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Posts By : Kevin Bodily

The most important anodizing tank

A typical type III aluminum process has about 5  different types of tanks for cleaning, etching, deoxidizing (or desmutting), anodizing and rinsing. If you look at a type II process you can also include a dye tank and a seal tank. If you want to look at the complete process, you need to also include incoming receiving, unpacking and  inspections, racking, unracking, final QA, packing and shipping. Given all of that, the anodizing process can easily encompass a dozen steps or more. All of which need to be done correctly to provide the customer with the quality service they expect. But of these processes, which ones are more important? The short answer is none of them.

Receiving Parts

receiving parts

The anodizing process begins when part arrive in your receiving department. They get unpacked, inspected, and a job traveler gets created. These are all very important steps. If parts get dropped or damaged otherwise when they are unpacked the anodizing process will typically enhance the damage. Likewise if they were damaged during shipment and processed anyway. In either case, the customer will blame you for the damage. If in the unfortunate case, the case job traveler is created incorrectly, the parts could undergo the wrong process. Any one of these thing can lead to an unhappy customer and are candidates for the most important step in the process.

Racking

racking

After the parts leave the receiving department, they head off to racking. Racking involves physically attaching the parts to a fixture of some kind so they can be suspended in the process tanks. How parts are racked and where those parts actually contact the racking fixture is extremely important. Racking can be considered a destructive process in that there will be no anodic coating at the rack’s contact points, and in most cases, the anodizer and the customer will agree where the point will be on the part. If the parts are not racked using the correct contact points, those point will have not be anodized and would probably be rejected by the customer. Not only is it important to rack the parts in the correct places, but the parts need to be racked firmly as well. A loose part on a rack could fall off during the process and be lost at the bottom of one of the tanks. Worse than that, a loose part can stay on the rack and arcing can occur between the rack and the parts. This can ultimately lead to the destruction of the part. So is racking the most important step in anodizing? Maybe.

Pretreatment

Assuming the parts have gotten through receiving and racking, the core anodizing process can begin with the cleaning, etching and deoxidizing of the part. Simply put, parts must be thoroughly cleaned to be processed correctly. For the etch tank to work properly, the chemistry needs to react with the parts. If they are not cleaned properly, the parts may etch unevenly or they may not etch at all. After etching, the parts will typically be covered with smut. Smut is the byproduct of the etching process. It is the “ashes” of etching if you will and needs to be removed. If it is not removed, it acts as a barrier in the anodize tank and can impede oxide growth. This can lead to uneven oxide growth or worse in can lead to part destruction. If the rectifier is set to run the part at 12 ASF, and half of the part cannot be anodized because of excess smut (or improper etching), the part will run at twice the current density it should. In short, the part will burn. Given all of this, it is easy to see just how important cleaning etch and deoxidizing the part are.

Anodizingelectricity

That brings us to the anodizing tank, and intuition would say that this is the most important part of the parts. Indeed that anodize tank is important. It is the tank that is responsible for most of the part destruction that can occur. As mentioned, if the part are unclean, under etched or not deoxed properly, burning is likely. If the rectifier has no automated controls, an operator will be responsible for setting the voltage and current. For type III processes, the operator will be  (should be) making adjustments every 3-4 minutes as the coating builds. For these manually operated rectifiers, it is nearly impossible for any single operator  to control the rectifier consistently from run to run. When there are multiple operators working multiple shifts and consistent results become difficult. But it’s not just rectifier control that is at issue in this tank. Bath temperature and agitation are also very important. Run the parts too cold and they will become darker. Run them to hot or without adequate agitation and they will burn. Electrical contacts are also important. Loose parts can fall off, connections between the rack and the work bar, or between the work bar and the rectifier can become corroded and create large voltage drops. If the process is running under voltage control, the voltage drop from bad connections can lead to oxide coatings that are too thin. This is without question an very import tank in the anodizing process.

Dyeing & Sealing

For tdye and sealed partsype II processes, the parts may be dyed and sealed. These are obviously important steps, because they affect the part in the most apparent way; by how it looks. Obviously a part that should be red needs to go into a red dye tank, but if it doesn’t you will need to strip the parts and start over. Not only is getting the part in the right tank important, but it needs to stay in it long enough for the dye to be taken up by the anodizing pore structure. Also, let’s not forget that the dye temperature and pH are important as well. Once the parts is dyed, it must be sealed correctly otherwise the dye will stay in the pore. From a cosmetic view point, the dye and seal tank a very important steps.

