August 2013

The following article was previously published on the blog

By Marko Duffy. This is how we platers think it goes…An engineer calls his co-workers over to his cubicle to show the latest device he’s created—an intelligent, innovative work of technological art. Wild celebration breaks out with engineers high-fiving and breaking out in the “Dougie” in excitement! As one engineer embraces the designer and sure winner of a patent and a magazine cover, he salutes him with: “And it will look amazing plated!” Of course it will. It will, right?
This is where our hero designer just adds a little plating here, a little chromate conversion coating there, a little anodize over there and maybe a touch of nickel here. Done! Now get it made—by Thursday!
You may as well have just walked into the owner’s office, removed his wallet from his pocket and helped yourself. The plant manager just lost a little more hair, and there’s a masker who just missed dinner with a friend because she’s the only one who could possibly stay and do this. But what the heck, the extra overtime hours will be huge!

So, that’s the BEST we can hope for?!?

Now, there is some masking that is very easy, such as plugging tapped holes, etc., and masking for paint or powder is less tricky than, say, for electroless nickel. But there is a lot of masking that—certainly from a finisher’s standpoint—seems like an afterthought or a deliberate attempt at sabotage.

What do I mean?

Some masking borders on nearly impossible. Masking something in the middle of a part by measuring dimensions from edges, masking the bottom of cavities, thin edges, awkward shapes and surfaces, etc.—the list is endless. How can this be avoided? Well, let’s start with a basic premise: give the plater some options.
I’m sure there are areas where you absolutely, positively, have to have a specific finish. And I’m sure there are areas where you positively cannot have that same finish. For instance, for reasons that are dimensional or electrical, for adhesion purposes, or for corrosion resistance. What I wonder is, are there areas where you really don’t care what finishes are there? A side wall to a cavity? Maybe the whole surface where there is a conductive pad going down? Maybe an area that tolerance is so wide open that the plater could mask plus or minus a half inch? If you thought about it, before the patent celebration breaks out in the cubicle, you probably could come up with something that would make it easier for the plater. Why not create a third note on the printout: “Plating on this surface is optional” or “Mask 0.75″ x 1.25″ minimum; 1.5″ x 2.75″ maximum.”

Anything like that is going to make the plater more money, let the plant manager keep his hair, and let the lead masker get out on time. And that, of course, is your ultimate goal. Congratulations—your extra effort made all of their lives better, and all it took was a few extra hours of design activity!

Oh, and by the way, the manufacturing cost just came down about $25 per piece in direct labor costs for the masking itself. And the plating lead time went from 10 days to 3 days. And the yield went up due to fewer rejects. Plus, the “on-time” rating just improved because complete orders were shipped due to lack of fall-out. Lastly, the soft costs of multiple shipments, extra shipping charges, more receivers and purchase orders, no corrective actions being written, no vendor visits to resolve quality issues and, gasp…no scrap being made and written off. Whatever your motivation, find a reason and make the effort. Put in the thought.

In the grand scheme of things, these issues are all secondary to performance. And these added costs are a relatively small price to pay for the right design. When necessary, you have to do what works. But there is always an opportunity to at least try to smooth out the supply chain and create some time/cost savings. The benefits are to all, and that’s where success and profit really lie.


Marko Duffy, CEF, is president of Marathon Manufacturing Services, LLC, Lawrence, Mass. An industry veteran with more than 20 years experience, Duffy has expertise in the following areas: anodizing, electroplating, painting/powder coating, fabricating, machining, and plant engineering. For more information about Marathon Sales’ products or manufacturing services, please call 508-904-8899, e-mail, or visit www

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