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One of the world's largest counterblow hammers is in Cudahy

Jun 11, 2023

CUDAHY — Tucked away in a Cudahy warehouse something big has been pounding away since 1959. In fact, it's one of the biggest of its kind in the world.

“It’s loud. It’s smokey. It’s dirty. And it’s intimidating if you’ve never seen it before," Steven Panasuk said.

It's called the 85 Hammer. It weighs over one million pounds, and it’s five stories above ground and five stories below ground. The counterblow hammer was installed in 1959 and the media, let alone the public, rarely sees this in action. The 85 Hammer is located inside ATI Forged Products in Cudahy along South Packard Avenue.

A counterblow hammer means that the item being forged is being hit from the top and bottom at the same time. Pieces of titanium or alloy steel that are more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit enter the forge to be formed into components that go into some of the most extreme environments on the planet, like the center of a jet engine. The 85 Hammer also makes pieces for the mining industry.

The hammer doesn't have the title of largest counterblow hammer in the world, because there is a competitor that has a forge with a larger surface area. However, ATI Operations Manager of the Conventional Forge Shop Steven Panasuk said it's not all about size when it comes to forging.

"The amount of energy you can put into making a forging is generally what wins in the hammer forging area," he said.

Not many people know the hammer like Steven does. He's a third-generation ATI employee.

When Panasuk was growing up, his grandfather would tour him around the factory. His father also took a job at the ATI facility in Cudahy, eventually making it to the department head of the forge shop. It was only fitting that Panasuk followed in the family's footsteps. Panasuk worked his way up the ladder and is now the operations head at the conventional forge shop.

“That was my grandpa's hammer. He was bid to that, so that was always talked about," Panasuk said.

Many people like Panasuk, his dad, and his grandfather all worked for Ladish. That was the original name of the company. In 2011, ATI, a Dallas-based company, bought Ladish. ATI makes parts for the aerospace industry, the Department of Defense, the mining industry, energy companies, and more.

"We take material transform it into components that go into very extreme environments: the hottest section of a jet engine, the farthest reaches of space, and the depths of the ocean," Jim Meudt, the president of ATI Forged Products said.

The Cudahy facility has been operating since 1905. It currently has about 700 people working on the South Packard Avenue facility. It's not moving any time soon.

“Over the last five years or so, prior to the pandemic we invested over $100 million into this facility which is significant for the size of our business," Meudt said.

One of those investments was a $65 million isothermal press. It acts in a similar way to the 85 Hammer but it's slower, requires less people, and isn't as loud.

“Only two or three people in the world have isothermal capabilities from a forging standpoint," Meudt said.

The 85 Hammer is a piece of manufacturing history that's right in our backyard. So, the next time you're in Cudahy and you hear loud continuous pounding, you know it’s the 85 Hammer.

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