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1/1/1998 | 7 MINUTE READ

A Look at a President

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Bob McBride has operated AC Plating for 25 years, and now serves as president of his association...


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NAMF was something I joined to survive," admitted National Association of Metal Finisher's president Bob McBride as he sat at his desk in his Bakersfield, California plating shop, AC Plating. This 15-person shop exemplifies the typical NAMF member: small shop, family owned, owner wears many hats.

It started 22 years ago when Bob's father purchased AC Plating. He was retiring from the oil industry and wanted to do something different in retirement. The senior McBride asked his son if he would consider managing the business for a "few years." Bob agreed. And, as is typical in many family-owned businesses, he stayed.

The shop started as a bumper plating shop in 1975, when most cars had chromium-plated bumpers. As the automotive bumpers changed from steel to rubber, AC Plating was challenged with finding a replacement market. Kern County had little manufacturing, but an abundance of agriculture and oil exploration. Since oil drilling uses many plated parts, we focused our sales efforts in that field. The first request for plating was for nickel plating a pump part. "We did not ask any questions," stated Mr. McBride. "We told them we could do it and we did."

However, the part failed in the field. Both Mr. McBride and the representative of the oil company knew that nickel plating worked because of previous nickel plated parts. It was not until Mr. McBride became more involved in the industry that he realized, yes, nickel would work for heavy corrosion protection, but it needed to be electroless nickel.

"I look back on that now and laugh," Bob stated. "I realize that finding out what the customer will use the finished product for is just as important as providing the finish. Education is the key, because the customer and the plater will better understand the functionality of the finish. That is a problem in our industry. The engineers that write the specifications for products do not use the expertise of our industry to help them determine the best finish."

Bob McBride
Robert McBride, NAMF president and CEO of AC Plating, Bakersfield, California.

Becoming a member of the NAMF was key in Mr. McBride's education. It not only helped him learn more about finishing, it taught him how to run his company more efficiently.

One of AC Plating's biggest customers manufactures cotton-picking spindles.

Since Bakersfield is in the biggest cotton growing area in the world, this job keeps the company busy. Each cotton-picking machine has 1,200 spindles that require hard chromium plating. And these spindles only last one season. AC Plating hard chromium plates approximately a million spindles a year. The hard chromium provides long wear and lubricity so the cotton will slide off easily.

The company also plates decorative chromium and does polishing. It plates a number of parts for industrial plumbing fixtures. The brass parts are polished and nickel-chromium plated. The company also accepts parts over-the-counter, such as bumpers, decorative automotive pieces and parts for motorcycles, boats and bikes for restoration projects.

Mr. McBride also uses his web site to generate business. He gets about 30 "hits" from it a week. The company is now plating bumpers from as far away as Boston, North Carolina and Florida. But, he admits, plating restoration parts is more difficult. "It is a labor-intensive job, and you deal with the customer one-on-one. These customers are hard to satisfy and very time consuming. Since I enjoy reworking antique cars myself, I doubt I will ever stop this line of work."

Presently, AC Plating has two rack plating lines in its shop: decorative chromium and hard chromium. "Hopefully, we will get bigger," Bob stated. "Getting larger is one of the reasons I started working on association issues as hard as I did. I saw how expensive all the environmental issues were going to be, considering my growth plan. I decided that if I wasn't going to get bigger, I may as well close my door."

Mr. McBride's journey into association life began in 1987 with the Metal Finishing Association of Southern California. It started with a monthly 100-mile jaunt to Los Angeles to attend meetings. Then he became a member of the MFASC Board, which required that he motor to LA twice a month. In 1991 he began serving on the national board. Eventually, Mr. McBride was selected to serve on the executive committee for NAMF.

In 1997 he was elected national president. His long-range goal is to develop programs to improve communication and education in the product finishing industry. Mr. McBride sees the SFIC and the GAC cooperative industry efforts as key to reaching those goals.

Communication is difficult. "You have a lot of small shops like mine," stated Mr. McBride. "How do you find the time to communicate with all of them?" For associations to perform effectively, the needs of the members must be constantly updated. Computers will help, but it still will be a daunting task.

Mr. McBride does see advantages to being a small shop owner, since most of the NAMF members are also small shops. "We (AC Plating) can't have an environmental engineer or other positions that a 200-person shop can have.

Therefore, I wear about 15 hats," noted Mr. McBride.

Because of his situation, Mr. McBride can understand the "little guys" dilemma in dealing with the many issues involved in running a plating shop. This is where NAMF helps. As a management organization, the problems in one shop are often in every shop. By working together and sharing solutions, the true value of NAMF is realized by every member.

As a small business owner, dealing with the government agencies seems an impossible task, for example, the recent difference between the California and the federal chromium air emissions. California has had permits for hard chromium plating since 1990. When the federal EPA decided to require permits for hard chromium, California wanted to be able to use its existing permitting system. The EPA would not allow it and required federal stack testing that differed from the tests required by California's environmental agency. The permits also required platers to fill out numerous forms.

California platers wanted to know why the federal EPA could not cooperate with the California agency. That is where the NAMF's Government Affairs Committee (GAC) stepped in. The GAC's lobbying organization, National Environmental Strategies (NES) delayed the ruling on the hard chromium air MACT until July 1, 1997. This was supposed to provide time to find a test equivalent to the California test, so two permits would not be required.

Well, the July deadline loomed and no test had been found. Also, the top lobbyist for NAMF, Bill Sonntag, had left NES for a government position. That is when Mark Himmelstein and Christian Richter "went to bat for NAMF." They were able to delay the ruling until January 1, 1998. This is a perfect example of how well the GAC can function to help our industry. Only through cooperative efforts by the GAC members could such a huge accomplishment be made.

A good example of working on effective committees is the GAC. Because the EOA sees this committee as the voice of the finishing industry, it is more willing to work out problems that affect our industry. The Common Sense Initiative (CSI) is such a cause. This group of industry representatives, environmentalists, EPA regulators, labor union representatives and POTW representative was challenged to think outside the box and renew the problems associated with environmental regulations and the finishing industry. There were many.

After two years of discussions, many beneficial projects evolved. A web site (NMFRC) for finishing, the environmental compliance book, a review of F006 compositions to determine if it really is hazardous, a program to remove the duplication in reporting requirements and many more helpful programs. The real result was the ability to discuss our problems with the regulators and try to fix the areas that were broken. This is why the "Goals" program was developed

This was the first attempt of EPA to change the command and control style of enforcement to a cooperative effort. This program rolls out in January, 1998 for finishing shops to sign on. This all-voluntary program will give the finishers a chance to come forward and be a self-regulated industry. This is a major attitude change and will require as much work on our part as it will for the agency.

But once a company signs up and achieves the three major goals of the program, it becomes a "gold card member." Once the company achieves this status, the change in how the regulators will perceive the company will be tremendous. Look for this program as a turning point in the history books on how the government works with business to control the environment.

"Only through cooperation, education and communication could we have ever reached a point this high in regulatory decision making. Only through continued efforts can we expect the industry to prosper and grow. The association works to better us all, support the efforts that enhance your business," commented Mr. McBride.

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