A Conversation With . . .Walter Alina
Veteran Products Finishing Writer
Walter Alina began his career in surface finishing in 1954 as a plating chemist for Hermetic Seal Products Corp. In the 54 years since, he has solved countless electroplating conundrums, both for companies, in the form of new inventions, and for the readers of PF, in his quarterly column. In 1968, he published an equation in PF that he says was an early precursor to the modern computer. AT 42, he became the youngest recipient of the Frank. E. Lane Industrial Achievement Award, and in 1992, he found brief fame when he provided a correction and new statistic to the Guinness Book of World Records. Alina lives in Lakewood, NJ with his wife, Lucille.
Tell us about your work with PF
W.A.: Of the 40 some articles I’ve written in my career, most were for PF. When I first started, it was under Publisher Ezra Blount and then, later, under my friend and Publisher Jerry Pohl. All of the articles were technical, about some phase of electroplating. The subjects covered were extensive, from spectrographic analysis of contaminants and how they affect gold plating deposits, to heating of plating, and rectification. My byline was “Plating for Electronics,” and at the end of each article I would answer technical questions that readers would send in.
What has changed most in the finishing industry during the span of your career?
W.A.: I was 23 years old when I set up my first 1 gal. plating bath in my chemistry lab. If I had to describe 50 years of progress since then, it would be difficult at best. The technological strides in the control lab, from solutions, equipment and deposit improvements since the advent of the computer would be indescribable. Chemistry and control of solutions have improved to a tremendous degree. Metallurgy of deposits and alloys have also made considerable strides, and they have paved the way for solving problems in so many industries.
In answering this question, I think of my father telling me when I was a little boy, how lucky he was to have seen how life improved during his lifetime. He saw the advent of the atomic age, saw the Wright Brothers with their first flight, aircraft during the first World War, and bought one of the first cars. I share the same sentiments about living in the computer age—how lucky I am to see such wonderful improvements.
Where do you think the finishing industry is headed?
W.A.: Judging from the past 50 years, I have tremendous confidence in the research and development being conducted by the major companies that represent the finishing industry. There’s no question that vast improvements are yet to come, in products, equipment and coating techniques.
I predict that there will be new spectacular alloys that will provide unique properties for problem-solving for the government and major companies. In the field of vacuum technology and metallurgical spraying, for instance, composites are being developed and used, particularly in the aircraft industry. This methodology, which is being further developed, will particularly help the military by producing such properties as ultra-hardness, exceptional release, and temperature- and wear-resistance.
In the Dec.1968 issue of PF, you published an article that contains an equation that you claim was a forerunner to early computers. Tell us about the equation.
W.A.: It’s interesting how the equation came about. When I worked at RCA, we were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in finished transistor plating. So we solved the problem by making a special hookup to an oscilloscope and proving that current spiking was the cause of the problem. To stop the spiking phenomena, we used metallized plastic balls in the plating barrel in addition to the finished transistors. The equation considers all aspects of the electroplating cell and is compared with 100% cathode efficiency. The equation can be a computerized meter that tells the plater that there is a cathode efficiency problem and that he must find the cause. As the plater makes changes, the meter will tell him of any improvements in cathode efficiency. We’re going back more than 40 years before Bill Gates thought about computers!