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Opening a chrome plating shop
Q. I would like to open a chrome shop my building is 2400 sq ft. Would like some help in knowing about supplier and Government regulations, permits, etc.Bill Crawford
- Temple, Texas
by Weiner & Walmsley
A. Hi, Bill. We don't know your level of experience so it's a bit hard to come up with the best starting point. But please read our Introduction to Chrome Plating and get back to us with more detail on what type of work you envision doing please.
Electroplating was the first EPA categorically regulated industry, and many mid-size plating shops have a full-time person assigned just to environmental and safety compliance issues, so this will be one of the bigger hurdles you'll have to face. We can't summarize in a paragraph what it takes someone all day every day to do, but you probably should start with an environmental course by Lion Technologies, the American Electroplaters and Surface Finishers Society (NASF), or your local community college, as these are designed to introduce you to the structure of government regulations (worker safety, community right to know, hazardous waste collection, wastewater permitting, etc.) that you inquired about.
You should also consider taking a basic electroplating course available from AESF or Kushner Electroplating School to get a good feel for the overall issues.
Best of luck!
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
A. To emphasize the necessity of environmental compliance. From the Los Angeles Times: The owner of a hard chrome plating shop in Compton, CA, was sentenced to 2 years in federal prison and fined $50,000 after being convicted of illegally dumping about 40 drums of hazardous wastes. He had already paid $86,000 to clean up the contaminated area.Ken Vlach
- Goleta, California
Finishing.com honored Ken for his countless helpful,|
well researched responses. He 'disappeared' in 2008
never answering our several inquiries about his
situation. But we believe that this is his obit, and
would greatly appreciate hearing from anyone who
knew him. Rest in peace, Ken. Thank you for your
hard work which we all continue to benefit from.
A. Am I right in thinking that you are thinking of opening a custom chrome plating business? The government regs are just the start. If you are plating chrome then do your customers want the Trivalent chrome or the old traditional Hexavalent Chrome? Most want Hex chrome.
More regulations, as you now have air emissions for a carcinogen. So someone brings you an old sow's ear and says give me a silk purse. Old diecast, sand cast Harley parts, old "triple plate"; the one with the copper layer over steel and then nickel/chrome; a real nice battery, the pits don't spread laterally like a duplex nickel, they drill like a bit into the metal......you have to grind them out after stripping the parts of rust, paint, grease, soil, old plating; copper, nickel, chrome, all separate baths, which now contain a hazardous waste.
So now the part is stripped and polished, oh yes polishing for custom chrome; a good young man's sport. Noisy, dangerous, exacting, artful, boring, eye straining -- looking for the faint line that might show through the plating, so you don't have to either copper buff or nickel buff, because then you have to unrack, buff; hope you do not break through the plating layer, rack again and then send through the entire cleaning cycle and plate as needed.
I used to find that I could get 95% of the job done and then some blistering piece of crap pot metal would drag the whole order down. Rejects is what kills most platers, either time spent fixing them or the bad word of mouth it creates. I do not miss it, but did well, supported my family many a year doing it. Loved the art, hated the work.
You cannot charge enough! Aim high and turn 80% of the work offered away; it's either too sick or the customer too cheap. Another common is that the customer sent the car/bike out to paint or motor overhaul last week or a year ago. This says either I am going to bug the crap out of you for my plating or I am not picking it up for a year because the rest of my [I make too much money and have no life] will not be ready until next year.
Suggestion: get 1/2 down before you work on the metal, and take only cash on completion of the order! Charge for storage! Not even discussed is keeping the plating chemistry in line ... chemist needed! Sorry to be downbeat but this is a business that looks lucrative but the landscape is filled with land mines.Jon Quirt
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
+++ -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread
Q. I was wondering what type of tools and other materials you would need to open your own chrome shop? I would like to open one in my area and I don't know where to start, as far as getting things that I would need. Please give me a list and a detailed description of how to go about it.
Thank you,Cole Wilson
- Elkton, Kentucky
To start with, read the responses that are above your letter. Then use the search engine for a few of the previous answers to the question. Your request is somewhat the same as me saying that I want to be a brain surgeon, where do I buy the stuff so that I can do it in my office.
