MILLIONS of wheels have been forged on the press at Valdunes' Dunkerque plant since the machine was commissioned in 1956, at a rate estimated by manufacturer DavyMarkham to be one wheel a minute.

Following half a century of use, the 600 tonne press has recently undergone a three-week refurbishment and upgrade costing £0·5m, with Sheffield-based DavyMarkham overseeing the installation of four new 11 m columns forged by Lucchini Sidermeccanica, a locally-made moving table, and eight Superbolt tensioners custom-made by UK firm Nixon Industrial.

The 6 000 tonne force press uses a hydraulic ram to drive dies to produce a wheel from red hot metal. Wheels are then transferred to a second machine for the centre hole to be punched out.