Rinses

Then there is rinsing. In and of itself, rinsing is not a very important step in the anodizing process. It doesn’t add to the part and (with the exception for improper sealing) it doesn’t take away from the part. However, rinsing is extremely important for the overall health of the process line. Improper rinsing leads to bath contamination from chemical drag-out. For example, etch tanks are typically strong bases where as the next tank (deox) is typically an acid. If the parts are not adequately rinsed between these tanks, the deox will begin to neutralize causing it to be less reactive. The same reasoning can be applied for any tank in that if the parts are not rinsed well enough, you will eventually end up with a very ineffective process line.

Final QA

Finally the process concludes with the final QA and shipping step. The importance of the final QA should go without saying. It is the last qa-imagechance you have to find problems before your customer does, and it should include coating thickness measurements and a visual inspection at the very least. From there, the parts go to the shipping area where they have the last contact with you. After spending all the time and energy processing the parts to this point, it should be obvious how important it is to package them well enough as to not be damaged in transit.

So now it should be clear that out of all of the steps taken to anodize a part, there is no one step that is more important than another.  If you fail the see damaged parts coming in, or if you damage them in receiving, your customer will blame you. If the parts are not racked correctly, they will either be anodized wrong or not at all. If the parts are not cleaned correctly, they may not etch correctly. With improper etching or deoxing, they may not anodize well. Improper anodizing can ruin the parts. With incorrect dyeing and/or sealing, the part will not look good, and finally if you don’t package them well, the can be damaged in transit. So every station and tank the parts visit during the process has catastrophic potential, and every part that is  processed incorrectly will have the customer blaming you.

Considering converting your manual hoist to automatic? Read this first

By implementing an automatic hoist, you are essentially turning the entire line into an automated process line. This would allow you to create process programs that include specifying tank immersion times and possibly tank parameters such as temperature, conductivity, etc. Once these programs are created, your operator will load the work bar, choose the appropriate process program and run it. After processing is complete, the operator will pick up the parts at the other end of the line. It becomes a hands off process for the operator. This can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. If the automatic line is running well, you can be reasonably assured that you will get a consistent coating. If however things are not running well, the automatic line will not detect those things an experienced operator can. Take part cleaning for example. An automatic hoist cannot see a “clean water break” whereas an experienced operator will know to look for this and continue cleaning until it appears. Also the experienced operator can, to a degree, know the part’s coating thickness based on the color after anodizing. The automatic line cannot. There are a number of benefits from an automatic processing line, but there are also a number of limitations and drawbacks as well.manual hoist

You should also consider what will happen when the process load reaches the anodize tank. If the rectifier is still going to be mmanually operated, the hoist would need some method of waiting for the rectifier to create the coating. After that, it would need some method of resuming when the coating is done. This can certainly be accomplished, but the correct way to implement an automatic hoist is to implement rectifier control as well. With rectifier control implemented in the same control system with the hoist, a seamless process flow is created. When the hoist moves the process load into the anodize tank, the control system runs the rectifiers based on the program chosen by the operator. Although an automatic hoist can be implemented without rectifier control, it would create a bifurcated control system that eventually will have problems.

Whether you implement an automated hoist or not also depends on the type of facility you have and your work loads. Automatic hoists are mainly used in captive shops. These are facilities that typically manufacture and process their own parts or have only one or two customers they process parts for. These shop normally have only 3-4 different parts that are run and the loads sizes and configurations tend to be the same. On the other hand, it is very rare to see an automatic hoist in a job shop that does anodizing work for their customers (who are the manufactures). In job shops, there are just too many different parts, load sizes and load configurations to be supported by automatic processing. Normally automatic lines have a limited number of process programs which limits the line’s flexibility. Also since a job shop may run a specific parts only once, creating and validating the automatic line’s process for the parts become a hindrance.

