High Quality Small Parts

Article From: Products Finishing,

Posted on: 3/1/1997

Specializing in small parts plating has helped this company grow...

In 1979, Technical Plating, Inc. launched its operations in a 4,000-sq-ft facility in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. After four plant expansions, it moved into a 25,000-sq-ft state-of-the-art facility in July, 1990.

Its formula for growth is specialization. The rules for a successful job shop operation were learned from founder Jim Thomas, who has more than 20 years experience in the surface finishing industry. The operation is simple and direct: turn out reliable, consistent, high quality work at all times, and maintain a clean shop.

Though Technical Plating can and does occasionally finish parts as large as a residential mailbox, the company's specialty is a myriad of small, often high-precision internal parts used in the computer and allied industries, defense-related pieces and instruments used by the medical profession. Production volumes range up to 50 million parts annually for some customers. Technical's target customers are the approximately 150 stamping companies in the broad upper Midwest who do work for major corporations such as 3M, Control Data, Honeywell and Seagate.

Things have not changed much in terms of targets. So, for these high-tech manufacturers, Technical Plating currently offers a broad range of finishing services. Some of these services include bright acid tin or matte tin, both barrel and rack; 60/40 tin lead (bright and matte); and copper and electroless nickel plating on a variety of substrates. In large part, Technical's business involves brass, steel or copper substrates. On the high end of its operation, the company performs much work to various MIL specs. The heart of this phase of its operation centers on electroless nickel plating.

A Finisher's Dream. When planning the new company, Jim Thomas noted that the really successful companies in the finishing industry stressed clean operations. Thus, he aimed for the ultimate in clean operations at his own shop, sensing that this was the best route to the consistent performance that his high-tech, quality-conscious customers demanded.

Technical Plating's operation reflects this ideal in virtually every aspect of its operation. The shop has 20-ft-high ceilings, 100 candle ft lighting and 10 lines for maximum flexibility and the capacity to handle large orders. Tanks are either polypropylene or acid-resistant materials, and floors are protected with acid-resistant epoxy paint.

The company maintains an atmospherically controlled clean room for passivating computer parts. This facility is also used for such items as the catheter tubes used in cardiac catheterization. These tubes require special treatment to remove excess iron and allow them to be classified at the "surgically free" level. Another special feature of Technical's facility is a large, modern laboratory for constant quality control, as well as its research and development activities that it considers vital to its continued growth.

EN: Technical's Pride and Joy. Though Technical barrel plates upwards of 250,000 small parts weekly in 60/40 tin-lead, the most often mentioned feature of the shop is its four electroless nickel plating lines.

Presently, the company's electroless nickel plating activity centers around high- or medium-phosphorous applications with most parts going into non-telecommunications parts. However, some low-phosphorous EN plating activity is performed in the shop. Virtually all of the company's electroless nickel plating uses Fidelity Chemical Products' 5005 high phosphorous and 4888 medium phosphorous.

"Our supplier has worked with us from the beginning on our electroless nickel operations," Mr. Thomas pointed out. "Their technical service is excellent, and their level of technology is on the high end, particularly in the high-phosphorus electroless nickel area. Our lines must be approved by large customers, and we have had no problems."

In the electroless nickel process, incoming parts are inspected to ascertain that they are free of grease, oil or any foreign matter. This helps reduce rejects to a minimum and maintain customers' specifications.

The process for steel, copper or brass substrates usually begins with an alkaline soak cleaner at 170F followed by a rinse. Then parts go through an electrocleaner (a high alkalinity bath at 170F). At this point, depending on the part, current is run to each piece on an alternating anodic/cathodic basis. The part then goes through a two-phase rinse using a counterflow system. At the next stop parts move into an activator solution that could be an acid salt or other chemical, depending on the part. This is followed by a second set of counterflow rinses. After rinsing, parts are placed into the electroless nickel bath. Depending on customer specifications, the company plates an average of one mil per hr in a medium phosphorous EN bath.

Care Makes a Difference. What makes Technical different from other metal finishers offering the same electroless services? "We have more technology in our R&D than most job shop platers," Mr. Thomas said. "We perform extensive testing on pretreatment processes and fill the special plating needs of our customers. We even perform duplex plating of high-phosphorous electroless nickel on top of medium-phosphorous electroless nickel and other proprietary high-phosphorous plating work."

But being meticulous is an important aspect of the Technical Plating operation. "We pay close attention to each project that goes through our shop," Mr. Thomas emphasized. "When the initial lot of a new job arrives, a pre-production lot is processed and parameters for the job (time, temperature, chemistry) are set. Data for that specific job analyses are put into the computer and updated each time an order is run."

Technical's procedure calls for every customer to get a computer printout of what is on the part and the work to be done on that part. "We have established an acceptable quality level for all our work that has paid off handsomely," Mr. Thomas said. "This is well illustrated by the more than 50 million parts we did for one customer without a reject."

The future? Mr. Thomas looks forward to more of the same, providing a variety of finishes for a multitude of high-quality small parts that give customers reliable quality.

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