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9/1/1997 | 6 MINUTE READ

A Large Finisher's Key to Success

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Extensive plating and painting capabilities combined with quality control and a focus on customer satisfaction...


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One of the ten largest job shops in the U.S. considers its extensive plating and painting capabilities, plus intensive quality control and orientation to customer satisfaction, its chief elements for success. It is unique in the many varieties of finishes it offers.

Its use of high-speed, non-destructive testing, coating thickness instruments for process control saves it time and money. As a plus, it gives the company the quick feedback on process integrity necessary to maintain the high quality of its finished parts.

More than 50 finishes and services are offered. The company enjoys helping manufacturers who are not always sure of the best finish needs for their parts. It is part of its effective customer service program.

As its technical director, Herb Nissen, puts it, the company plates virtually every finish from "Albaloy to zinc."

The large product finishing job shop is East Side Plating, Inc. (ESP) located in Portland, Oregon. It employs more than 200 people and operates from five plants. It has been in business for 50 years.

The company was founded in 1941 as a division of East Side Tool and Die in Portland. It plated tools and dies used in the Kaiser shipyards during World War II. After the war, it was sold as a separate business. Cadmium and zinc were the primary plating finishes at that time.

Jim Thibodeau joined the company as sales manager in 1977 and became vice president and part owner. Mr. Thibodeau became president and majority owner in 1991.

ESP has grown from its start in 1941, with 4,800 sq ft in one plant to more than 130,000 sq ft in five plants, all in Portland.

Mr. Thibodeau defines the reasons for ESP's success, "Our growth has taken place because we have a strong commitment to the surface finishing industry and to our customers. We believe in frequent customer contact and a solid commitment to quality. Our reputation is for quality finishing and on-time delivery to many satisfied customers with a lot of different finishing needs. We are unique in that we do not manufacture products of our own to sell in the market place. You may not see products with our name on them, but you have seen a lot of products with our plating and painting on them."

The company's capabilities are in four areas: pre-finish, plating, specialized and painting processes. The pre-finish area consists of processes that include automatic polishing, barrel tumbling, degreasing, bead blasting, vibratory finishing, graining, hand polishing and others.

Plating processes offered use many finishes such as Albaloy, antique brass, cadmium, chromium, copper, duplex nickel, electroless nickel, Teflon, electropolish, gold, nickel, passivate, rhodium, silver, sulfamate nickel, tin, zinc and others.

In specialized processes, ESP offers black cadmium, black chromium, black nickel, black zinc, satin chromium, electrochemical and laser part making.

As for the powder coating area, its capabilities consist of acrylic, epoxy, hybrid, Scotch Kote, TGIC polyester, urethane, and vinyl coatings. According to ESP, both its painting and plating processes are comprised of hand and automatic lines. This allows ESP to accommodate both small and large runs.

The company's capabilities are used by a number of markets: automotive, medical equipment, commercial die casting, sheet metal, stampings and screw machine parts. ESP's business is a mix of OEM customers and job shops, according to Mr. Nissen.

For the automotive market, ESP finishes approximately 1,000,000 wheelhubs for pickup trucks in a year, primarily for Ford. ESP plates the hubcaps with nickel-chromium on aluminum. For a large truck manufacturer, it plates thousands of tubular grab handle brackets, which are fastened to the side of the trucks.

In the medical market, ESP is the finishing supplier to one of the largest dental equipment companies in the U.S. as well as to other small dental equipment companies. Its principal products are used in the dentist's office and dental laboratories. AIDS and hepatitis has necessitated an increase in the number of medical products. As a result, ESP's plating volume has increased dramatically. ESP also warehouses finished goods for customers, shipping it on an as-needed basis.

ESP uses a network system of 49 computers and 23 printers between the five plants. This permits managers to track production activity. The company processes more than 200 jobs a day. Its managers and customer service staff can determine the status of the jobs, production units needed, location of the job, finishing time and when the job is to be or was shipped.

One of its plants does primarily powder coating for dental companies and sheet metal fabricators. It uses individual powder booths for small runs and an automatic line for large runs.

An interesting application of powder coating done by ESP is large support castings for the Shasta Dam. The infrastructure castings are permanently installed under water. The coating has to be highly reliable, pore free and corrosion resistant.

Another market that ESP services is the growing electronics industry in Portland. The coatings used are primarily tin, gold, sulfamate nickel, watts nickel and zinc. They provide a low coefficient of resistance, conductivity, solderability, hardness and corrosion resistance on contacts, sheet metal and stand-offs.

It also has contributed its services to the aerospace industry. It provided thousands of electropolished, stainless-steel pieces for NASA, which are used in a 16-ft, advanced design wind tunnel for scramjet engine testing. The NASA hypersonic approach, which operates at Mach 7, is being designed to replace the shuttle's engines in the future. ESP also provided gold over aluminum assemblies for the Russian spaceship MIR, now in orbit.

It is important to ESP to be able to measure the thickness of the plating on the customers' products. The test instruments have to provide fast and accurate readings to the plater as well as help him in setting up his process to the plating specifications of the customer. ESP's process controls allow the company to also meet military specifications.

The company is using a non-destructive, x-ray fluorescence system, the CMI XRX, for measuring the plating thickness of tin, nickel, gold and zinc used in electronic applications. Repeatability, reproducibility and high-accuracy data output are primary advantages of the XRX system.

According to Mr. Nissen, the XRX is fast and accurate, filling ESP's requirements. It can check a plated part in one minute, whereas a previous tester took five minutes. The system has also solved the problem of measuring multi-layer coatings and simplified testing of first article production parts.

The company's line platers use the XRX to check the thickness of their plated parts. The platers like to use the system because it is efficient and user-friendly. A training program has been instituted by ESP for proper procedure. It takes just 15 minutes to train the platers with this method. "It's hard for the platers to get into trouble," states Mr. Nissen.

The XRX, according to Mr. Nissen, is further used by ESP for accurate and reliable certification of plated jobs. It cuts test time in half. It works well in process control. The system is a prime motivator to check parts for customers. Also, use of the XRX adds credibility to ESP by impressing the customer with the use of state-of-the-art thickness testing instruments.

Another thickness test instrument is used in ESP's Plant 5. The MFX measures the nickel plating of parts on aluminum and steel. It is a combination of eddy-current and electromagnetic principles and special purpose probes to provide a fully automated plating and coating thickness measurement system.

Truly, ESP is a leader in the finishing industry. It did not just happen by luck. It happened because 200 conscientious employees working together wish to provide superior finishing work to ESP's many customers, a proud resolution.

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