Duncan Beckett manages global R&D efforts for several product lines at MacDermid plc. He got his start in the plating industry at the age of 23, when he began working as chief chemist in a job shop plating company near his hometown of Birmingham, England. He helped develop the first commercial electroless nickel/PTFE process before working as a technical manager and application engineer. PF recently caught up with him to get the scoop on what’s new at MacDermid.
What do your current responsibilities at MacDermid involve?
DB: Engineering Coatings includes EN as the main product line, but also hard chrome and sulfamate nickel. R&D, which I manage, is split between Birmingham, UK and New Hudson, MI, which is where most of the applications personnel and research chemists are based. A lot of my role is to know what’s happening, to be a liaison between the geographic regions and to transfer knowledge between the regions.
What factors are driving plating research efforts at MacDermid?
DB: At the moment there are two main drivers for R&D. First and foremost is increasing environmental pressure. This includes the ELV, WEEE and RoHs legislation, but also there are a lot of company-driven initiatives, where larger companies control very closely the chemicals used in any process they specify or their subcontractors use. Globally, there are increasing issues with the disposal of waste EN. One way we can assist in this is to manage the effect of some chemicals, such as ammonia, on waste treatment.
The second driver is the cost of EN, which is high at the moment. We’re actively looking at ways we can offer customers options to manage, control and reduce their costs, such as Low-Metal Operation.
What can you divulge about what’s coming “down the pike” from MacDermid?
DB: MacDermid has been very innovative with EN over many years. We’ve recently introduced lead- and cadmium-free systems for high-, medium-, low/medium- and low-phosphorus, as well as for nickel boron and an EN strike for aluminum. These are now used extensively globally, and as second-generation systems, they have capability of further improvement. For the last five years, we’ve also offered systems that operate at lower metal concentrations than normal, saving customers money due to reduced nickel losses.
For the future, we see a continuation of these baths but also the use of baths where the only heavy metal used is nickel. All stabilizers and additives are organic, which should reduce the effect of future environmental legislation. Organically stabilized baths also appear to have some real advantages in the way they operate, so we’re excited about the options they offer.
Finally, we’re spending a lot of time looking at ways to use EN baths more effectively and for longer, allowing cost savings for operation and waste disposal. We expect these to become operational in the next two years. There are also new alloys with some interesting properties, which may offer new openings for EN coatings in the future.
What would you say to a finisher considering installing an EN line?
DB: Despite the number of years it’s been available, new applications are being found for EN all the time, and it’s one of the few plating products that’s continued to show growth.
However, it’s also very competitive, so if you want to do it, do it properly. It’s all about preventing problems by care and attention to detail. If you fail to do this, you’ll soon find that any profit is lost due to rejects and unplanned downtime. I also believe you really need to understand the technology, and have the ability to explain what this versatile chemistry can do for potential customers.