Stephen Candiloro Jr. of Epner Technology
(Brooklyn, N.Y.) was a well-loved member of the metal finishing community. Known to all as JR, Candiloro lost his life to COVID-19 in April. The shock and sadness of his loss continue to reverberate through the finishing community in a time when so much has happened in just a few short months. David Epner, president of Epner Technology, describes Candiloro’s plating knowledge and engineering talents as without peer.
“Plating was in his DNA,” Epner begins telling a tale that spans generations.
JR got his start in plating as a young boy working alongside his father in Steve Sr.’s chrome plating operation Technical Metal Finishing. When the company closed, JR went to work as a lab technician at Lea Ronal, an early supplier of proprietary gold plating baths, while his father went on to manage a plating shop on Long Island.
Cohan Epner, which would later become Epner Technology, opened for business in 1910, gold plating jewelry and novelties. Named after the company’s two founders, Cohan Epner grew steadily over the years; then, in 1979, the company made a shift.
Epner recalls, “A large production contract from Xerox was straining our capacity, so, driven by the Xerox contract, we decided to change the focus of the company from the gold plating of jewelry to high-tech specification plating, which included exploring the new market opportunities that were opened up by our Laser Gold high-reflective infrared plating process.”
A new breed of customer needed a plating supplier that was able to understand and meet the specifications and technical requirements that were common to this market. It was a far cry indeed from the company’s customer base of the previous sixty years. Epner recounts how he first reached out to the Candiloro family:
“We needed to hire a production manager with high-tech engineering and specification plating experience,” says Epner, “So I turned to the ‘tech reps’ who work for the suppliers of our various plating baths — they know every plating manager in every shop — I asked each one, ‘Who is the right person for this job?’ They all came up with the same name: Steve Candiloro Sr., JR’s father.”
Candiloro Sr. was a graduate chemical engineer with many years in the trenches. He had a depth of technical plating knowledge and hands-on shop experience that was unparalleled in the industry. Epner invited Steve Sr. to lunch and made him an “offer he couldn’t refuse.”
It wasn’t long before JR again became his father’s apprentice, joining Epner Technology in 1983. In the mid-90s, as Steve Sr. and Epner backed off from the day-to-day running of the shop, JR became the production and plant manager. He redesigned the company’s waste treatment system, taking it to zero discharge. He upgraded the air handling and scrubber systems in the shop, improving conditions for the staff and ensuring dangerous fumes would not get out untreated.
“Perhaps JR’s most significant legacy is that, unlike most people in our industry, JR did not hide his vast knowledge,” Epner says. “Whether it was plating difficult substrates like beryllium, molybdenum or neodymium — in open collaboration with Dr. Gustek, our head laboratory manager — he figured it out, documented it and shared his techniques and know-how with the platers that actually handled the parts. This cross-training is what has permitted us to survive and, indeed, grow and thrive since his passing.”
According to Epner, whenever he was approached with an impossible project, he turned to JR. “I always introduced JR as, ‘the guy that makes my bulls**t come true.’ He never let me down.”
Below, Epner recounts a prime example in what he says was “arguably the most incredible and challenging plating project any shop in our industry had ever tackled.” The project would stretch JR’s plating-engineering know-how to its limit, and the result proved his talent beyond any doubt.
It all started about ten years ago. I was sitting in my office after hours when the phone rang and the person on the line, calling from Missoula, Montana, asked if we could plate the inside of a water-cooled, stainless steel bell jar? I envisioned he was talking about a typical laboratory bell jar. Open at one end with a dome shaped closure at the other. Usually about a foot in diameter and 2 feet high. I asked, “How big is it?” He replied, “13 feet high, 7 feet in diameter and it weighs about 40,000 pounds. And oh yes, we need 100 of them done.”
When I got up off the floor, I asked him how many plating companies he had approached with this project. He said he had been all over the world trying to find a shop that would even discuss it, much less agree to do it. I said, “I think we might have a shot at it but the non-recurring cost would be enormous.” I threw out a million and a half bucks for NRE to see if he was real. Indeed, he was. I knew JR had experience with the smaller jar that I had originally envisioned. He would make the bell jar its own plating tank. After inserting an anode, we would repeatedly fill and drain it with each solution in the process, just like a washing machine. When I laid out the project to JR, his reaction was just what I expected. “Let me at it,” he exclaimed, and a day later he presented me with his plan of action.
He had designed a steel gantry-like stand that would support the jar by its trunnion “ears” and then the stand and jar would be transported by a forklift with 50,000-pound capacity into the loading dock area of our building. Preparation for that required moving our entire wastewater treatment system onto the plating shop floor with re-plumbing every rinse tank as well as removing part of the building to accommodate the height of the jar in the stand.
Another huge up-front cost was the gold plating solution — more than 2,000 gallons valued at over $4 million would be needed to fill the jar. JR designed what we laughingly called a “giant fiberglass condom,” which he had fabricated at a local boat builder. This plug would displace about half that volume as well as offer a mounting surface for the nickel and platinum-coated titanium anodes, as well as some 250 spray nozzles to thoroughly rinse both the jar and the surface of the plug between each process solution to prevent cross-contaminating the next solution in the plating sequence.
That still left us with a gold inventory requirement over $2 million, which was required to fill the one-foot gap between the plug and the wall of the jar. The customer did not balk at paying these up-front costs as well as the six-figure price I quoted for each bell jar. In a short time, JR and his team had gotten production up to one jar a day until 103 were shipped!
The bell jars were used for the “growing” of pure silicon for both the chip market and for solar collectors. Each chamber starts the process with 30 or more pencil-thick, 12-foot-long starter rods which glow bright red when the power is turned on. Trichlorsilane and hydrogen gas are introduced to the sealed chamber and the rods grow slowly over a period of some four or five days to a diameter of 8 inches. It takes more and more electric power to keep the rods glowing red hot as the diameter increases. Indeed, the single highest cost of semi-conductor production is electric power and the
Laser Gold coating of the interior of the bell jar reduced this cost by an astounding 40% as it reflected the heat generated back into the process instead of being absorbed and wasted in the water cooling jacket on the outside of each jar.
According to Epner, the bell jar project represented the most challenging of the countless plating problems that yielded to JR’s know-how.
“His smile and his talent will indeed be missed,” says Epner.
In the wake of JR’s passing, Epner Technology was flooded with condolence letters from customers and suppliers. They were posted in the shop. According to Epner, one letter spoke eloquently for all the others. It was written by a frequent visitor — an engineer at one of the company’s larger aerospace customers based in the mid-west. He often showed up, hand-carrying another one of those plating challenges.
An excerpt from his letter:
“Working so closely with JR these past few years was an incredible honor for me. From decades past, I was aware of the depth of technical talent JR possessed. During the last several years I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with JR, I really got a sense for who JR was as a person and what he stood for. I am very grateful for that experience.”
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