With as many as 17 new nuclear facilities scheduled to be built by 2020, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are thousands of components needing to be forged, mostly closed-die, including nozzles, rings, sleeves, joints, heat exchangers, piping and turbines.
"I think it's going to explode," says Kevin O'Connell, of McInnes Rolled Rings, citing the nation's push for cleaner energy.
But it also means significant work ahead. Forgers will need to be accredited from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) for the "N" Stamp, which authorizes vendors to produce commercial nuclear-grade components in accordance with the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Nuclear Codes and Standards.
"For commercial parts, ISO 9000 is great," says Ray Hoglund, strategic development manager at Scot Forge, "but if you tell the NRC you have ISO, they'd laugh at you. Nuclear parts aren't in the same league. You're held to a way higher standard. If you want to be a player in this, you'd better have all your ducks in a row."
The economy has had a devastating effect on forgers, says Mike Kamnikar, senior vice president for marketing and business development at The Ellwood Group. At a time when forgers are begging for business, the nuclear industry can help fill the vacuum.
"If you think about it, everybody talks about how 2008 was the hottest year ever for forgings, but 2009 has been one of the coldest," says Kamnikar. "A lot of companies built a lot of capacity in recent years under the premise that 2009 would be even bigger than 2008. So there's been a bit of a crash in our business."
But, whether or not supplying forgings for nuclear projects represents the new frontier is far from clear.
"On paper, the demand looks very promising," says Scot Forge's Hoglund. "But, there are so many factors at play -- and the financing of these plants is a major, major one. They say this nuclear renaissance is coming, but we haven't broken ground on one yet. Is it promising? Yes, but there's still a long way to go."