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8/1/2000 | 13 MINUTE READ

MFSA Celebrates 75

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The Metal Finishing Suppliers' Association marked its 75th Anniversary on June 26-29, 2000, during AESF SUR/FIN in Chicago.

MFSA is the trade organization representing United States and Canadian suppliers to the electroplating and surface finishing industries. It is comprised of companies that supply metals, chemicals, equipment and services to firms performing electroplating and associated operations.

MFSA traces its beginning to the formation of its predecessor organization, the International Fellowship Club (IFC). This took place on June 28, 1925, concurrent with the American Electroplaters' Society (AES*) Convention, held in Montreal that year. At a luncheon meeting attended by 19 suppliers on the first day of the convention, the founders envisioned a new, rather informal organization that would represent persons who sell equipment and chemicals to electroplaters. IFC provided camaraderie, good times and the opportunity for sales persons and others to "talk shop."

The founders of the organization were Charles H. Proctor, Frank J. Clark, R.H. Sliter, N.P. Hunter, C.J. Moyen, Thomas B. Hadow, Harry C. Flanagan, Rudy J. Hazucha, S.L. Cole, Frank Terrio, Thomas A. Trumbour, G.A. Tanner, W.G. Stoddard, Benjamin Popper, W.M. Schneider, Van Winkle Todd, Wilfred S. McKeon, George E. Lawrence and John C. Oberender. The last three were selected as chairman, vice-chairman and secretary.

The custom of having a luncheon for all members on the first day of the AES Convention began on the day of the organizational meeting. There is still a luncheon and Annual Meeting for MFSA members during the American Electroplaters and Surface Finishers Annual "Sur/Fin" Conference and Exhibit.

IFC elected a president, vice president and secretary each year. The organization collected no dues and had no treasurer in its earliest days. Membership was restricted to persons actively engaged in selling to the industry.

In 1929 the organization began charging dues of $5.00 for each member in order to give an "Open House Party" on the first evening of each AES Annual Convention. In subsequent years IFC expanded its social program to include a golf tournament and entertainment for ladies attending the Convention.

In these years AES often called upon IFC to make up deficits incurred by AES conventions, each of which was controlled by local branches. IFC members solicited contributions from their companies to pay off these deficits.

In 1951, during its Annual Meeting in Buffalo, NY, more than 200 persons representing 67 firms decided that the times demanded something more than IFC. They approved a resolution calling for formation of a trade association called the "Metal Finishing Suppliers' Association" (MFSA) and bestowed upon it corporate status.

Bylaws called for promoting the common interests of supplier companies. They specified that members would be companies rather than individuals, and that each member company would be entitled to one vote regardless of its size.

The first officers and trustees put into place a structure calling for member companies to pay dues based upon annual sales volume. Each company specified its own sales-dollar range, and the treasurer of MFSA billed the company accordingly.

From its inception, MFSA sought to promote the idea that all the associations involved in electroplating and surface finishing should work together for the common good. Thus, MFSA worked closely with AES, the National Association of Metal Finishers (NAMF), the American Society for Electroplated Plastics, Bumper Refinishers of North America and others associated with electroplating. MFSA worked to maintain and improve good business practices and to recognize that while its members are competitors, much can be accomplished by cooperation to improve the industry and make it grow. It continued to sponsor parties and camaraderie.

MFSA grew as the industry prospered. Auto manufacturers in particular provided increasing sales for suppliers of equipment and chemicals required to electroplate bumpers, bright trim and many functional parts for the expanding production of cars. These were good times. The cars of those days had a plethora of plated bright trim. Every car had two brightly plated steel bumpers, some of which were very large. Huge brightly plated grilles decorated the faces of many cars. By 1958, the prospering supply industry included 176 MFSA members, among them all the largest and most prominent in the industry.

Unfortunately in those days of expanding production, there was a shortage of metals, particularly nickel. Many platers—captive and contract—desperately sought to "stretch" the nickel available by reducing deposit thicknesses. Because of the high demand, the shortages and the sub-standard deposit thicknesses, catastrophic corrosion of bumpers and trim became commonplace, and "electroplating" became synonymous with "rust," "corrosion" and "poor quality."

Suppliers and the automotive producers worked on the problems. Technical people invented, innovated and soon developed multi-layer nickel plating and microdiscontinuous chromium. They improved accelerated test methods so that more accurate predictions of which deposit combinations would improve corrosion resistance in actual service could be made.

