Rising & Shining: Industrial Polishing Services Masters Polishing and Plating

IPS has one of the largest finishing operations in North America, with a workforce of over 800 specializing in high-volume, high-quality decorative metal finishing


The drive from Industrial Polishing Services’ U.S. headquarters in San Diego to its expansive finishing operation in Baja California, Mexico, is a short 5-minute jaunt across the border.

Walk inside the massive 250,000-square-foot plant, and one of the first things a visitor will notice is the level of cleanliness and order, which is not easy to do in a facility that does polishing, plating and coating on the scale that IPS does.

Polishers have materials they are working on neatly stacked beside them, with materials they have just finished on the other side waiting for inspection. Rooms have good lighting and exhaust systems, and everyone is wearing proper safety equipment. The main manual plating line has an innovative design that makes it nearly impossible to have ground contamination, so the floor beneath and around it is clean and dry.

“Everyone here has a sense of purpose and takes great pride in what they are doing,” says Enrique Mereles Jr., who heads the IPS sales and marketing efforts. “We take good care of our employees, and we consider their safety and wellbeing along with the sustainability of the environment.”

 

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IPS runs more than 100 manual stations for belting/sanding, polishing, buffing and satin operations.

 

IPS has one of the largest finishing operations in North America, with a workforce of over 800 specializing in high-volume, high-quality decorative metal finishing while providing business-to-business services to OEMs and others. Beyond the door hardware, kitchen and bath industries, the company also offers finishing services to the automotive, gaming, motorcycle, sporting goods, consumer goods and other industries.

The facility permeates with a continuous improvement philosophy, from the organization and cleanliness of the work areas to the metrics posted at each operation, keeping track of various key performance indicators, as well as visual guides and instructions for the operators. It starts with the company’s upper management, which has built IPS into a best practices and continuous improvement organization, implementing Six Sigma, 5S and lean manufacturing principles. It has also become ISO 9001:2008, C-TPAT and Clean Industry Certified, which it has been for over a decade.

As a testament to its improvement processes, in 2015, IPS was named a Products Finishing Top Shop for its outstanding workmanship.

“It was a huge honor for us to receive that recognition,” says Mereles, “We’ve worked very hard to get our company to where it is today, and to be recognized was very rewarding.”

Polishing Specialists

IPS has an impressive array of metal polishing capabilities, using a combination of manual, automatic and robotic processes for its high-quality finishes, depending on part configuration, volumes and finish requirements.

The company has more than a dozen automated lines that enable it to produce medium- to high-volume polishing with a greater consistency and quality. It also has a pair of robotic polishing systems for larger components.

IPS runs more than 100 manual stations for belting/sanding, polishing, buffing and satin operations, showcasing true flexibility and expertise on some of the most complex parts and designs. Mereles Jr. says that one thing that sets IPS apart from other operations is its ability to design, manufacture and repair its own polishing fixtures in-house for quick tooling development and maintenance, thereby reducing tooling inventories and downtime.

Take a peek inside one of the facility’s several manual polishing rooms, and it is easy to see that its operators have extensive expertise in what they are doing. Meanwhile, the automatic polishing machines include rotary and straight line machines with rotating spindles that fixtures for the parts are placed on. Mass finishing and burnishing is performed with vibratory bowls of various sizes.

 

Plating, Coating Capacity

The expansive facility has all the necessities to offer an OEM all that it would need to get its parts finished at high quality. IPS specializes in decorative rack plating, and has 14 plating lines to prove it, including seven hoist lines that provide a range of finishes, flexibility and volume. It has six return lines (all Cyclemaster plating machines) designed to produce large volume finishes with the highest reproducibility, as well as two manual lines.

 

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IPS specializes in decorative rack plating, and has 14 plating lines to prove it.

 

IPS has several chemical engineers trained on a comprehensive software program that increases reliability in the plating process. In the plating lab, the engineers monitor the tank concentrations and temperature levels to ensure proper specification by performing hull cell analysis as well as titrations. The software maintains a record of all chemical maintenance procedures, and it also alerts IPS personnel when corrections are needed, which reduces the degree of human error when it comes to the plating operations.

IPS has the capability to design, manufacture and repair its own plating racks in house, much like it does for its polishing and buffing tooling, which the company says sets it apart.

“I don’t think many other plating companies have the capabilities to design, manufacture and maintain their own tooling like we do,” Mereles says. “It makes it much more efficient for us.”

IPS was around when powder coating began to replace some of the liquid coating operations and the company worked on the implementation of powder coating lines. One of the hallmarks of IPS’s expertise is its ability to deliver an outstanding clear powder coating finish, which some could argue is one of the most difficult coatings to consistently repeat at high quality and high volumes.

“We have been doing this for years, and have become effective at determining the different variables that are affected,” Mereles says. “Our production and engineering personnel have been able to control the clear coat finish very well.”

