Santa Clara Plating Reeling In Big Customers

Owner and pro fisherman Tom Coss took a chance in finishing 40 years ago.


Tom Coss has tossed a fishing line in nearly every great waterway there is in the U.S., angling for some of the most elusive catches known to sport fishermen.

He has tried his hand—and been successful—in tracking billfish and tuna in Hawaii, Florida and Mexico. Same goes for the halibut he has caught in Alaska, Oregon and his home state of California, where he also is well known in ocean salmon circles.

The California Delta yields Coss a trove of memories of catching stripers and black bass, as well as sturgeon and sharks in San Francisco Bay.

He’s gone north for sport, smallie and largemouth bass in mountain reservoirs and natural lakes in the Golden State and Washington, and south to the Gulf of Mexico, the Everglades and the Baja Peninsula. And don’t forget the Ohio River and surrounding lakes he fished while growing up a Buckeye.

Suffice it to say, Coss knows all about enticing fish to grab a hook, having become a champion fisherman and now a top distributor of fishing items to pro tackle shops across the U.S. through tomcossfishing.com.

Hard to believe it was some 40 years ago when a friend dangled an offer in front of Coss to become a business owner of an electroplating shop.

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The shop added EN after analyzing and tracking its existing services.

 

Manufacturer to Plater

Working at Lockheed Missiles in the mid-1970s and approaching his 20th year with the firm, Coss was growing a tad restless in his career and would air his grievances to a hunting and fishing buddy, who also was getting a wee bit tired of hearing Coss complain about his bosses.

“He challenged me to go out on my own and try the business world, and he mentioned a plating shop that was for sale,” Coss recalls. “He said he would buy it and let me run it, and then let me buy it from him, but he said if I didn’t take this opportunity, he didn’t ever want to hear me complaining again.”

Coss took the bait. But fearing that he might harm the relationship with his best friend, he instead borrowed money from the bank and left Lockheed for the pleasures of running a plating operation.

Five decades later, Coss has slowly but surely turned over operation of Santa Clara Plating to a management team run by his daughter, Tracey, a former stock broker who joined the company in 1993. 

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The shop offers Types II and III anodizing, which use computerized anodize control and RoHS-compliant dyes for extremely accurate applications.

 

It Starts at the Top

Tracey is now president of the firm, which specializes in anodizing, electroless nickel, passivation, chem films, blackening, precision masking and many other finishing operations.

What the father-and-daughter team have built is a well-respected finishing shop with one of the top quality departments on the West Coast, a group that includes a production assurance manager, a quality engineer, inspection supervisors and shift inspectors, as well as a full-time maintenance staff and a process control department, all of which continually look for ways to improve their operation and provide better results for customers.

 

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Tom Coss is also a professional fisherman.

 

Juan Ocampo, Santa Clara Plating’s production assurance manager, is just one of the numerous people responsible for implementing the shop’s stringent quality program.

 “It starts at the top with Tom and Tracey, and everyone knows how they expect us to perform for customers,” says Ocampo, who joined the company in 1991 after nearly a decade in industrial plating management.

It is not just quality that Santa Clara Plating promises and delivers for its customers, but “high quality,” as they like to tell prospective clients.

It comes from Tom’s educational background, where he majored in industrial technology and minored in quality technology, and in his 20-plus years at Lockheed, where he was in charge of production control and quality assurance.

 

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From left to right, Al Becker, Tracey Coss, Janet Bauerly and Juan Ocampo lead the management team at Santa Clara Plating.

 

“Quality has been in my blood for a long time,” says Tom. “I studied classical quality training in college, and I worked at it when I was at Lockheed. It was all good at the time, but eventually the classical model pits quality against manufacturing, and there is only so far you can go with that adversarial relationship, so that’s why we came up with the production assurance concept to combine the two.”

It is a philosophy that he carried over to Santa Clara Plating and that Tracey picked up and has kept constant as Tom has backed away from the company.

The basic premise is this: When quality and production butt heads, put one person in charge of both processes. That ends the friction. Tom reorganized the production and quality assurance functions into the current production assurance structure where production, quality, process control and waste treatment functions are consolidated under the same manager, Juan Ocampo.

“Each operator is made personally responsible for the quality of his or her work, and the same manager is responsible for both quality and schedule,” Tracey says.

Tom has an even keener take on the successes of the production assurance model of management. “The finger pointing goes away,” he says.