The cost of converting a manual hoist to automatic line should also be considered. You cannot simply plug your existing push button controls into a PLC and expect it to work. In fact it’s much more likely the hoist mechanicals themselves (chains, gantry, booms, etc), are the only parts that can be reused. Plan on replacing the drive servo motors. Also a servo drive, positioning system, PLC, cabinet, software and a computer for the operator interface will be required. Part cost alone can easily reach 6 figures. Add labor and engineering cost and you could be in the $250,000 range.

For absolute process control, you need absolute consistency. The automatic line affords this. You can be reasonably assured that when the line runs well and your chemistry is maintained, the parts are being processed the same each time. Unfortunately, when the automatic line doesn’t not run well, or if you have under maintained chemistry, there is no operator to provide the all important “reality check” that could save the day and the customer. Couple this with the limitations and cost of implementing an automatic hoist and in some cases, it simply may not be worth it.

Control vs. Quality

In manufacturing process control is key. Without it you may as well spin around 7 times, turn off the lights and play darts. Sometimes you will hit the dart board (and maybe even get a bulls eye), but more likely than not, your dart will be off the board completely. The same can be said in a manufacturing environment that does not have adequate process control. Sometime your quality will be spot on, but more times than not your parts will not be in spec. From this it’s easy to see that process control is not about quality. In fact, process control has just as much to do with quality as fast food has with good flavor. Process control is about consistency, not quality.

Process control systems are created to control process parameter to one extent or another. The control system itself doesn’t care what the process is or how it’s defined, its responsibility is simply to ensure the process parameters are kept within reasonable limits as defined by the process. Again, what those limits are is of no concern to the control system whatsoever. Once the limits are given to the control system, its job is to simply maintain them. And who determines what the process parameters are and what limits should be kept? Someone who knows what the overall quality the control system should maintain.

So what about quality? Quality is simply a subjective measure of the object’s properties, that when taken wholly is determined to be good, bad or somewhere in between. Figuring out how to process something to a certain degree of quality requires setting specific process parameters. This is usually done by trial and error; take a first stab at it based on an educated guess, assess the results, make a change, rinse and repeat. If the control system is working correctly, you should eventually have a process that results in the quality you need. Again, the actual quality is irrelevant. The point is that without the control system functioning properly, you cannot be assured that the change in the part quality was a result of a change in process parameters, and without that, you are playing darts in the dark.

As mentioned, the job of a control system is to maintain process parameters. That is the key. Not necessarily the key to quality, but it is the key to consistency. If the process parameters are not maintained, then the process output will be unpredictable. Why is it that the number one fast food restaurant is so successful? Certainly not because of the great food. It’s because you can get the same consistent food regardless of where and when you visit them. A sign of a great process control system is one that provides the same consistent product all the time. People may argue about the overall quality of the product, but they would generally agree that they are getting the same product. That is what process control brings to the table; consistency, not quality. If you provide a consistent, usable product, the customer will return.

So it always must  begin with the control system. Once that’s in place, you can make changes to the process parameters and predict how those changes will affect the process output or part quality.

Mickabooh provides PLC Programming for the PTS-100

We are proud to have AnC Precision as one of our clients. We have worked with them to develop their products and handle the PLC programming. AnC provides automated tube sealing and test equipment.

 

Here is what they have to say about us,


AnC Precision manufactures small bench top instruments for the tube packaging industry and we recently used Mickabooh Systems to write the software for the control of our PTS-100 and we are very pleased with the results.  Mickabooh Systems displayed a professional attitude and a great work ethic while working with us to iron out our PLC specifications. They worked very quickly, and gave us a working version within just a couple of days.  When we had design changes, he came to our shop and worked with us to implement those changes on short notice. We are very pleased with the results and are planning on using Mickabooh Systems for future projects.

Joey Gmuender
Mechanical Engineer
AnC Precision Machining Inc.


A word from Anodizing Specialist

We have been working with Anodizing Specialist for over 10 years, and we are very proud and thankful for the relationship we have built.

 

Here is their testimonial about us and our equipment,

We have been running our controllers provided by Mickabooh Systems for many years now and are very happy with the product and support that comes with it.

We have 4 rectifiers running all the time with multiple operators, and having this equipment has alleviated many of our quality concerns. We are no longer worried about how each operator controls the rectifiers because it is all handled by Mickabooh’s equipment. With the equipment we can create any rectifier output we need and have seen a great reduction in the burn rate of delicate parts using the controllers pulsing ability.

