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Historical Articles

January, 1953 issue of Plating


Better Electroplating Practice

Joseph B. Kushner
Director, Joseph B. Kushner Electroplating School, Stroudsburg, PA

THE PAST twenty years have witnessed tremendous strides in electroplating techniques. Day by day, new processes and new methods have appeared that simplify the work of the plater. A promising start has been made in the application of atomic energy to plating problems and ahead lies a wonderful vista of astonishing scientific developments for helping the plater do things better. Theoretically, then, plating results should be better than ever—to paraphrase the movie slogan—but unfortunately that is not always true.

There are plating plants big and small, where hundreds and even thousands of dollars are wasted every week, in time, material and effort, on poor plating results. With monotonous regularity plating solutions go out of kilter, knocking production for a loss; with the same monotonous regularity blistering, peeling, cracking, spotting and staining raise their ugly heads to give both plater and management nightmares. And by the same token, poorly plated work goes out, to bring down the wrath of the customer on the plater in question and on plating in general.

Why should plating continue to suffer from the same ills that have plagued it since its beginning when we today have at our command the best that science and technology can give us? Simply because better plating practice, which is the basis for better plating results, does not depend on streamlined equipment, fancy machines or atomic doohickies. It depends on human beings. This truism is so obvious it is often overlooked. Platitude or not, however, no matter how clever the gadgets or how modern the equipment, if the platers who operate the machines and control the processes don’t perform in the right way, results will continue to be poor.

The answer to the problem lies not in the physical sciences but in the psychological sciences. The way to better plating is to better the practices of the people who practice it.

This straightforward solution to the problem ,of better plating is not, however, the one usually chosen by management. Only recently has management begun to look around a bit in the uncharted fields of psychology and human relationships. More often than not management has decided that it is much easier and quicker to build and change machines than to build and change human behavior. To that end, it unendingly seeks to eliminate “the human element.” And in a way, management cannot be blamed. A machine will not go on strike, will not be envious of its fellow machine, will not be careless and negligent, will not pull production boners because its mind is on the Third at Hialeah or a nagging wife.

Thus we read in the news about projected “human- less” factories operated by “electronic brains”; about “thinking machines” that are so complex they can no longer be tended by a technician—they need a psychiatrist. And in university and industrial research laboratories men burn the proverbial midnight oil to perfect machines that perform like humans but don’t act like them. It’s an unhappy paradox that we’re’ working mighty hard at the business of putting ourselves out of business because people don’t believe in people.

Luckily, plating is complicated and it will be a while before the machines take it over tank, bus bar and generator. This gives the plater an opportunity to improve his practices and to prove to management that it might be better to invest in men instead of machines. With this end in mind, a study into what can be done to improve practices is indicated.

1. Take an active interest in the work. Plating is one of the most fascinating of all industrial arts. A world of mystery and miracles lies in the plating tank in front of them but many platers are oblivious of it, They stand and dip, walk and dip, stand and dip, walk and dip like automatons. To them it is a physically tiring and ennui producing job and nothing else. Tiring it may be, but boring—never. A plater who takes a mechanical attitude towards his work is imitating a machine and a machine is much more efficient at that than he is. On the other hand if a plater is actively interested in what he is doing, if he gives thought to it, no machine in the world can imitate him,

What does taking an active interest in the work mean? It means (a) thinking about the work and (b) learning more about it.

The thinking this writer refers to is not the “molded” variety which passes for the genuine article but the real thing, the kind produced by brain sweat. “Molded” thinking is rampant today. As a typical example of what is meant, consider the way public opinion is formed: People read a scare headline. “My,” they say, “this is awful” and after glancing at a few lines at the top of the column go on to the sports column or some other item. They have formed an opinion without true thought in those few seconds. On the other hand, if they had take the trouble to read down through the fine print to the bottom and then to read between the lines they would have discovered that the scare headline was tendentious to the point of almost being misleading. It is in this way that public opinion is molded these days by newspaper publishers who appear to feel that people hate to think. And in a similar manner, opinionated radio and television commentators subtly or otherwise, mold people’s thinking, using hot air pressure instead of the press.