MFSA also recognized the problem and launched its "Quality Metal Finishing Project" (QMF) in 1963. QMF encompassed the publication of "Quality Metal Finishing Guides" and the presentation of seminars to inform automobile producers and other large end users of electroplating. The goal was to encourage use of products, processes and techniques that would improve corrosion resistance and thus eliminate the industry's image of "cheap" and "poor quality."

Until this time, MFSA and IFC had been all-volunteer organizations. Now because of the workload brought on by QMF, in 1962 the officers and directors decided to hire an executive director and to open a central office. Members who supported QMF made additional substantial annual contributions to pay the expenses of the project.

MFSA presented its first QMF seminar in Milwaukee, WI, in September 1963. This was followed by presentations in various cities. MFSA invited not only electroplaters but also designers and engineers from end-user companies. Speakers from MFSA supplier companies showed how bumpers, decorative hardware and other plated products should be designed for better plateability and plated with adequate deposit thicknesses. They recommended use of new multi-layer nickel plating, microdiscontinuous chromium and the latest in zinc plating and other processes to achieve better protection from corrosion and longer service life.

They based their speeches on the standards and practices outlined in the Quality Metal Finishing Guides. These publications resulted from cooperative efforts among supplier technical people, who agreed upon the deposit thicknesses, plating practices and test procedures necessary to produce high-quality corrosion-resistant electroplated products.

The first QMF publication was "A Guide to Copper-Nickel-Chromium and Nickel-Chromium Plating." MFSA distributed thousands of copies free to those who could use the information to improve the quality of plated products.

MFSA urged members of the National Association of Metal Finishers (NAMF) to cooperate and adhere to QMF standards and practices in their plating shops. Those who did received framed QMF Certificates to display in their offices.

Many other Guides followed—on zinc, cadmium, tin and tin-lead, mass finishing, electroless nickel and other plating and finishing processes. These guides to better plating quality are still updated and made available to the trade.

Corrosion resistance did improve quite markedly, and over the years durability has become ever better. In recent years, brightly plated wheelssubjected to terribly corrosive conditions in servicehave become the hallmark of premium automobiles.

Throughout this period, MFSA was growing in membership and stature, becoming a true trade association.

In the '60s, MFSA recognized that many of its members had another problem: outsized entertainment expenses. To promote their company's sales to electroplaters attending the conventions and local and regional AES meetings, many suppliers had hospitality suites and parties in the evenings. Each year the parties became more elaborateand ever more expensive. Marketing managers were playing "Can you top this?"

Ultimately the suppliers recognized that more and better parties were not necessarily in their collective best interests. Maybe camaraderie had gone too far. They agreed to jointly fund social events at conventions through MFSA and to discourage the practice of individual companies hosting elaborate parties. Most MFSA suppliers accepted the concept of "joint hospitality" with a sigh of relief. Companies that contributed funds to make jointly sponsored social events possible were listed on signs displayed prominently at the entrances to the events.

Eventually, joint hospitality evolved to presentation of a large evening reception for those attending the AES Annual Convention, often at a venue such as an aquarium or a presidential library. Joint hospitality became the norm at local and regional AES events as well, and MFSA representatives supervised the funding and structure of receptions for these occasions. Entertainment of convention attendees and camaraderie among suppliers continued to be important missions for MFSA.

Internally, MFSA was developing other member benefits. The executive director began to send out surveys to learn more about markets. He asked members at regular intervals to construct an index of collective sales volume, for example, and to begin tracking sales of various chemicals and equipment. The results became a barometer of industry health, and each member could determine how his company's sales compared with the industry as a whole.

Other member services were instituted, including a credit exchange, which allows members to exchange information about customers' payment practices. The organization began to provide a "hotline" so that chemical-spill problems could be referred to knowledgeable experts. A library of films about various business subjects was developed, so that members could borrow films, and in later years, videos, for sales meetings and training.

MFSA's newsletter informed members of what was happening in the industry and within the organization. Trade magazines in the finishing industry began carrying columns describing MFSA activities.

During the late '70s and early '80s, MFSA produced a series of seminars on Pollution Abatement and OSHA, which were presented in various local areas. These were geared toward educating customers on issues of compliance with the steady stream of regulations emanating from various government agencies. Speakers and panelists were experts from MFSA member companies.

MFSA began presenting other seminars on subjects of interest to its members, such as shipment of hazardous chemicals, packaging and so on. To facilitate camaraderie among its supplier members, the organization held its own biennial conventions for members only, apart from AESF functions. MFSA also spearheaded the formation of the Surface Finishing Market Research Board (SFMRB), a jointly funded committee that develops and produces surveys to determine size of markets, growth rates, expected future business conditions, etc.

