It’s time again to recognize and honor the cutting-edge innovators in our industry. Over the past few months, we received a number of nominations from across the globe for these awards. We’ve set aside this special article to recognize the greatest achievements in new technology in materials, process, instrumentation and equipment. This year, with our expanded coverage of the plating industry, we also have added an award for the greatest advancement in this technology.
The awards this year go to enterprises ranging from global organizations to a small machine shop in Colorado. It is our distinct honor and pleasure to present the 2007 Finishing Today Innovation Awards.
Innovation Award for Materials:For years, the high-end major appliance industry designers have favored the look of stainless steel. Refrigerators, ranges, ovens, freezers and outdoor grills for the luxury market all sport this look. In spite of the rich aesthetics and perceived quality profile provided by stainless steel, the material itself is not without shortcomings. It discolors with heat, can stain when subjected to some cleaners and has a tendency to show fingerprints. Furthermore, the price of stainless steel has increased significantly over the last couple of years.
Ferro Evolution™ Coatings
Ferro Corp., headquartered in Cleveland, OH, has developed a lower-cost alternative that provides the look of stainless in a ceramic coating. Dubbed Evolution, this coating does not fingerprint and is resistant to common household cleaners. It gives the heat resistance typical of porcelain enamel while maintaining the look of stainless steel. The corrosion resistance and weathering durability of this product have been well documented in laboratory and life-cycle testing. Relatively low-cost steel can be used in conjunction with Evolution to produce an overall lower cost compared to stainless steel without compromising on aesthetics. In addition to a stainless steel-look coating, this product line also has coatings that simulate copper.
Innovation Award for Processing Technology:The concept of using plasma energy to pretreat plastic substrates has been embraced by the finishing industry for years. Plasma energizes the surface that then provides an anchor for various finishes to adhere. Plasmatreat, based in Steinhagen, Germany, with North American offices in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, has taken this innovation further to clean and energize metal surfaces. The impact this technology may have on the coatings industry is monumental.
Plasmatreat Openair® Plasma Pretreatment Technology for Metal
Typically, metal cleaning/pretreatment processes involve the application of a series of heated aqueous solutions that alternately clean, then rinse, then convert, then rinse, then seal and dry the substrate. These process usually are accomplished in three to five steps but can exceed 15 stages in more complicated systems. The stages all require meticulous management of temperature, solids level, pH and other chemical analyses to ensure expected performance. Many stages also require heat to optimize the cleaning or chemical reactions. Furthermore, the processes generate sludge that may contain hazardous materials that require special handling and disposal.
The Plasmatreat technology eliminates all the stages prior to the application of the conversion coating. This process provides an energized hydrophilic surface possessing a contact angle of 15 to 28 degrees. Plasmatreat commercialized this technique at an aluminum coil coating line in Switzerland this past summer. Project engineers estimate that the conversion will eliminate 150 to 180 tons of sludge and wastewater produced at the plant per year.
Innovation Award for Instrumentation:Film thickness measurement is critical to every finishing operation. Performance, aesthetics and economics are all driven by how much coating has been applied to the substrate. Sensory Analytics, headquartered in Greensboro, NC, has pioneered and patented technology that provides real-time, nondestructive measurement of a vast array of inorganic and organic coatings on metallic or non-metallic surfaces. This non-radioactive technology based is capable of precisely measuring thicknesses ranging from 200 nanometers to 200 microns (0.01 to 8.00 mils).
Sensory Analytics SpecMetrix™ Non-Contact Film Thickness Technology
The innovation that the SpecMetrix technology brings is the safety of avoiding radioactive methods and its versatile capability. No other technology can measure such a broad thickness range over so many different substrates. This technique has found use in the automotive, medical devices, building materials, electronics, aviation and packaging industries.