The documentation provided by the controller has also help us. We can use the Companion toolkit to look at our processes and figure out how to make scheduling changes and spot quality issues. In one case having the documentation helped explain problems with a customer’s parts and saved the day!

The support provided for the equipment by Mickabooh Systems is suburb. Whenever an issue comes up, or if we have a questions, their technical support is always available. We have even asked for specific features in the software that would help us, and Mickabooh Systems made them available as a free update.

Michael Pecjak

VP Operations

Anodizing Specialist

Mickabooh Systems solves problems at TOMZ Corporation

Mickabooh’s most recent success story took place this November in Berlin, Connecticut at TOMZ Corporation, a manufacturer of titanium products for the medical, aerospace, and healthcare industries.

TOMZ was not satisfied with a Titanium anodizing line’s performance. The operatator interface was small and confusing, and the hoist was repeatedly dropping racks.

Mickabooh Systems was contacted by TOMZ to help work through these problems. We eventually replaced the operator interface, seamlessly swapping out the substandard unit with Mickabooh’s own industry-leading HMI. The new interface provided better hoist homing and positioning and significantly reduced hoist problems.

AMF uses Mickabooh Systems to control their Titanium Anodizing line

Advanced Metal Finishing, an anodizing leader for the aerospace industry, operating Type II and Type III rectifiers, for Aluminum and Titanium, selected Mickabooh to control their new titanium anodizing line.

The installation, brought online at AMF’s Roseville, California location in the Summer of 2015, included Mickabooh’s wet-process monitoring and documentation software, Protrak.

Mickabooh’s Protrak software is customizable, allowing clients to select the tank parameters to be monitored and recorded. Taking advantage of Protrak’s flexibility, Advanced Metal Finishing chose to go beyond the standard monitoring of tank immersion times and have the system also record the minimum, maximum, average, and standard deviation of temperature for each load while the load was in a given bath.

Protrak, originally designed for anodizers, can monitor and document any industrial wet process. For more information call us at (775)265-0622.

AI Industries Expands its Mickabooh Presence

In 2013 AI Industries, an anodizing leader for the semiconductor industry with operations in Redwood City, California, chose Mickabooh Systems to control its Type II, Type III, and mixed acid anodizing lines.

AI operated those anodizing lines under Mickabooh Systems control for over a year, clearly experiencing the benefits Mickabooh’s control and tracking systems offer. So when AI decided to expand their capabilities at their shop in Pflugerville, Texas, they contacted us.

Mickabooh worked closely with AI management to help them achieve their goals. In October of this year we successfully installed a second control system at the AI facilities in Pflugerville. Both anodizing systems are currently up and running precisely as designed.

Announcing the successful installation at Blue Streak Finishers LTD.

Mickabooh Systems would like to announce the successful installation of our flag ship product, The Mickabooh Control System for Anodizers at Blue Streak Finishers. Blue Streak Finishers, a is a NADCAP accredited facility and is an anodizing leader in the aerospace industry for the greater Seattle area. The company uses 30 foot tanks and offers Type I and Type II anodizing as well as various other passive and painting processes.

The Mickabooh Control System has been installed on Blue Streak’s new process line that will control and monitor Type III processes bath as well as a Tartaric/Sulfuric anodizing bath. Both of these baths will controlled with our programmable logic controller and our specialized software created specifically for anodizers. Our software will provide them with complete documentation of the primary process bath including all of the process variables that are important to the industry. They will also benefit from our proprietary burning and arcing alarms so that when problems do arise the process can be stopped before real damage to the parts occur.

Using our process control system, they will be assured of consistent coatings with reduced operator errors. Because the control system is completely programmable, Blue Streak will develop programs for their parts that will consistently control the process regardless of the operator. Also because they will be able to program the process to run by current density, slight changes in process variables such as chemistry, bussing, bath temperature and agitation will all be eliminated yielding much more consistent results.

Blue Streak Finishers will also benefit from our experience in the anodizing process and we will be there to support and help them in whatever way we can. With over 10 years experience in the industry, we have helped a number of our customers create better, more consistent coating in less time and we hope to continue a positive relationship with Blue Streak for many years to come.