Throughout all these years, and to this day, MFSA has relied heavily upon volunteers from its member companies to provide the information for its publications, speak at its seminars, design and collect market information and for many other tasks. Amazing feats have been achieved by suppliers setting aside their competitive concerns long enough to cooperate for the general enhancement of their industry.

In the '90s, MFSA began to cooperate more closely with NAMF and AESF in funding a governmental regulatory liaison. NAMF had pioneered the practice of hiring a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. At first, the objective was to defend plating shops from efforts by the EPA to institute draconian regulations. There were many contentious meetings and even some lawsuits.

The objective of the Washington representation now is to make sure the industry is represented at committee hearings where legislation affecting platers and suppliers is developed and to work with EPA in making sure that regulations are fair and scientifically achievable. The Washington lobbying firm also informs members of regulations being considered, as well as those recently adopted.

MFSA had long worked with NAMF in providing technical expertise and advice for NAMF's Government Relations (GR) Committee. In the '90s, the relationship became more formal as MFSA began making annual financial contributions to NAMF's GR activities. Both MFSA and AESF became partners with NAMF in funding Washington representation.

In recent years, the industry organizations have worked together to present the Annual Surface Finishing Industry Legislative Conference, held each year in September, in Washington, D.C. Eighty to 100 finishers and suppliers meet to visit and lobby their senators and representatives.

In the past 15 years, the plating industry has consolidated, with electroplaters not willing to shoulder the burden of pollution control closing their doors. Suppliers as well as platers have been merging with one another in response to static markets for plating and plating supplies and to achieve economies of scale. Design trends that resulted in the use of much less bright work on autos decimated a portion of the industry, although electronics and other functional applications spurred growth in other areas of plating.

As growth of markets slowed and consolidation took place, membership of all the industry associations fell. This resulted in financial stress. While sound financial management resulted in marked improvement of MFSA's net worth in the '90s, the funding needs of various projects such as Washington representation and market research continued to escalate for MFSA as well as its sister societies. For this reason, the trade associations formed the Surface Finishing Industry Council (SFIC), a group comprised primarily of officers of MFSA, AESF and NAMF. The objective has been to lower costs for all the associations by consolidation of activities and elimination of duplication. SFIC also oversees jointly funded activities such as Washington representation and SFMRB.

SFIC has actively pursued proposals for merging trade organizations. On January 1, 1998, MFSA became the National Supplier Affiliate of the NAMF. The two organizations now share office space and administrative functions, providing economies of scale for both. Merging with AESF has proved to be much more difficult and thus far has been elusive.

As MFSA enters the new millennium, its emphasis will be upon expanding and nurturing the markets it serves. To accomplish this, MFSA will continue to support the industry's GR efforts and its mission to work with government in encouraging development of cost-effective and scientifically sound regulations. MFSA also facilitates customers' use of the EPA Goals Program.

MFSA will develop more accurate market indices, providing reliable market information. Such information will be disseminated via, the association's Internet site, which will be updated and improved so that it is recognized as a vital tool for all supplier companies in the dot-com age.

MFSA also plans to improve its efforts to market electroplating and allied finishing processes more effectively to designers, specifiers and engineers. In 2001, MFSA will sponsor a trade show to attract prospects and customers who can make its markets grow by specifying more plating and other surface finishes. The conference part of this show will consist of presentations describing innovative ways to make products last longer, function better and be more attractive, by using the latest in finishing technology. The exhibit will show examples of electroplating as well as electroless processes that accomplish these aims. The end result: increased business for platers, increased sale of supplies and equipment, more durable and more attractive finished products, satisfied customers, better recognition of a technology that enhances product life and lessens waste, thus protecting the environment.

MFSA expects that consolidation and change will continue in its industry and within its own ranks. Efforts to eliminate duplication of efforts and save money for all the trade associations by working together in SFIC will be a necessity.

Ongoing aggressive programs to develop and promote member benefits that will attract new members will be escalated. One example of this is to encourage more member companies and new members to use the successful credit exchange program. This internet-based service gives supplier members information about customers' and prospects' payment practices.

Most importantly, MFSA plans to set the standard for integrity and principled business practices in the finishing industry. In dealing with one another and with environmental matters and governmental agencies, a set of "Guiding Principles" now being developed will set a voluntary standard for member companies. It will demonstrate this industry's desire to set a good example in voluntarily improving environmental and work practices.

Finally, MFSA will not lose sight of its original purpose—to promote fellowship and camaraderie among its competing supplier members. To this end, the MFSA Board will emphasize activities that encourage its members to become more involved in the organization.

*Later to be renamed the American Electroplaters and Surface Finishers Society (AESF)