Mark Hyner does not sit around and wait for things to happen. He makes them happen. He acts rather than reacts. The president of Whyco Chromium Company in Thomaston, Connecticut, has plenty of energy and infuses his 200 plus employees with it.
Mr. Hyner likes to describe himself and Whyco as willing partners in research and development. However, Whyco is not simply waiting around for these "partners." It has already successfully completed several projects with companies such as General Motors, IBM and other manufacturers.
General Motors. Tiny fuel injector parts for GM vehicles needed plating on only a small portion. Whyco Chromium developed a rack plating process that would allow plating of only the tips of the injector pieces. However, GM felt that the most economical way to do this was to bulk plate the parts in a barrel. Whyco, a bulk chromium plater itself, disagreed. After consulting several other plating companies about bulk plating, GM returned to Whyco for the rack plating process. "We had the right process, price and attitude about quality and the environment," noted Mr. Hyner.
In addition to developing the process and the specialized rack, Whyco also built a Class 1000 clean room for plating the parts. Space is also available in the clean room to add another line, if warranted.
IBM. Whyco worked with IBM to developed specialized cleaning processes for pieces from vacuum deposition systems. Because of the joint venture, approximately 30 jobs were added at Whyco along with a 7,000 sq ft addition.
"IBM is one of the most environmentally conscious organizations I have ever worked with," noted Mr. Hyner. "The company is tougher than the EPA when it comes to compliance." For that reason, the cleaning system had to be a closed-loop, self-contained system.
Whyco Chromium. In another project, the company wanted to improve its alloy barrel plating processes. Whyco's lab had already tweaked its chemistries to precisely fit its processing needs. The process flow was down to an art. What improvements had not yet been made? There had been no significant changes in the barrel itself.
Whyco designed and developed a barrel strictly for internal use. From a distance the barrel resembles a traditional barrel. It is a polypropylene, hexagonal cylinder and this is where the resemblance ends.
|Specially-designed Barrel provides greater throughput.|
So what is so special about this barrel? The deep cutouts or pockets on the outside of the barrel make it different. Also, these pockets are staggered to provide strength. The cutouts trap solution and as the barrel turns it creates a pumping action that forces fresh solution into the barrel. Also, the holes that penetrate the barrel are located in the thin-walled portion of the cutouts, thus dragout is greatly reduced.
The barrel project was partially funded with a grant from the Department of Energy. Seventeen companies in 14 states received grants, including Whyco. The technologies were selected through the National Industrial Competitiveness Through Energy, Environment and Economics (NICE3) program. The grants are awarded on a cost-shared basis, in which government funds boost the company's ability to develop promising technologies with high startup costs. Whyco received $390,000 to develop and produce the barrels.
Procuring the grant, barrel development and production were the easy part, according to Mr. Hyner. Marketing was a challenge. "We know how to sell plating to screw machine companies, but selling plating equipment to platers is entirely different," stated Mr. Hyner. "You have captive and job shops. How do we distribute the barrels? How do I handle California?"
Another concern was supply and demand. "It is one thing to have a machine making a barrel every day or so," explained Mr. Hyner. "It is another thing when someone calls up and tells us he needs 100 barrels in eight weeks." This scenario is already being played out at Whyco. It recently received an order from a plating job shop for 45 barrels.
Mr. Hyner is not only enthusiastic, he wants to make sure he does things right...the first time. Before any major production began on the barrels, Whyco constructed a new building to house the project. The company built several prototypes and tested them on its plating lines. All of the prototype barrels are still in service. Some have been used for more than two years and are still in excellent shape.
|TABLE I -- Comparison of Nickel Tungsten and Hard Chrome|
|Nickel Tungsten||Hard Chrome|
|Alloy||37 pct Tungsten
|100 pct Chrome|
|Micro to Macro-cracked|
|RC 58 to 59
RC 66 to 67
|RC 64 to 70
RC 64 to 66
Taber Wear Index
4 to 5
6 to 9
|Galling (Falex pin & V Block)
Falex Pin (mm) (Scar Width)
Falex V - Block
Falex Pin (mg) (Weight Loss)
Falex V - Block
|Corrosion* Salt Spray
(as plated) No undercoat
40 to 80 hrs
20 to 24 hrs
|General Resistance||Good in nitric, strong acid, and Alkaline. Good resistance with chloride rubber compounds.
||Poor in HCl and caustic. Works well in field uses such as oxidizing acids, petroleum, fruit and vegetable sulfides.
|*Underlying barrier coatings are recommended for any improvements in corrosion resistance.|
Whyco plans to custom manufacture the barrels. "You send us your barrel and we will replace it with ours and make it fit your system," declared Mr. Hyner. Once each customer's barrel has been programmed into the main computer, the customer need only to place a phone call for future orders.
Hole pattern drilling is CNC (computer numerical control), meaning that the operator feeds the pattern into the computer which in turn "tells" the drill where to make the holes. The barrels are made from machined plastic, which allows Whyco to create any depth or hole pattern.
