When you have been in the plating business 70 years, you must be doing something right. But in business, doing something right can sometimes mean having the courage to turn your back on tradition and embracing change when change is needed. That is what Racine Plating did when it converted its entire zinc plating operation from cyanide to alkaline non-cyanide zinc.
The problem: cyanide. Racine Plating Co., whose primary business is zinc, nickel and copper plating, was founded in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1927. The company is now headed by Scott and Gary Goodsell, grandsons of the founder. Racine decided that it had to find an alternative to the cyanide plating systems it was using on its two zinc lines. As Scott explained, "Cyanide's drawbacks were too numerous." Waste treatment and cleanup were a constant problem and expense. "The cyanide is insidious," said Scott. "Despite your best precautions it creeps everywhere and gets into everything." The noxious fumes created by cyanide, especially in the summer, required costly venting. The cyanide plating lines needed close monitoring because their concentration, temperature and current density were all operating within a narrow range. Racine decided that cyanide had to go, completely.
Working closely together with its chemical supplier, American Chemical and Equipment, Racine decided to replace its cyanide operation with the Alk2V3 alkaline non-cyanide zinc system. The initial tests were successful and the decision was made to go ahead.
Change always causes anxiety in any successful operation. But, with good planning and proper execution, the changeover was virtually painless. The new alkaline non-cyanide system delivered all the advantages Racine was looking for, plus benefits it had not anticipated.
Racine's two zinc plating lines are a barrel line and a rack line. The barrel line was selected as the first to undergo the switch from cyanide to alkaline non-cyanide zinc. The changeover was made in less than two months. According to Scott, "We have not had a significant problem with the operation since it started in full production several years ago. The alkaline system works perfectly."
Racine found that the quality of the finished alkaline product exceeded that of cyanide. Plating was more uniform. Burning, hazing and surface roughness, problems with cyanide, were eliminated. The advantages of the alkaline system, reduced temperature build-up and improved throwing power, worked to ease production problems and allowed an increase in barrel load size. For example, the temperature range of the cyanide bath was a narrow window, typically between 70 to 90F. Anything over 90F resulted in fuming. The alkaline non-cyanide bath's operating range was from 60 to 120F, with no fuming. The result was a production increase of 10 to 12 pct.
The improved throwing power of the alkaline process also did a better job of plating hard-to-reach recesses in complicated parts. Racine was now able to zinc plate powdered metal and cast parts on the line, something it could not do with the cyanide zinc process.
Help on the bottom line. Then there were the big cost advantages. "We have reduced our electrical current needs by 50 pct," recounted Scott. "The bath is more efficient." Another energy saving plus was the elimination of the cooling coils needed to control the high temperature requirements of the cyanide bath. The alkaline non-cyanide zinc system was more effective at lower temperatures and more forgiving of temperature variations.
On the environmental side, the problems and expense of controlling fuming and treating hazardous sludge were eliminated. Before switching the bath, Scott visited a Michigan company already running the PAVCO Alk2V3 system to check for himself how much it cut down on fuming. When he could not smell any fumes while walking through the plant, he went a step further. "I got my head right down over the tanks and still could not smell any fumes at all," Scott said. With the elimination of cyanide's fuming, Racine did not need any additional venting, venting that was estimated to cost more than $25,000 to install.
Rack line conversion also painless. The other Racine zinc plating line, a rack line, was converted soon after the barrel line. The rack line offered different challenges. The rack lines plated a variety of parts, ranging from palm-size parts to 12-ft trailer axles. The axles had big flat areas that were tricky to plate with cyanide. The advantages of the switch to the alkaline non-cyanide zinc system were apparent.
The switch to the Alk2V3 system that proved so successful on the barrel line resulted in an identical improvement in plating results on the rack line. Again, production increased and rework was reduced.
The entire conversion proved to be a win/win experience for Racine. Good planning, a helpful and knowledgeable supplier and the right product made for the best of all business experiences: a better product that cut costs, increased production and improved working conditions.