Innovation Award FOR Plating Technology:Direct current acid copper plating has long been used in decorative copper plating applications such as automotive wheels and plumbing fixtures because of its high leveling and bright covering power. However, as with most acidic-based electrolytes, acid copper carries the drawback of poor throwing power. As a result, excessive plating times are required to achieve minimal copper thicknesses in low-current-density areas, and too much copper metal is applied in the high-current areas, leading to wasted metal and added costs. Additionally, complex shapes can be difficult - and sometimes even impossible - to plate. Issues such as high metal prices, high charges to dispose of metal-containing waste, and the need to increase productivity on existing plating lines are forcing many decorative plating companies to look for an alternative.
MacDermid Periodic Pulse Reverse Plating System
One solution is the use of a periodic pulse reverse (PPR) system, also known as pulse plating, developed by MacDermid, Inc., based in Denver, CO. Pulse plating provides exceptional deposit distribution, which reduces metal usage, and it lowers the metal concentration in the electrolyte, which reduces the amount of drag-out losses and sludge produced in waste treatment. It also produces excellent low-current-density brightness, thereby making it easier to plate complex shapes. The brightness and leveling are similar to traditional decorative acid coppers, which makes it an easy replacement for current acid copper systems.
This technology has been commercialized successfully on two continents. One of the largest automotive plating-on-plastics job shops in Europe has been using pulse reverse copper technology for more than a year on a full production line. The company has achieved a net savings of 20% in copper anode and salt materials while producing deposits comparable in leveling and bright throwing power to conventional systems.
The PPR system has also been used for more than a year in full production at a job shop in the Midwest U.S. A significant number of processed parts are for high-end applications and therefore require a very high-quality finish. The company has seen a savings of 20% in copper metal and a 30% reduction in plating time while achieving excellent deposit distribution. It has been able to plate complicated parts more reliably due to the superior bright throwing power at extreme low current densities. Additionally, the company has reaped the benefit of easier bath maintenance.
Innovation Award for Equipment:Robert Miller runs TASROP, Inc., a powder coating job shop at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Florence, CO. It’s part of a full service machine shop he started in 1998. His powder coating operation had always been environmentally friendly; however, the company still had to deal with the high costs and environmental impact associated with disposing of wastewater generated from his metal pretreatment system.
TASROP, Inc. STW Water Filtration System
A local drought spurred Miller to seek a solution, but there didn’t appear to be any technology available to accomplish the job. So he created his own system. The resulting equipment, which he calls the Save the Water (STW) recycling system, reduced his water usage from 16,000 gallons of water per month to 1200 gallons per month, and from three barrels of chemicals per month to one and a half barrels per year - a 90% savings on water and chemicals.
The system processes the contaminated water and chemical solutions though its proprietary filtration system, then refilters the solution continually and pumps it back into the power washer/cleaning system. Miller calculated that a company using 15,000 to 18,000 gallons of water and 165 to 185 gallons of chemical cleaning agent per month could decrease its usage to less than 1,200 gallons of water and 7 gallons of cleaning agent per month by using the new recycling system. Based on that model, a small business could potentially save $17,000 per year - while also helping to protect valuable natural resources.
Editor’s note: Feature articles on the Plasmatreat, TASROP and MacDermid technologies have appeared in past issues of Finishing Today magazine.
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Honorable MentionsAlthough the following companies did not receive awards, their technologies deserve an honorable mention.
Enercon CO2/Plasma Cleaning
Philson Anodize Process
Nissan Repairable Clearcoat
Dow Corning Fluoropolymer/Silicone
Momentive Performance Materials Hardcoat
GAGE No VOC Purge Solvent
Zircotec Ceramic Coating
Coral Chemical Non-Phosphate Pretreatment
Biode Low Shear Viscometer
Arizona Instrument Hg Analyzer
Artomation Panel Sprayer
HunterLab Online Color Measurement System
AdPhos - NIR Curing
Autoquip - Radial Piston Agitator Motor
EXEL - Liquid Paint Color Change
Uyemura - Electroless Nickel Plating for Aluminum
Want to submit a nomination for the 2008 Innovation Awards? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the name of the company, a description of the technology, and a brief explanation of why you think the technology deserves an award. The deadline for the 2008 Innovation Award nominations is September 1, 2008.