Some finishing job shops are large because they employ hundreds of people. Other shops employ fewer people, yet do millions of dollars in business. Some shops run thirty finishing lines, while others have two or three. Three shifts are normal for many shops, while others generate great profits with one. The answer to the question, "What makes a finishing shop large?" may never be agreed upon. Basing it on the number of employees is by far the easiest.
Products Finishing's biennial survey, conducted by Associate Editor Steve Kline, examines many of the country's large plating job shops. Although many of the contributors have automated systems, there are many manual systems as well.
Manual systems are the hallmark of job shop plating. Unless a company runs the same product through the same process nearly every day, manual operation is indispensable.
Consider Metal Surfaces, Inc., in Bell Gardens, California. The company employs 245, yet gold plating, electroless gold plating, silver plating, rhodium, indium, tin, zinc, cadmium, nickel and copper plating are handled manually. Metal Surfaces does not have one or two customers. It services customers in the aerospace, electronics, medical, automotive and connector industries, to name a few. Just because a shop is not automated does not mean that it isn't first class. Metal Surfaces has been ISO 9002 certified.
Whyco Technologies, Thomaston, Connecticut, operates mostly manual systems, yet its laboratory is certified by the state of Connecticut Department of Public Health, and it is also certified as an approved GM/CPC supplier test facility. The company is also ISO 9002 certified.
So is automation better than manual operation? Or vice versa? What makes these shops top job shops is that they are flexible and adaptable to the changing needs of their customers. Some customers will send the same part for the same finish four times a week. Other customers send parts every couple of weeks and not always for the same finish. The mark of a successful company is how it treats its exceptions. These shops prospered because they were ready to handle "exceptions."