“Molded” thinking sometimes occurs in plating as it does elsewhere. An expert writes something or designs a piece of plating equipment. The statements he makes may sometimes be dead wrong yet they may be printed and reprinted for years as gospel truth and accepted as such by non-thinking platers. Or the piece of equipment may have the most inefficient design ever conceived yet it is manufactured and used year after year by some of the industry, without question, because of lack of thought about it. The point , the plater must look below the surface, have a little healthy skepticism, think for himself. This kind of thinking can prevent much of the waste and inefficiency that is prevalent in many plating plants today.

Many platers give lip service to the idea of learning more about their work. They say, “I read PLATING religiously every month” when actually, they skim through it in five minutes, then pick up the comics or turn on the television set. Or they say, “I took a course in analyzing solutions. What more do I need?” What more indeed! A course in the analysis of plating solutions does not teach one about plating which is an odd mixture of a little electricity, a little chemistry and metallurgy, a little hydraulics and a lot of common sense. Analysis, while helpful in controlling plating baths, is usually learned by rote and does not give one an insight to the basic principles of plating.

Another lame excuse often advanced is, “I never got beyond grammar school. How can I learn anything about such a difficult subject?” Or, “If I had an opportunity to take a course I really would. I just haven’t the opportunity.” These excuses are just so much mental hogwash. A man who wants to learn more about his work does not need a college degree to do so and there are available today excellent residence courses in the metropolitan centers and good textbooks for self study for those who live away from the larger industrial areas.

An interesting lesson can be learned from the results of a contest which was run not so long ago, in which two free scholarships were offered in a home study training course in electroplating. Although this contest was publicized extensively and there are at least 60,000 production workers in the general plating field there were only about 200 entries. Of these, approximately 30 per cent were from production workers. The balance or more than twice as many, came from company executives, supervisors, chemists and engineers of whom there may be 6,000 as compared to the 60,000 production workers. One must conclude that this interest and desire to learn is what puts the executive where he is. Conversely, lack of interest and desire to learn is what keeps the tank man where he is!

2. Be willing to accept new ideas. In this world everything changes. What was good enough for a man’s father is not necessarily good enough for the man. A plater must be willing to accept new ideas if they have merit, a plater must be willing to adopt new methods if they are better. It is a question of the open mind versus the closed one. If the plater does not make way for progress but instead blocks its path, as the saying goes, he is bound to get run over.

It is this writer’s feeling that some of the men in the plating industry are rather backward about accepting new ideas. It is based on personal experience as a consultant only and no fancy statistics can be given to prove it but the following facts are offered for what they are worth: At a talk before a group of about sixty platers not so long ago, the writer posed the question, “How many of you use the Hull Cell for controlling your plating baths?” Only four hands were raised yet this simple aid to better results was made available more than ten years ago. Another question, aimed at the chromium platers, of which there must have been at least thirty present, asked “How many of you control the sulfate ratio by means of the bent cathode test?” Only one hand was raised! Yet this excellent control technique appeared in the literature over twenty years ago.

To drive the point home a more recent experience may be of interest. An article describing a simple device for measuring surface tension, developed by the writer with the plater in mind, appeared in an issue of PLATING. It was spread over three pages with an easy to understand story, a photograph and some diagrams. The writer received something like five inquiries as a direct result of the article. In a completely unrelated chemical magazine, lost in the middle of a page, were five lines of small type describing this new development. There were more than three hundred inquiries from this five line column and they are still coming in.

The plater must overcome mental inertia if he is to produce the best plating results.

3. Treat the other fellow as you would want to be treated yourself. The Golden Rule is the secret of good teamwork in the plating plant as it is everywhere else. More than anything, a human being wants recognition - of one form or another, from his fellows. A human being wants to feel that he is needed and he wants to know that his work is recognized, no matter how slight his contribution may be. Give him that recognition, make him feel he is wanted and he’ll give the best that is in him to whatever the group effort may be. It is a proven psychological fact that men like to work in groups and that they work best in groups, but if the Golden Rule is not practiced in these relationships, results suffer.

