The Most Interesting Man In Finishing: Jim Miille

A peak at Jim Miille’s vast hobbies and high-tech shop designs.


To those who know Jim Miille well, he is oft regarded as the most interesting man in the world.

Yes, he is a world renowned expert in environmental aspects of the electroplating industry, having designed and built some of the most green, efficient and high-tech plating shops all over California, the Southwest U.S., Texas, and even Russia and Europe.

But there is more to this man than most people know.

He also sits on the board of directors of the National Association for Surface Finishers. His local NASF chapter is Northern California, and he spends countless hours making presentations on behalf of industry and regulatory agencies, often serving as a buffer between regulators and the plating industry.

Over the years, he has started and sold several chemical companies.

He owns a 20-acre ranch in Livermore, California, where he grows Manzanillo olive trees and manufactures his own brand of 100 percent extra virgin olive oil.

When his phone rings, it might be the local sheriff’s office. He and other volunteers from the search and rescue group he works with help find and recover lost children or injured motorists who might have careened down a steep hill.

 

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As a sheriff's deputy, Miille assists with search and rescue. He dangles from a helicopter during a training mission. Below, he heads out the door on an emergency call.

 

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Search & Rescue

In fact, it wouldn’t be unusual to see Miille dangling from a police rescue helicopter and being dropped into a steep raveen to help rescue a motorist or—heavens forbid—recover the body of someone who didn’t make it.

Miille, the owner of Chemical Solutions just outside San Francisco, is also a licensed pilot who enjoys a few summersaults while airborne. He is an avid motorcycle enthusiast, often riding his powerful BMW cycles cross country with his wife, Bea, or his twin brother.

“I get a lot of enjoyment in what I do,” he says while sipping coffee one morning near his home.

To say that Miille, at 64, is living the life we all simply dream of, is an understatement. His business is hectic, and he recently started working with one of the largest companies in the world on a plating shop for its reshoring initiative here in the U.S.

Miille is a black belt in taekwondo, and in fact, it was at a dojo where he was teaching taekwondo two decades ago that Miille showed his passion for the martial arts when he taught a new student a few self-defense moves. He may not have known his own strength.

“She said I beat her up pretty good in the first lesson,” Miille says. “But she came back again. I eventually married her, so it worked out for both Bea and me.”

 

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Miille owns and operates an olive oil farm outside of San Jose.

 

Metal Finishing

Olive farming, sheriff’s deputy, aerobatics, entrepreneur and dojo master aside, Miille is best known for his attention to detail in the plating shops he builds and remodels. He is one of the foremost experts and lecturer on the thousands of pages of regulatory guidelines and legal mumbo-jumbo that comes with running a finishing shop.

In fact, some of what appears on the rule books in California as far as regulations for the plating industry was written with the help of Miille, who learned early that the best way to deal with the agencies that enforce the rules was to get to know them, and help them get to know the electroplating business.

Where he is in high demand—especially in the heavily regulated California area—is designing plating shops, serving as a general contractor and geting it operational. He knows the environmental rules and regs, and he knows how to plate parts.

“In my 30 years in the metal finishing industry, I have developed many professional relationships,” says Michael Von Rembow, owner of Advanced Metal Finishing in Roseville, California. “But I consider Jim Miille one of my most trusted colleagues.”

Von Rembow credits Miille’s leadership, engineering, construction and environmental expertise as being instrumental in the success of Advanced Metal Finishing’s expansion project in 2011.

“He has a vast knowledge of our industry,” he says. “Jim even helped facilitate extensive training courses for my team in pollution prevention, waste reduction and environmental management.”

 

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Jim Miille of Chemical Solutions, left, is one of the most respected plating experts, bringing his environmental, chemistry, construction, engineering and problem solving hats together on projects.

 

Design & Build

Mark Bell, process services manager at Communications and Power Industries in Palo Alto, contracted with Miille and Jon Krain of EM Enterprises to handle the design of the chemical handling and operator areas such as tanks, heaters, piping, ventilation and exhaust at the CPI plant, which manufactures components and subsystems used in microwave signals.

Bell says Miille’s environmental and construction expertise played a tremendous role in the success of the project several years ago.

“Jim worked with other design and architectural firms to complete the design, but he was key in satisfying the demands of the local city building and fire departments to obtain the necessary permits,” Bell says. “The shop turned out very well. We went through the typical start up and punch lists, but the project was completed quickly and on time.”

Miille says he enjoys bringing together his environmental, chemistry, construction, engineering and problem solving hats together on projects.

“There’s a lot of contractors out there who can put up walls and build a plating shop,” Miille says. “But what they are thinking about is just putting the pieces of equipment inside of a building. Some of them, though, don’t know about running a plating shop from an environmental standpoint, and what can happen if it is not done correctly.”

Miille’s edge is that not only is he an expert in many of the environmental trappings that befell some electroplating operations—at the local, state and federal level—but he also knows how to get the best out of a shop design and keep it efficient after he leaves the job.

 

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Chemical Solution has designed many of the top plating lines in the U.S.

 

Shop Experience

“I’ve been involved in many shops, so I know how things operate and what they are supposed to be doing,” he says. “I’m not an engineer; I’m a chemist. But I design these systems knowing they are the best they can be to run a plating shop and avoid problems down the road.”

Joe Kulic, general manager of Metal Finishing Solutions in Santa Clara, says he has known Miille for many years, but worked with him closely in 2011 when his company was looking for the right person to design and set up a new plating and powder coating facility.

Kulic’s goal was to finish the project and start the production by April of 2012, a task he knew was extremely tight and probably unrealistic.

“After talking to a number of people from the industry, it was obvious to me that the right person for this project was Jim Miille,” he says. “Jim and Jon met with our team, and two weeks later we signed a contract for a turnkey solution for design, permitting to construction and installation of equipment. The best part of all is that he met our deadline which was nearly impossible. In April 2012, we got our final permit.”

Like his father before him, Miille grew up on a farm, but earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. When he started his first chemical company, he learned from his father about having a strong work ethic and always taking care of customers.

“Even now that I have a home office, I still usually work until 11 at night,” Miille says. “I haven’t had a day off in a while, but I enjoy what is keeping me busy.”

 

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As part of the design and engineering process, Miille uses a system to build up the tanks and have natural runoff areas.

 

Clean & Organized

Miille has started and eventually sold two chemical companies, and his current operation—Chemical Solutions Inc.—has been around for nearly 25 years. It is rare to drive to any major city in California and not find a shop that Miille helped plan, build or remodel to make more efficient.

He carries his trusted tablet computer with him everywhere, and is more than happy to pull up photos of projects where he designed and supervised construction of a plating shop. Other photos show demolition and reconstruction of an existing shop to expand capacity or to meet regulatory requirements.

One thing is consistent with the photos: Every shop is clean, organized and well-run—often 10 years after Miille helped get it opened. And he is absolutely giddy when looking at his handiwork.

“What a beautiful shop this one is,” he coos over a few photos from an installation in the Bay Area. “This shop is just as clean and modern as when we built it several years ago. It was designed well.”

Miille has used his chemical expertise and contractor hat to mesh together a company in Chemical Solutions that knows a lot about plating, ventilation, spray washing, control systems and more, including regulatory requirements that exist today and might pop up tomorrow, to serve his customers well.

For example, some shops spray and eventually get water on their floors, which in areas such as California and others could be a huge issue when it comes to regulators deciding whether it constitutes a spill or just simply overspray.

 

Complex Builds

Using his knowledge from design/build and having read every word of every government regulation pertaining to potential hazards, Miille makes sure floor barriers are constructed to meet codes and to minimize fines and citations from local and state agencies.

“How I design often looks complex, but there is a reason why everything is where it is and what it’s purpose should be,” he says. “That’s why I take so many pictures when we open these shops; I want to come back in five or 10 years and look at the photo and the facility should look just as clean and efficient as when we built it.”

And that means Miille stays involved in the shop, even after he has received his fees and moved on. Spending a day with him means visiting three or four shops where he can easily walk in the back door and be greeted by foremen and plating line personnel as he walks through the shop floor looking for anything out of place or not being run to proper code.

“His expertise is second to none, and from Day 1 Jim has been our consultant,” Kulic says. “He’s been a great educator for our staff, and we look forward to doing business with him for many more years.”

On a sunny afternoon in Northen California, Miille walks into one shop and is instantly horrified at a small amount of water on the floor. He has advised the shop owner several times about spraying in areas where there is no barrier protection, but his warnings have not been heeded as well as he hoped.

“I can tell them what the code is, but they have to then follow it,” he says with a sigh. “I’ll talk to the owner later and go over it again.”

Another shop we visit is immaculate; clean floors, well-ventilated, lines running smoothly. Miille smiles because it was 10 years ago he stepped in to help a colleague in dire need of getting his operation in order, and the shop succeeded and has thrived.

“This looks like the day we left them,” he says. “We did little things, like put a notch in the concrete so it would hold the grating very cleanly. It just looks great all the way around because of tricks I’ve learned over the years.”

 

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Many of the codes and regulations for plating operations were written with the input of Jim Miillee to help lesson the impact on plating shops.

 

Refining Codes

And one of those tricks of the trade was getting to know all the people who run local and state regulatory agencies and then working with them on refining codes so that they work for both the plating shop and the agency tasked with enforcing the code.

Miille has worked closely with the California Department of Toxic Substance Control, whose mission is to protect the state’s people and environment from harmful effects of toxic substsances by restoring contaminated resources, enforcing hazardous waste laws, reducing hazardous waste generation, and encouraging the manufacture of chemically safer products.

“I am impressed with Jim’s knowledge of our industry, and his ability to apply this knowledge to the design and fabrication of a facility,” says Bell. “He has continued to stay allied with the metal finishing industry, and has filled a critical niche in addressing concerns of the industry with the rulemaking agencies, such as wastewater, inspections, employee safety and air emissions.”

Miille says his success in the plating industry is what drives him to speak at NASF conferences, local chapters, and to help state and local agencies when it comes time to writing and updating regulations.

“I’ve been successful in my career, and I realized some time ago that I needed to start giving some stuff back,” he says. “I knew I needed to take my knowledge and give it back to the industry.”

Which he does, considering his hectic schedule that includes farming, flying, cycling, swimming, martial arts, woodworking, fly fishing, trap shooting and also being a father to the two children he and Bea have.

He is, after all, one of the most interesting men in the world.

“I find Jim to be fun to work with and talk to,” Bell says. “He is always ready to share either work experiences or his personal life. I have an interest in flying, too, and it is always fun to hear of his latest purchase, problem or recent flight. I know I have seen more pictures of his planes than of his family, although maybe that is my fault, not his. But he’s also a guy who cares about our industry and has taken over critical roles in the metal finishing associations, too.” 

For information on Chemical Solutions, please visit Chems.com.

 

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