This is a bit harsh, but it does have some logic to it: forget about the equipment until you have done research on what the EPA is going to expect and check. Then you need to do some serious research on how to use what you will need to do whatever type of chrome plating you intend to do.
Do not expect a bank to loan you money. A court case several years ago decided that since they loaned the money, they are part owner of the shop and are responsible for any fine that you have to pay that is above your ability to pay.
I.e., huge huge fiscal risk that they will not take. To have a shop that might possibly make a go of it, will take upwards of $250,000 and that is with used equipment.James Watts
- Navarre, Florida
A. Best advise I can give you is go work for someone in a custom chrome plating shop. Offer to rack, clean the shop whatever. Look at all the hassles. Look at all the money going out, not just the money coming in. Look at the expertise required in stripping, polishing, plating, environmental control. Not to mention a customer base that will drive you crazy.
I ignored this same advise 25 years ago and bought a twice-bankrupt shop, after a year I was ready to get out ... took two more years to do so. It went broke two more times after I sold it. I moved and had to set up another one to feed my family, lots of old nickel trim for wood stoves in Maine. I have always thought that if I did it again I would set up to do special die cast repair. Zinc based die cast so very popular in old cars. Pits like the dickens when old. I saw work from a company in Canada that literally made me fall off my chair. A guy was restoring a Jag and the chrome on the trunk was very pitted. I plated this thing several times but could not grind all the pits out nor plate enough copper to buff it smooth. He sent this part to Canada to a special die cast shop. It took nine months and cost him $100.00 (Today's money about $450.00) The part was perfect!
I called them up to express my awe and they were open and told me what they do and invited me to come learn, I should have, but what they did was to 1) Grind off the old plating (Stripping they said just caused too many new pits) 2) Using a dental burr they milled out the corrosion in all of the pits. The deep pits were filled with a die cast rod they made from a scrap piece of die cast. 3) Using an alcohol lamp and a blow pipe they filled the deep pits with die cast. They said this was difficult as the die cast gives no warning of melting and destroying the part. 4) They would copper strike the part and acid copper plate it. 5) buff the part, pushing the hills in to the valleys (moving metal to cover pits) 6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14, is repeating the copper plating and buffing, yep like nine times! Some pits will still show, 15) use a little tin/lead solder on the copper plate and continue to plate. Blistering is a problem, grind them out and start over, blending layers until not visible. Once perfect in the copper plate phase 16), nickel, 17) chrome.
What was nice in this scheme is that most of the die cast parts were small, or at least smaller that bumpers and grills. This meant that smaller tanks could be used and that is a very big cost savings in setting up. Careful not to go too small with the tanks; smaller tanks will have more chemical swing. Small soak and electroclean, small rinses, small copper strike, bigger acid copper (due to metal depletion) good size nickel (HARD CHEMISTRY FOR A JOB SHOP, to maintain brighteners) Not too big chrome (Hex chrome).Jon Quirt
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
!! Wow! I had never given any thought to opening my own chrome shop...but after Jon's replies it rates up there with being a nearsighted proctologist or flak jacket tester. Makes me wonder about the dinky local chroming shops and their compliance with the regulations.Jason Aube
- Flint, Michigan
Hey guys thank for the Info. Bill Crawford again. I worked as a polisher 20 years ago; the guy that owned the shop didn't let you know about the biz.
Went to Florida and met with AESF they gave me a good contact with someone local. We are talking to a environmental consulting firm. We have 7 acres to build on.
Thank you Jon, Ted, Ken, Jason.Bill Crawford [returning]
- Temple, Texas
March 16, 2013
Hi Bill. I see that you already understand the business. Best of luck with it.
For readers who are unfamiliar with plating, I think the advice to take a job in a chrome shop, at least for a summer, is priceless. Without a feel for the day-to-day, it's very hard to know whether you'll like it. And if taking a job a hundred miles away for a few months is too much effort, you're definitely not ready to own a chrome shop :-)
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey