable. Those with a vision for the future should try to adapt to a change that is coming sooner or later. Being a leader in an industry means implementing improvements first.
When we evaluate the return on investment for a business endeavor along with the changes, we should consider the benefits. Here are some of the advantages of robotic blacksmithing.
Benefits of Robotic Blacksmithing
Metamorphic manufacturing has a place in the future of iron forging because it has the ability to:
- Precision-tailor materials
- Allow for flexible, and on-demand production
- Better control the properties and geometry of a part
- Works non-stop
- Gather analytical data from production, and set quality assurance processes
- Lower waste, and manufacturers’ environmental footprint
Now, the rapid spread of technology even in traditional industries like steel and iron forging might prompt skeptics to feel on edge about robotic blacksmithing and its effects on jobs.
But those are not yet realistic concerns. First, because the technology is yet to be properly structured and tested, and second because the demand for handcrafted ironworks has persisted over centuries, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Handcrafted Iron Forging Isn’t Going Anywhere
Blacksmiths have played a vital role in our society. They were always respected for their skill and ingenuity in giving life to anything- from ornate jewelry to durable armor, swords with astonishing properties, and iron architectural elements that still stand strong in magnificent castles.
What makes the work of these craftsmen so precious is the complete uniqueness of every piece they create. No ornament, tool, or element is the same, each of their creations carries the craftsmanship of its artist. And what people appreciate most is the personal touch in every product or service they use.
While robotic blacksmithing will offer a way to keep up with the leaders of the market, the craft of forging tailor-made, one-of-a-kind iron ornamental and functional pieces will remain a popular choice. Any home or business owner looking to add artisanal value to interiors and exteriors will continue to appreciate the work of traditional blacksmiths.
To Wrap it Up
Blacksmithing is one of the first crafts humans have engaged with. This craft has been so dear to us culturally and industrially that once we perfected it, we barely changed anything about it.
But change is coming. The technological revolution is spreading so fast and wide that even blacksmithing will not be left untouched this time.
However, that is not a bad thing. Technologies like robotic blacksmithing will give us the speed, return on investment, and sustainability that is vital for thriving in the future.
Embracing change doesn’t mean letting go of art and tradition. Handcrafted ironworks are part of our cultural heritage and no one is giving up on that. If you too want a piece of iron-crafted work that is also functional, contact Cacciola Iron Works if you live in the New York or New Jersey areas. Anthony Cacciola’s team can customize and forge your very own interior or exterior railings, doors, gates, and fences.