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topic 18798

Small line operation


I have spent the better part of the morning browsing your site. ...and what a handsome, well educated, dog lovin' community you have. It is especially interesting when a home plater sticks his head out of the foxhole....Nothing appears to scare this group more than the words "home", "garage", "plating" and "defendant". This is particularly evident when the first three are used in the same sentence. And rightfully so.

The fact is, there will be folks that set up small lines in their garage/shop/basement. There are many sites that explain how to do this. Some better than others. I have yet to see a site/forum that spends any energy informing these folks on HOW to run a clean, safe, ecologically responsible operation.

It would be great to see this forum inform them of effective ways to handle rinsewater, small line containment, properly dispose of waste and possibly shut down their lines safely if they are unable to operate them safely. All I have discovered here is cautionary finger wagging and links to out-of-print books. It would be great to see/read examples of well run small lines.

You have a wonderful forum and I look forward to your response...meanwhile, me and the dog are going back to the foxhole.

Gregg Z.
- Oregon

First of four simultaneous responses--2002

Gregg, pre-1974, things would be different. But electroplating has for a long time been "categorically regulated". It doesn't matter how small the shop is, how clean, or how well run: it is a regulated hazardous facility which generates hazardous waste, and every single drop of rinsewater is "categorically regulated". As New Jersey's former governor declared: "'Toxic' is a matter of statute, not opinion". So, when you ask how to run a clean, safe, ecologically responsible garage operation, part of the answer is that the question may be moot because government agents consider such a plating shop unsafe, ecologically irresponsible, and a toxic waste generator no matter what you do.

Last month a friend who runs an exemplary shop was inspected twice by different divisions of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection. As they leave, each presents him with a bill for $1200 for their time, to be paid on the spot. If he did not have the $2400 available in the bank his shop might have been padlocked, or he might even have been arrested for not being flush enough to support an ever-growing DEP bureaucracy. That's the way it is ("Polluters, not the public, should pay for the inspections!"), and the way today's public demands that plating shops be dissed -- so what advice could be more important than to think twice before starting up.

Yes, it is an unfortunate economic reality that many plating books are going out of print, but we do offer links to many good books and journals. The Metal Finishing Guidebook is a great intro to the entire subject and free or very cheap. And we have many articles on line, like my "Plating Shops for the 90's and Beyond", that offer exactly the advice your inquiry asks for.

This is a commercial website, made possible by the plating shops and suppliers who advertise here. We (by which I mean our readers, not just the site operators) have answered thousands upon thousands of questions from students, homeowners, hobbyists, artists, amateur platers, and regulators. Plus third world competitors, and OEMs anxious to learn just enough to be able to stop buying plating in the western world and get it all done in southeast Asia. But no matter how much of ourselves we offer to those who haven't spent a nickel for the help, some members of all these groups feel we are shortchanging them :-)

Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Second of four simultaneous responses-- 2002

Greg: You are correct that there will be many who will set up small scale plating operations. I'm one of them!

The way I deal with my waste is to not make any. Beside each tank is a rinse bucket. When the parts come out of the tank they go into the distilled water rinse bucket, from there I spray the part off either over the tank or the rinse bucket with a squirt bottle of distilled water. Hence, no waste. When my baths get low from evaporation I refresh them with the water in the rinse bucket and fill the bucket back up with fresh distilled water.

My cleaners are all cleaners that can be bought at Home depot for kitchen cleaning. They are safe for the tube. Chromic acid misting is dealt with by a proprietary fume supressant that reduces the surface tension of the bath. When I pull my anodes, I store them in the rinse bucket. It's all a big closed loop cycle that way. I did have some hydrochloric and sulfuric acid that I took to the city on a haz-mat day. No problems. Take a look in the FAQ area of and you will find more helpful info.

Hope this helps. Tom

Tom H
- Arizona

Third of four simultaneous responses-- 2002

Hi Gregg, I would encourage you to enroll in a electroplating course such as offered by Kushner Electroplating School or find a job with an actual plating shop. This will help lower the learning curve a little.

However, the cold hard fact is that electroplating is not a casual undertaking. It is an extremely large learning curve for anyone to consider. For example, the requirements for successful gold plating are very different from those for chrome plating. Each could take years to become proficient at. There are many examples, just ask someone who only plates nickel how long it took them to be successful. The equipment, plating chemistries, and layout for small scale non-automated plating are significantly different than automated operations.