 

Performance Data

Shop employees and management routinely review quality performance data, which demonstrates consistent compliance with company quality standards, customer requirements and international standards of quality performance.

Tracey says it is more than just inspecting a part for a defect. The real success lies in pushing the defect back upstream to prevent it from happening in the first place.

“It’s about preventing problems from happening,” she says.

 

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That’s where Marshall Roe and Al Becker come in. Roe is Santa Clara Plating’s quality engineer. He joined the company in 2012 with an extensive background in quality, production and management. Becker has been with the shop since 1991, and is the technical sales and estimating manager, which means he is the first line of defense in working with customers to ensure parts are understood and the plating process is appropriate. With Ocampo, Becker also coordinates the development of custom finishes to meet specialized customer needs.

The management team also includes Janet Bauerly, who handles the accounting and purchasing functions for the company, as well as human resources and IT.  Bauerly joined the company in 1988, and has not only an accounting degree, but also a master’s degree in operations research.

The company has more than 80 employees working in more than 26,000 square feet of space, but the real action takes place in Santa Clara Plating’s numerous finishing lines. They offer Type II and III anodizing, using computerized anodize control and RoHS-compliant dyes for extremely accurate applications.

The company’s chemical films processes include certification to MIL-C-5541 Class 1A and Class 3; MIL-DTL-5541 Type I, Class 1A and Class 3; MIL-DTL-5541 Type II, Class 1A and Class 3 (RoHS compliant); and ASTM B921 Class 1A and Class 3 (RoHS compliant).

Additional processes include blackening, passivation and precision masking, but Santa Clara Plating recently entered the electroless nickel field when it built a line to provide mid-phos EN on aluminum, steel, stainless steel, copper and brass.

 

Adding Electroless Nickel

Tom says the decision to add EN came after analyzing and tracking the shop’s existing services and seeing that they weren’t all meeting expectations. Those included electropolishing and bright nickel, which they eventually eliminated.

The company surveyed most of its customers to see what needs they had, and came up with EN as a suitable replacement. The line opened at the end of 2013 and has been running briskly since.

“The response was positive enough that we knew we could build a line and get work for it,” Tom says. “It’s a customer base of about 400, so we knew the work would be there because they indicated they were going other places for the work.”

Part of the construction of the EN line included adding automated processing to measure chemical concentration, temperature, purity, agitation, and filtration to levels that meet or often surpass chemical manufacturer’s guidelines.

Santa Clara Plating’s process control program includes a well-equipped in-house laboratory staffed by full-time process control personnel. The company’s computer database program allows for online data entry and analysis calculations for necessary chemical additions while maintaining process bath analysis history and analysis scheduling for more than 130 process tanks and rinses.

The analysis includes action limits (to monitor and maintain bath concentrations well within limits suggested by chemical manufacturers), and an analysis frequency that is managed and can be varied based on experience with each bath or with bath usage and age. Control charts are used to graphically track bath analysis results and control unwanted variations.

“We are known for innovation and being ahead of the curve technically,” says Tracey, whose company receives and ships 50 percent of its backlog every 24 hours, with roughly 400 jobs in the shop each day.

 

Constant Updating

Keeping up with new technology, processes and controls has been the hallmark of the shop since Tom purchased it in 1977. That includes a full-time maintenance staff that is repairing and upgrading equipment all the time in order to keep up with their customers.

“If you visit any of our customers, you’ll notice you can eat off the floor and that they are always buying new machines because they need to get faster and more efficient in how they produce their products,” he says. “I don’t believe they will come into a plating shop where they have to watch where they walk, and where it smells bad. We all used to be that way, but we knew that had to change.”

Positive change comes with new leadership and consistent missions, as was the case with Tracey taking over Santa Clara Plating as president several years ago, bringing to the job the same respect for quality and customer service as Tom.

Looking back on his 40 years—which have already included a lifetime achievement award from the Metal Finishing Association of Northern California for his work with the industry group—Tom reflects back on the three-month vacation he took from Lockheed to see if he could run a plating shop himself or if he was doomed.

“I was either going to go back to Lockheed after three months with my tail between my legs and knowing I failed at this, or I was going to wave bye-bye to them and run this shop,” he said. “Lucky for me, I ended up waving bye-bye.” 

For more information on Santa Clara Plating, call 408-727-9315 or visit santaclaraplating.com.

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