We talk about all sorts of methods here for making metal components, from welding and machining to casting small and large parts, and some of you are personally involved with a lot of these methods on a daily basis, but I came across this article yesterday about the Heavy Press Program, and it just stopped me in my tracks. These machines are absolutely breathtaking.
The Heavy Press Program was run by the U.S. government in the 1950s, to give us the ability to forge metals like magnesium into large but light component parts, primarily for aircraft and rockets. At the program's end in 1957, a total of 4 enormous presses and 6 extruders had been built and eight of these monsters are still in use today.
When I say monster, I mean mind bogglingly HUGE! The machine shown here is known as "The Fifty." Look at these specs and then think about them for a minute; it stands nine stories tall, the photo doesn't show the four stories under the floor, it weighs 16 million pounds and it exerts 50,000 TONS of compressive force! all for the purpose of producing light and strong structural components.
A fascinating article over at BoingBoing goes into a lot of detail, describing how this capability was developed by Germany in WWII and after the war, the U.S. and the Soviets wanted to do it, too, leading to our construction of these presses here.
For those of us who appreciate machinery of all sorts, a monster like this just makes you feel a bit, ... well, you know. I've never been up close and personal with one of these, but I can see a road trip sometime in my future. Wow!
UPDATE: The photo at the start of this post has been updated to a newer color photo, pointed out to me by reader Florent B. It comes from an article on the SAE site discussing the repair and refurbishment of this press in 2009.
Photos from Library of Congress