How did you spend your Thanksgiving? Where were you on Christmas Eve? If you're Nick Salvati Jr., operations manager at Cadillac Plating in Warren, Michigan, chances are you may have been running a zinc line for a customer who needed parts in a hurry.
“We’ve done that before, several times,” said Salvati, who oversees seven lines at the shop founded in 1957. “It’s crazy, I know, but that’s what we made our name on. It’s how we’ve grown from one line to seven. We take care of customers.”
Others in the plating industry may shake their head, scoffing at the notion that the customer is always right, especially if it means rolling out of bed on a Saturday or a holiday just to complete an order for a customer.
But Salvati will have none of that; it’s a reputation he and his team have earned the hard way, and it’s why his shop plates about 53 million parts a year.
“I hear other platers all the time say it’s about quality, quality, quality,” he said. “But for us it goes beyond that. It’s attention to details for our customers. It’s getting it right for them and being a true partner.”
Cadillac has focused on zinc coatings because of its highly protective, bright and burn-free deposits.
Operating Around the Clock
That is why Cadillac runs its zinc lines 24 hours a day, and doesn’t lock its doors even when customer parts are still waiting to be plated.
“We are available to our customers 365 days a year,” he said. “If GM calls me on Christmas Day, then I’m working. Last year on Thanksgiving I got a call from Chrysler and I go to work. We had a shift in there within three hours. It’s what I offer my customers.”
Cadillac doesn’t just stop there with the uber-love for its customers. Salvati promises 24-hour turnaround time to customers who need it that quick.
“My customers tell me that I’m the only plater they know about who gives them 24-hour turnaround,” he says. “I guess that is why they are my customers.”
That has been the philosophy since Salvati’s father, Nick Sr., joined the company in 1968 and now runs it with partner Mahmood Ahmed. When the doors opened, the company was doing not only zinc, but also anodizing and tin and copper plating, too.
But the company gradually weaned itself off of any other finish besides zinc, and they now are one of the foremost experts at the practice, which accounts for nearly all their business.
Cadillac has narrowed its focus to zinc because it’s highly protective, bright and burn-free deposits can be applied even at very high current densities. The deposits are extremely low stressed and blister free, offering an excellent covering power and uniformity of plate distribution.
The shop offers zinc plating, zinc trivalent, zinc iron and zinc iron trivalent, which matches up well with the specifications of its customers, who are mostly in the automotive industry.
And that could not be more obvious than the name of Cadillac Plating, which borrows from the GM product line that symbolizes first-class and quality.
Walt Kacher, a Senior Technical Sales Manager at Atotech, said he has seen first-hand how the shop strives to meet the ever-increasing demands of OEMs in the automotive industry.
“From the top on down, it’s all about quality and serving their customers,” said Kacher, whose company has supplied bath chemistries to Cadillac for almost two decades.
“They do multiple checks of all their solutions throughout the day to make sure the baths are correct and they are running at a high level of quality. It’s tough to do, but they do it every day on every job,” he said.
Cadillac has met numerous certifications, thanks to its extensive laboratory and testing department.
Kacher has witnessed the staff at Cadillac go to great lengths to get a customer’s order turned around within 24 hours or less, even the small lots all the way up to big runs.
“It’s a sense of pride for them to get these jobs back in their customer’s hands very quickly,” he said. “They really go out of their way to get it done right and get it done quickly. They don’t cut corners on quality. It’s an amazing thing to watch.”
One of the hallmarks of Cadillac Plating’s quality assurance is to have the latest and best chemistries and equipment in order to deliver the product they need to customers. That means they are always calling on Kacher and Atotech to work with them on new solutions and baths that can improve coating performance and durability.
So far, it’s been a challenge that Atotech has been able to meet for 20 years at least to give Cadillac the proper tools and chemistries to meet the demands of the customer.
“I believe there is a great loyalty from Cadillac Plating with our chemistries, but I know that if someone can deliver them the latest and greatest that can do the job better than ours, that they would look at it,” Kacher said. “But we work just as hard to get them to where they need to be. We enjoy the challenge, too, because we know we can deliver.”
Salvati says the secret to success has been the quality buy-in by its employees, and especially the foremen who run the shifts: Russ Conroy, Bill Reinfeldt and Chuck Nash.
The shop has capacity to plate more than 70 million pieces a year.
“Those three have been here 32, 34 and over 40 years, and then our line operators have been here for 10 to 15 years each,” Salvati said. “This staff was assembled some 40 years ago and they have all grown together.”
But it wasn’t an overnight success; it has taken four decades to get where they are today—which is one of the premier shops offering zinc plating. In fact, Salvati Sr. and Ahmed learned that from the shop’s previous owner, Ed Nichols, who came up with the company tagline: Quality That Shows, Sells.
Nichols and Charles Steele started the company in 1957, and Salvati Sr. joined a few years later. Ahmed joined in 1972, and in 1973 John Kitchen joined. Salvati, Ahmed and Kitchen eventually took over ownership from Nichols and Steele, and Salvati and Ahmed remain the owners today.
Salvati Jr. joined the company in 1993 as a line worker, then to maintenance and also to the wastewater treatment operation. Back then, much of the work was done by hand, but as the company grew, so did the importance of automating the Cadillac operations.
The seven zinc lines have a capacity to do more than 70 million pieces a year, and business is bustling at the Warren facility, which is not far from most of the U.S. automotive headquarters in the U.S..
50 Million Parts Per Year
“We’re going to end up doing 50 million parts in 2014,” said Salvati, which is up 16 percent from the 43 million pieces it did in 2013, and more than 50 percent higher than when Cadillac did 33 million parts in 2012.
“A lot of that growth is from plating companies that are no longer in business, but we are seeing larger volume jobs come through the door,” he said. “It used to be 250,000 piece jobs we saw a lot of, but now it’s a million or 1.5 million pieces. It’s gotten a lot bigger.”
But with the expanded business comes small issues, such as dealing with parts coming in the door that used to be barrel plated and should have been racked.
“Barrel plating is less expensive, and we now see customers who come to us because either the barrel player they had went out of business, or they could not service them any longer because it was a job they weren’t making money on,” Salvati says. “It becomes an educational process, because the cost is now three to five times what they were paying with barrel.”
So how does Cadillac Plating deal with educating the new customer?
“It’s a lot of talking, it’s a lot of hand-holding, it’s a lot of just, ‘hey, trust me, you’ll get a better product when we are done,’” he says. “But we can show them that on the back end they won’t spend as much money on sorting, or on damaged parts or even missed shipments. And they won’t pay for expediting, either.”