For 35 years Tomlinson Industries, Garfield Heights, Ohio, has plated with the same continuous fixed-cycle return machine. Recently, it increased its plating flexibility and reduced its reject rate from 10 to two pct by replacing the old equipment with a computer-controlled hoist system.
Tomlinson employs 175 people and is a world leader in the manufacture of liquid-food dispensing valves used in tea, coffee, beer and wine dispensers. The company exports more than 25 pct of its products to 70 countries worldwide. The company holds an E-Star Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce for maintaining its level of export business. Tomlinson is also in the process of obtaining ISO 9000 certification. As part of the process, employees are trained to hand-inspect each valve.
As a captive nickel-chrome plating shop, the company plates more than 1,000 different parts in small quantities. Brass, aluminum and steel are plated at the facility. Brass parts undergo aqueous cleaning, a priming brass soak, secondary brass soak, electrocleaning and an acid salt cleaning. Steel parts have only one soak cleaning, which is followed by an electrocleaning and acid salt cleaning. The aluminum parts are ultrasonically cleaned, soak cleaned, acid salt cleaned and then zincated. All parts receive a nickel strike and are then nickel and chromium plated.
Choosing a New Machine. When the time came to replace the aging return machine, Tomlinson considered three options: purchase a new return machine; purchase a rebuilt return machine; or purchase a computer-controlled hoist system.
After researching all the options, Tomlinson invested in a turnkey plating system from Atotech USA that included a hoist, computer controls, auxiliary equipment and installation. The company designed a new plating room to accommodate the system, which allowed Tomlinson to keep the return machine running until the new system was operational.
Problems with the Return Machine. Ken Sidoti, plant engineer for Tomlinson, cited flexibility as the key factor for replacing the dedicated return machine. Cycle changeover was time consuming and labor intensive with the return machine. Changing from brass to aluminum or steel substrates involved stopping the machine, unloading the parts, manually pretreating them, and re-racking. This transition cycle averaged 20 min.
Computer-Controlled Hoist Offers Flexibility. The Atotech computer-controlled hoist has transition cycles that allow instant changeover from one base-metal cycle to another, with minimum production loss. The machine is programmed to know which parts to pick up and which tanks to put them in, based on operator selection.
"Flexibility and reliability are key to scheduling our jobs," explained Mr. Sidoti. "Now, at the flip of a switch we can changeover to the nickel cycle in eight min rather than 16 min."
Plant Manager Jim Leigh agreed. "One huge benefit is the ability to incorporate a cleaning cycle for the three different base metals into the automatic machine, which results in higher quality parts and a significantly lower scrap rate." An added benefit was derived from the machine because products that were sent to an outside supplier for clear anodizing are now chromium-plated in-house on the hoist system.
Tomlinson expects a three-year return-on-investment, according to Leigh. "This system does everything we asked for. We couldn't be more pleased."
After 35 years Tomlinson decided to make a change and found it to be both flexible and profitable.