Last year, Shanghai Electric Heavy Machinery Casting Forging Co., Ltd. forged and cast 100 major nuclear components in a row that met standards —an astonishing number thanks to the two 10,000-ton hydraulic presses in the workshop.
Inside the workshop, the new 16,500-ton oil press towered near China's first 12,000-ton hydraulic press built in 1961. These two generations of machines stood in the workshop, shouldering vital forging tasks.
Striving for the "Shouldering Spirit"
Back in May of 1958, during the Second Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee of the CPC, Shen Hong, the then Vice Minister of the First Ministry of Machine Building, penned a letter to the party's Chairman Mao Zedong, suggesting utilizing Shanghai's technical capabilities to spur self-reliance in the design and creation of domestic 10,000 ton-class hydraulic press, and become less dependent on the import of foreign heavy forgings. To meet the demands of rapid economic development at that time, large-scale forgings were needed in the sectors of electricity, metallurgy, heavy machinery, and national defense. With only a handful of small- to medium-sized hydraulic presses in China, it was impossible to forge large forgings, which must be imported.
Shen Hong's proposal gained Chairman Mao's support, which was sent to the then General Secretary, Deng Xiaoping, and soon after, Shen himself was tasked with building a 10,000 ton-class press in Shanghai. The original technicians for the project were pooled from dozens of partnering plants, including Shanghai Heavy Machinery Plant and Jiangnan Shipyard.
Back then, only a few countries in the world boasted 10,000 ton-class hydraulic presses, and only the First Heavy Machinery Works in China owned a 6,000-ton model. Shen led technicians on an expedition to heavy machinery works in Qiqihar, Shenyang, Taiyuan, and other locations, carefully surveying the performance and structural principles of hydraulic presses, as well as building a sizeable library of foreign journals and books on related subjects for references.
The technical standards of the United States and the Soviet Union indicated a 10,000 ton-class hydraulic press should not weigh less than 3,000 tons. Lin Zongtang, an expert in the theory of mechanical engineering, proposed from his calculations to reduce the weight to 2,200 tons and the height by 4 meters, which would not only save China a lot of money, but also cut down energy consumption. Shen agreed and adopted the idea.
Based on extensive collection of data and iterant calculations, the design team decided to start with prototypes. The technicians made two mock-ups out of strawboard and wood to observe and gain insight into the structure and workings of a hydraulic press. They followed up by creating two test models of 120 and 1,200 tons, respectively, which were operational. Through operating the twin prototypes, more than 40 defects were found in the original design, and the lattice was modified to improve the blueprint.
The ceremony to kick off the manufacturing of a 10,000-ton hydraulic press was held in February 1959 and signaled the first step in an unprecedented industrial journey.
The large parts of the new press required enormous cast steel. However, China lacked the ability to produce steel of such size at the time and resorted to welding steel plates together into four colossal pillars of 18-meter long, 1-meter thick, and 80 tons each, which was far beyond any conventional "arc welding" project.
Engineers and assistants learned that a new technology called "electroslag welding" could solve the problem. They sought the advice of a Soviet welding consultant in the Jiangnan Shipyard, who scorned, "Electroslag welding is too cutting-edge for you to learn." But after thousands of attempts, the team finally mastered this newfangled technique, then applied it to fusing the big parts together, which held up to inspection and prompted the same expert to marvel, "What an incredible job you did!"
Every part of the hydraulic press must be precision-cut before it could be installed. Because of the size of many components, they could not be processed by ordinary machine tools. There was no milling machine in China that could handle, for example, three large crossbeams of 10-meter in length and 8-meter in width. Technicians and workers had to boldly innovate by hoisting mobile milling machines upside down and fitting them to the parts, with 53 cutters milling simultaneously. In addition to accelerating the progress, it also scored a straightness deviation of under 1 in 15,000.
The hydraulic press began installation on December 11, 1961, with more than 40,000 parts large and small shipped to the vast confines of the Shanghai Heavy Machinery plant. After Shen barked the order, "Start the assembly!" two industrial vehicles placed huge beams upon and riveted to the four columns with a center deviation of less than 3 millimeters.
June 22, 1962 was a memorable day in the history of Chinese industry, when the domestically designed and manufactured 12,000-ton hydraulic press officially began operation. A steel giant at 16.7-meter tall, its furnace door rose slowly as it was fed with hot steel ingots. Under immense pressure, it completed each step from lengthening, upsetting to cutting. The majestic power of the machine elicited thunderous applause, as well as shock and awe, from those in attendance.
Two years following its successful debut, Chinese media began reporting and launching a publicity campaign, drawing representatives from various industries across the country, as well as foreign allies, to visit and observe. In the 1960s alone, visitors from over 40 nations visited the giant machine. American journalist Edgar Snow even filmed a scene with steel ingots.
As the first domestic mega-machine, the 10,000-ton hydraulic press did not just mark a new territory for the heavy machinery production industry in China, but also reflected the self-reliant spirit of the Chinese workers and technicians, while boosting China's national pride and her international profile.
Promote independent innovation
Half a century has passed; the Shouldering Spirit has been passed down in the memory at the Shanghai Heavy Machinery Plant.
