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8/1/1999 | 4 MINUTE READ

Fasteners and Finishes

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Steel King installed a powder coating system and realized many benefits...


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Often the typical plating company is faced with a declining market. The customers may lose high-volume business when automotive purchasing departments try to use fewer vendors in the field (and unhappily not your field) or even use fewer parts. It is now a common directive in the automotive area to require that designers and engineers reduce the total number of parts in a design by X% each year. While new business is always sought, there is another way that the plating/coating operations can increase the dollar amount of business. This is through expansion into other fields that may not be exactly "coating" in nature but can use existing equipment with little or no capital expense. The availability of these other fastener processes is attractive to customers who can get several operations done at a single source, saving them time and cost and offering you an additional market.

Chief among these is the adhesive application onto externally threaded fasteners. The equipment is not very technical and can be easily purchased. If you have a skilled machine shop/toolmaker setup, it can even be built in house. The chemical is obtainable from any of several manufacturers. While some of these require a licensee fee, it may be negotiable in many cases. Other manufacturers offer the product with no strings attached. As in everything in life, you get what you pay for. While the no-fee companies may answer some of your questions, the license-requiring chemical companies offer technical assistance, help in getting the equipment, getting it set up and running and around the clock technical service when things need adjusting.

In general, the operation requires an application type fixture that allows the chemical to flow onto the threads. Some sort of fixturing to allow the parts to be heated (about 200-300F) and pass beneath the flow (conveyor). The parts then drop into the receiving tub, box, etc. The application of the adhesive can be as imaginative as you wish. Wheels that rotate through the adhesive and then roll against the threads, a brush that is wetted with the adhesive and rubs against the threads as they move past, a stream that flows downwards and coats parts that pass through it, an afternoon's thought can invent several other systems that will work effectively.

The conveyor can be a simple track, separated the width of the bolt and vibrated to make the parts flow downhill. It can be magnetic or a "cogged" belt with bolts falling in the slots. Depending upon time and finances, a purchased system is faster to get into operation, but a "home-built" one can save tremendous dollars. As usual, environmental and fire regulations for your local area need to be consulted.

Many plating companies have gone this route and found that the additional business more than compensates for the installation costs. In addition, increased business overall, because of the increased service, has brightened many companies' general outlook.

Other services that you are running now can be marketed to customers with little changes to operations. Cleaning incoming parts is routine but considered a part of the plating process. The availability of cleaning with or without additional rust preventive treatment is often needed but hard to find for fastener and stamping companies. Most fastener companies end up doing it themselves (which they do not like to do because of the environmental concerns, space required, etc.) or they ask their plating company to do it for them. Many parts, coated only with rust preventive, are sent out daily for assembly on "body-in-white" metal (pre-painted components). The mention of this additional service on your brochures expands your business offerings.

Some other possibilities for expanded business are electropolishing as a surface treatment for stainless steel. Less expensive than chrome flashing and a lot more durable, this alternative is hard to find and easily sold when the customer sees the difference between dull and electropolished parts. Sandblasting/cleaning offers a niche market but one that has not been oversold in the fastener field. Many processes in the plating shop require sand or other media blasting to clean the surface and remove scale and rust before further processing. The blasting/cleaning service can be sold as a separate process and with the further provision that surface impingement also increases fatigue life of treated parts. Finally, another process that you perform routinely but may not have thought of is packaging. Many companies are pressed for time. The ability to repack tub size lots into cartons, palletize them and drop ship is an invaluable service that many customers will gladly pay for. One company has set up a small paint spray booth to paint small stampings. The profit from the one part he picked up has become a major item on his ledger today.

The more services that a plating company can offer, the greater chance of it being chosen over others. In today's world of supplier consolidation and tiering of services, the more services a company offers the greater chance it has for survival into the next decade. The small supplier base that Ford and others are touting as the wave of the future will trickle down to sub-tier suppliers as well. Any increases in the number and types of services that a sub-tier supplier can offer will have nothing but positive benefits. What else can you do to make your company more valuable to your customers?