 

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IPS focuses on high-volume, high-quality decorative metal finishing while providing business-to-business services to OEMs and others.​

 

IPS has two large automatic powder coating lines with overhead conveyors. To cure the powder, the plant uses both infrared and convection ovens. The IR boost helps to reduce contamination and orange peel. Moreover, to prevent contamination in the powder coating operation, the line is closed off with two separate doors at the entrance. Once inside the powder coating area, the application booth is closed off to the rest of the operation.

The plant also has two liquid coating lines that deliver a very high-quality finish, including manual stations and a chain-on-edge coating line, which allows IPS to cover a range of customer finishing requests.

 

Turn-Key Support

IPS partners with another firm to seamlessly offer its customers physical vapor deposition (PVD) finishes, including the deposition of zirconium nitride, titanium nitride and other metallic ion combinations that are applied under vacuum conditions.

Mereles says that some substrates have to be electroplated first with nickel and chromium before they can have PVD applied, adding that the PVD process can enhance the hardness of a component’s surface as well as improve the durability and overall abrasion resistance. The PVD coatings are available in several finishes, including brass, gold, black, gray, silver and nickel.

 

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More than 150,000 parts are processed at IPS on a daily basis.

 

IPS offers value-added services to its customers, including secondary operations such as crimping, assembly and packaging. Through its longstanding relationships with numerous manufacturers in the U.S. and Mexico, IPS can also provide its customers the raw materials, such as castings, stampings, forgings and machined parts.

“We also provide turn-key services to supply a complete product,” Mereles says. “We assume full responsibility for the sourcing, manufacturing, finishing, quality control, assembly and packaging, thereby becoming a one-stop-shop for our clients.”

Brenda Verdugo, who works in the sales and marketing department, says many of IPS’s customers take advantage of those services because it helps them streamline operations and reduce time in getting the parts in their customer’s hands.

“It is great when customers contract with us for value-added services along with the finishing,” she says. “This does represent a challenge, but we know that it will help provide a better solution to our customer’s needs so we do what we can to provide that solution.”

 

Culture of Safety, Quality

Some of the corporate values that IPS has ingrained in its culture are based around the ideas of safety and quality. Mereles says the wellbeing of the workers and visitors in the facility is of utmost importance to the company, and there is extensive safety training that takes place, with records kept in a training matrix by its human resources department. In addition, there are visual aids for employees to show what safety equipment is required in each area of the operation.

Mereles says every operator is required to wear his or her safety equipment required for the area in which he or she is working, and there are also regularly scheduled breaks throughout the workday for stretching exercises.

The quality mindset is evident in every facet of the operation, from the time parts are received—they are reviewed at incoming to assure that they are in compliance with customer specifications—to final inspection, where every one of the more than 150,000 parts processed on a daily basis is inspected.

There are also inspections at the end of every process to ensure that defective parts are not passed along to the next stage of the operation.

“We don’t think of quality control as a department that is policing, but rather one where everyone in the company plays a part in having a product come out with the right quality,” Mereles says. “So every operator receives training on the quality requirements for the various customers so they can be sure that whatever job they are doing will meet those quality requirements. This gives people a sense of pride and accomplishment in knowing that they have done a good quality job.”

 

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Beyond the door hardware, kitchen and bath industries, IPS also offers finishing services to the automotive, gaming, motorcycle, sporting goods, consumer goods and other industries.​

 

Strong Partnerships

IPS traces its roots to a college thesis paper written in the mid 1970s by its founder, whose premise was to set up a facility to provide high-quality decorative metal finishing services to companies so that they could focus on marketing, designing, selling, innovating and distributing their products instead of having to worry about the finishing of the parts.

Since finishing operations are capital intensive, labor intensive, require a vast amount of experience and expertise and have very demanding regulatory compliances to meet, the theory was that finishing would best serve companies by being outsourced. With that in mind, IPS was founded in the early 1980s and operations were started in Baja California, Mexico.

IPS had grown so large in its first two decades that by 2007 it became one of the largest finishing operations in North America. Since Mereles joined the operation, he has focused not only on helping to maintain growth in existing markets, but also on diversifying into other markets. He has been working closely with several companies in various industries to bring in work to IPS that could be sustainable and result in consistent production. 

IPS says its success comes as a result of it looking at its customers more as business partners, and wanting to form long-standing working relationships with them.

“Over the years, we have built very strong partnerships with several companies,” says Alex Lebrija, sales and project manager, who first started working for IPS in the late 1990s.

For example, Lebrija points out that IPS is still doing work with its first customers that have been with it for more than 30 years.

“We are now cultivating and growing new partnerships with other companies,” Lebrija says. “But we continue to maintain and value what we have built with our existing customers.” 

For more information on Industrial Polishing Services, visit ipsfinishing.com.

 

Originally published in the January 2016 issue.

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