Between the end of 2004 and early 2005, Shanghai Heavy Machinery Plant decided to build another 10,000 ton-class press in resonance to China's plan to strengthen the equipment manufacturing industry, and in an environment favorable to developing Shanghai Electric's own core strategy. As careful planning was required to decide what design to use and who to build it, what to innovate and what to stay identical, company leaders organized technical surveys and inquiries into 10,000 ton-class presses, analyzing and comparing models of oil presses and hydraulic presses while researching market demands. After protracted brainstorming, the leadership settled on constructing a 16,500-ton free-forging oil press to make the leap from "have it" to "excellent, refined, and powerful."
The birth of new things requires an innovative spirit and a pioneering process. From 'self-reliance' to 'independent innovation', the Shouldering Spirit is opening up a new path for the company to upgrade its technological level and transform its development mode. If pioneering and innovation requires courage, the spirit of hard research and dedication is a powerful weapon in a company's soft power.
Such "weapon" played a huge role in the manufacturing of the 16,500-ton behemoth. During the important measurement phase, the press's three crossbeams and four post holes proved anything but routine to measure. Without large tooling and sufficient technology for the task, Qian Kanghua, a model worker in Shanghai and head of the metalworking inspection team of the Quality Inspection Department, searched for a solution using a new method with near-perfect accuracy. After the four columns were positioned to the crossbeams and actual size measured, the machine tool data was compiled according to the measured dimensions.
Throughout each bottleneck and breakthrough, the "shouldering spirit" has always served as an inspiration for everyone at the plant.
Members of the project immediately took on the challenge, laboring hard to examine, prepare, study materials and processes. But difficulties still surfaced constantly. For example, the blueprint failed to consider the quantity, location, and size of blowholes in the three steel beams weighing 200-300 tons each; all cylinder blocks were identically designed and all have a large diameter and long stroke, hence costly to produce, with the bottom not being able to be processed at all, and the company has no means to refine the biggest cylinder at near 10 meters in length. Instead of giving up, however, the young design team communicated the problems to design partners, studied the feasibility of different alternatives, then with assistance from higher-ups, formulated a plan for peer review. Finally, the plan for segmented cylinder blocks received not only approval, but saved the company upward of millions in cost, overcoming the test with flying colors.
As a principle of the shouldering spirit, the enterprising attitude to "bravely strive for new heights" will instill a new cultural value in the modern era, enabling all personnel to contribute to the future with aspiration and enthusiasm.
Benchmark against the best in the world
The two 10,000 ton-class presses symbolize the shouldering spirit from two different periods. Their stories epitomize the will to never give up, never surrender, that we must continue to explore, expand, dedicate, and harmonize ourselves on the path to revitalize the industry, while embracing both opportunities and challenges ahead.
The recent years are perhaps the worst of times, but in a sense also make it the best of times.
In the past few years, the heavy machinery has generally overproduced with a sharp decline in sales. The demand for energy devices has not been there, and the trend remains unchanged. The severity has caused serious losses for heavy machinery enterprises domestic and foreign wide.
In China, the China First Heavy Industries (CFHI) has met heavy losses, the China National Erzhong Group (CNEG) has been acquired by SINOMACH, and Shanghai Heavy Machinery Plant has been reorganized and restructured. Abroad, German forging giant Saarschmiede GmbH Freiformschmiede has even closed a new production line into which it had invested 350 million euros. The reason? Overproduction and decline in demand.
Unquestionably, the world is awaiting a revolutionary change.
Shanghai Electric Heavy Machinery Casting Forging Co., Ltd. was founded on October 8, 2015, with the shouldering spirit as its fundamental principle to gain a foothold in the face of adversity. From 2017 to this day, it has manufactured 100 components for nuclear power purposes in a row that passed inspection, shattering the domestic record. That level of consistency in quality control is among the top in the world. These 100 components included parts for third-generation CAP1000 pressure vessels and evaporators, "Hualong One" pressure vessels and evaporators, and CAP1400 main pipes.
The thermal processing industry represents the standard and capability of China's manufacturing industry. As a newly reorganized large-scale thermal processor, Shanghai Electric Heavy Machinery Casting Forging Co., Ltd. is finally subject to no one after two years of arduous effort, having achieved independent research and development, manufacturing more and more reliable products.
Creating a green future with shouldering spirit is what Shanghai Electric Heavy Machinery Casting Forging Co., Ltd. shall strive for and adhere to, in order to accelerate the upgrading of traditional products. We will increase investment into high-value-added products, maximize the application of current manufacturing technology, continuously improve nuclear- and thermal-related products and heavy vessels, bridge the gap between low-end and high-end products, eliminate obsolete products, introduce new technologies and boost technological development, and expand into new fields (such as aviation, automotive, new energy, environmental protection) to better the business and withstand market risks.
Employees are a valuable asset to any company. Shanghai Electric Heavy Machinery Casting Forging Co., Ltd. is world-class in terms of selecting, training, and developing professional teams in the four technical fields of nuclear power, thermal power, special steel, and military. It creates a team of about 200 talented people for each of these advanced technological fields that is able to work independently, led by a team of highly skilled management professionals.
Building a competitive, nation-leading, peer-respected industrial base for castings and forgings is a key process of the three-step strategy of Shanghai Electric. Shanghai Electric Heavy Machinery Casting Forging Co., Ltd. is always at the forefront of the industry and will surely create a brand-new frontier.