The writer knows of a large plant on the Eastern seaboard where they have the latest production plating machines spread out over thousands of square feet of floor space. They lave a beautifully equipped laboratory complete with two chemists and a laboratory assistant. But every Monday and Wednesday something goes wrong. If it isn’t peeling or blistering it is flaking or discoloring. If a week goes by and they haven’t lost at least $1,000 in production it’s considered a minor miracle. They have the best equipment, the machines, the laboratory so why should this be? The answer is—no Golden Rule. There’s no recognition of effort, no spirit of teamwork, only intrigue, discontent and suspicion. If a tank worker gets an idea, he feels his superior will grab the credit if it’s a good one but will blame it on him if it misfires. The shift foremen mistrust the chemists and the chemists suspect the foremen of “foul play” and so it goes in an ever-widening vicious circle. At present this plant is making so much money it can afford to overlook the loss of a mere $1,000 a week or so but some day when pennies have to be pinched a little tighter, heads are going to roll. Not just those of the straw executives but those of the big shots as well because the production poisons of fear and hate spread from the top down and not from the bottom up.

Another attitude that is disruptive of teamwork in the plating plant is secretiveness. The day of abracadabra and hocus-pocus in electroplating vanished with the five-cent cigar but there are still many platers who don’t realize it. There are still many foremen and supervisors who feel that teaching their apprentices and helpers something about what they are doing would be worse than sending the secrets of the “H” Bomb to Russia. This “now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t” attitude is one that prevails in many plating plants. This writer is familiar with it not only by direct experience and observation but in a second handed way through the letters which cross the writer’s desk in the daily routine of conducting a correspondence training course in electroplating. To quote from a recent letter: “The man in charge of plating in our plant puts out very little information which would help anyone gain any knowledge of plating”. Unfortunately, letters of this type outweigh by at least two to one those heaping praise on the foremen for being willing to share their knowledge and experience.

A plater who has to hold on to his job by secretiveness, bluff and double talk in the presence of his helpers should remember the wise words of Booker T. Washington: “You can’t hold a man down unless you stay down with him”.

4. Work at the job not for what can be gotten out of it but for what can be put into it. This principle, as old as the Sermon on the Mount, has been the basis for the success of all great men—whether measured in happiness or dollars. Many a plater will take on a job asking,’ How much will it pay me” rather than” how much can I produce”? It is true that men have to eat, and also want the creature comforts for themselves and their loved ones, but when they sell their services at the highest market price they should keep in mind that by giving more than is demanded they will get more in the end. On the other hand, if the cart of money is placed before the horse of effort, progress is understandably slow.

Even though congeniality and a friendly atmosphere will cover a multitude of sins no one likes to work continuously under unpleasant physical conditions. While plating plants may never get to look like those spotless drug factories where “No Human Hand Touches Your Aspirin” there is no reason why plating shops lave to be the filthy wet holes that some of them are. People react to their surroundings. Put even a good man in a sloppy set-up and the chances are before long that he’ll be doing sloppy work. It is never safe to generalize but in this writer’s experience it is these sloppy shops that run into the most trouble.

One big job shop owner known to the writer can’t understand why he has such a big labor turnover and why his operations don’t show a bigger profit than they do. He pays good wages and gives paid vacations —blandishments calculated to attract good workers. Yet he is plagued with profit eating rejects and a continuous labor turnover. An examination of the premises with impartial eyes gives the answer. The tanks are set along a dark wall and the few windows present are completely fouled up. They haven’t been cleaned in the last fifteen years. The overhead lighting is so bad it’s hard to tell the platers from the plating tanks without a score card. There are some half-rotted duckboards on the floor but duckboards don’t do any good because the sewer openings are perpetually clogged so the floor looks something like the old swimming hole. The motto in this man’s plating shop is obviously, “Sink or Swim”! Is there any wonder that sloppy work is done in such sloppy surroundings?

Many pages could be filled by listing these needless unpleasant things in the plating plant environment that could be corrected by a little good housekeeping: the bare plating racks that gain weight faster than a fat lady with a sweet tooth; the improperly hooded acid tanks; the poorly ventilated chromium tanks; the layouts, crazier than a miniature golf course. It is only natural that physical conditions such as these will react detrimentally on the mental attitude of the plater and thus adversely affect plating results. Conversely good housekeeping breeds better attitudes and better results.

The simple ideas enumerated here are ways in which we can better the practices of the people who practice plating. Let us practice them and get better plating results.

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