In addition and without being a smart alec here, Gregg, to do this vocation well (full or part time) and safely you will require the skill of a chemist, the keen observation of a police detective, the patience of a saint, the tenacity of mountain climber and all the ingenuity of a street smart cop to have a chance of making it succeed financially or technically. But if you are serious about this endeavor read, read, read. Unless you have some experience already, the internet(and this forum) is not the venue to learn small scale electroplating. Join organizations relating to metal finishing and network with the people in the plating trade by attending a electroplating convention. Become familiar with the best and safest plating chemistries for small scale plating. Contact the suppliers who provide them. Read their literature and experiment on a small scale. Take advantage of the free literature available from the suppliers. Furthermore, in my experience, most every one I have met in the metal finishing business are generous with their time and information and will help once you are knowledgable with the fundamentals.

No one I know is "scared" by garage plating operations unless it is operated by someone who is endangering themselves and their neighbors by using chemistries which could cause harm to them via improper disposal or release of dangerous fumes, or exposure to the family members of the plater,i.e., cyanide perhaps. This should be real concern to any prudent person. However, as a primer and depending on what your type of plating your are interested in, I would suggest that you become really familiar with the theory and basics of electrochemistry, start with "Electrodeposition, the material science of coatings and substrates" by Jack Dini, Noyes publication, Park Ridge New Jersey. An excellent starting point and not outdated. Also get a copy of the "Electroplating Engineering Handbook" and make it your constant reading companion. If your are not familiar or don't remember your high school chemistry and principles, now is the time to relearn it. Most of all don't get discouraged by this seemingly huge effort, you are building a "plating knowledge franchise" here and you won't make the "playoffs" overnight even with diligent effort. As a final comment, besides the huge start-up costs, the hardest part will be translating all your newly acquired plating knowledge into practical applications. How will you select the size and scale of your plating baths and rinsing operations, is the plating bath hot enough, are there enough metal ions present, is the bath conductiviy impacting my plating rate, what is causing the delamination of the plating, how do I know when to replenish my plating bath, is the waveform of my rectifier appropriate for my application, the issues seem to be endless and often the answers are learned by experience only. After 30 years of this, most of us are still learning.

Best of luck, get out of the fox hole and learn the art of electroplating through your own good efforts. Most of us will try to help you when possible.

David Vinson
Metal Arts Specialties - Leonard, Michigan

Fourth of four simultaneous responses-- 2002

Gregg, Your letter is interesting and mostly true, but significantly oversimplified.

First, small is what, one pint tanks or 55 gal plastic drums. It is very difficult to describe an operation with that much variability. Education is great, but not everything. I have seen people with a sixth sense and little technical training do a superior job on plating. I have seen over educated people that were a disaster on a line. The point here is that any information given needs to be directed to the level of the individual and absolutely not to the "masses".

Second, most home platers want to jump into plating with grossly inadequate homework. Third, they do not want to spend enough money to do a minimal job. Waste treatment and exhaust are expensive to set up and to operate. Most do not want to hear about the need for excellent rinsing. A significant number of people want to anodize with battery acid and a 12 volt battery charger [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] . You have to be very good to get repeatable results and the anodize thickness is quite thin with poor reproducability.

Third, some of us worry about liability if something bad happens. I do not want your dependents suing me because you did something and were seriously injured or dead from a preventable boo boo.

Forth, Most people can not afford a minimal lab. How can you control a process without testing. Some could not use it if they had one.

Fifth, very few home platers want to even hear about shipping off a drum of waste to a certified facility at a cost of $500 and up. In this same area, I could not use Draino or even pour a coke in the drain that went to the sanitary sewer because it was in the same building as the plating line and had not been treated. If you sell, barter or trade one piece of plated or anodized material, you are a business and are expected to comply with all of the same regulations that I had to comply with. If you butcher a part for a "friend", all they have to do is talk to the city and /or the EPA and your fines will be massive. Think about plating one part for a person and have that person talk to someone that brags to an overzealous official about his good deal and you could be looking at huge fines. Is it really worth it? Horror stories, grossly exaggerated, finger pointing, nasty or what ever term is used, most professionals are in a lose-lose situation if they put out blanket information and OH, by the way, that help is expected to be free. My criteria for helping home platers was "recontact me when you have a haz waste shipping number". Then I know that the person is serious, and yes, I have helped several.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida


thumbs up signAll,

Thank you for your thoughtful responses to my previous post. Good advice and points to ponder.

Gregg Z.
- Oregon



Take a look at title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This may give you an idea what you're up against. And this is just federal. I'm sure your area has state and local regulations as well...

George Brackett III
- Utica, New York

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