Every plater wants to maximize the number of penetrations facing the anode in order to increase plating speed and solution transfer. Standard barrels are limited in this regard because too many holes compromise structural integrity. The Whyco barrel's staggered pockets create the structural strength to allow plating of large heavy parts, but still allow for more holes to be added to the barrel. An added benefit in addition to plating speed and solution transfer is reduced dragout because the holes are two to four times shorter. Mark Hyner said, "It is as close to rack plating in a barrel as you can get."
Pollution prevention and the environment are a big deal at Whyco. The waiting area is adorned with awards and citations from EPA, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and others. Walking into Mark Hyner's office provides another example of why the company is dedicated to pollution prevention. You are greeted by Roedy, an adorable, happy Portuguese Water Dog. Next you notice that all of the art on the walls and the sculptures on the tables are of animals.
"I want my children and everybody's children to live in as clean a world as possible," stated Mr. Hyner. Mr. Hyner also wants it clean for the four goslings living on an island in the river adjacent to his plant.
This position is why Whyco is part of the StarTrack program. Under this program, a small number of qualified companies with operations in New England that undergo a third-party audit of their environmental performance are eligible for expedited permitting, simplified reporting, penalty amnesty and an end to routine inspection. The program privatizes corporate environmental compliance assurance for the good companies while allowing federal environmental regulators to focus their resources on enforcement and pollution prevention, elsewhere.
Mark LaVine, environmental manager, explained Whyco's participation.
"Before we were accepted into the program, Region I of the EPA conducted a heavy-duty internal review of our compliance history, reputation, pollution prevention and other activities we have been involved in. Then we submitted to having an outside entity do an audit that was also observed by another outside agency, as well as the Connecticut Environmental Department. Building confidence was the first step. Both regulators and the environmental community needed assurance that the company is beyond reproach."
Whyco sees the program as adding flexibility and intelligence to environmental regulation and enforcement. If a job comes in that requires rhodium plating, which Whyco does not supply, it could contact the state DEP and relay its intentions to start up a rhodium plating line. This would allow Whyco to start the job and not be delayed by lengthy paperwork. The program also allows EPA to spread its resources elsewhere and not have to spend time at Whyco's plant.
The reason for all of this is that the company is committed to excellence and leadership in protecting the environment. It starts by involving all of its employees in pollution prevention and environmental protection programs. Whyco feels that by successfully preventing pollution at its source, it achieves cost savings, increased operating efficiencies, higher quality products and services. It also helps maintain a safe and healthy workplace.
The company's commitment is shown in processes and products it develops. Whyco partners with companies who are committed to including pollution prevention in the design of processes and products. Whyco gives top priority to technologies and methods that substitute non-hazardous materials and use other source reduction approaches.
Whyco Chromium: A Shop with Many Capabilities
Whyco started out as a family owned plating shop, and it still is. However, where it once provided simply plating services, it now works with its customers to develop the exact finish they need (even if it is not always what they originally specified).
For example, a pencil manufacturer wanted a specific color on its ferrules (the part that holds the eraser). Obtaining consistent color in a barrel plating operation was no easy task. However, Whyco worked with the pencil manufacturer and developed a process that produces a consistent, golden bronze color on the ferrules.
Some of Whyco's finishing capabilities include Chromium Plating: bulk or rack, decorative, satin and hard; Nickel Plating: bright, dull, satin, sulfamate and electroless; Corrosion Resistant Finishes: Whykore Microthrow for exterior chromium and Whykore III with black electrocoat; Zinc and Zinc Alloys: zinc nickel, zinc iron, tin zinc and zinc cobalt; Copper plating; Topcoats: electrocoating, chromate finishes.
Whyco's laboratory facilities are quite impressive as well, with eight degreed chemists and chemical engineers. It is certified by the State of Connecticut Department of Public Heath and is an approved GM/CPC supplier test facility and approved for SPC certification. Some of the equipment includes hull cells, salt spray and CASS test chambers, graphite furnace, spectrophotometer, specific ion meters, gas chromatograph and dissolved O2 meter.
Micro Nickel is the building block of the company's corrosion resistant systems. Whyco developed the system to address the variation in the quality of raw material stock and the variation of part quality produced from this stock. Common defects in raw material stock and parts are often severe enough to be beyond the throwing power of conventional electroplating. These unprotected areas become weak spots or corrosion sites.
To combat this, Micro Nickel was developed with excellent throwing power. It preferentially plates into and fills most surface defects in ferrous metals. The system's capabilities remain constant, regardless of the quality of the base material.
Nickel Tungsten was developed as an alternative to hard chromium. The alloy is 60 pct nickel and 40 pct tungsten. It can be processed in barrel and rack. It has been tested as a successful replacement for hard chromium, exhibiting high wear properties and excellent lubricity. It outperforms hard chromium in both Falex and Taber wear tests.
WhyKrom® is a chromium-like finish that is tarnish and corrosion resistant. The process has been tested and accepted as an alternative to decorative chromium. It has a hardness of RC 42. It can be soldered. It will not crack or bend in decorative applications.