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Corrosion Resistance without Cyanide and Hexavalent Chrome: Flexible pr

ocessing of zinc-plated parts includes treatment with chromates and seal c

Automotive Finishing, Winter, 2001 by Beverly A. Graves

Recently, the PROPPER Company (Langenfeld, Germany) officially opened its e

xpanded electroplating and conversion coating facility, which it had started planni
ng for last year. The plant expansion and acquisition of new technologies resulte
d from participation in a certification audit and collaboration with Coventya (forme
rly Chemetall) to develop special procedures for processing new chemistries. In a
ddition, PROPPER GmbH had made the following challenges to its suppliers (Co
ventya for chemistry, Manz for barrel plating equipment and WMV for centrifuge e
quipment): create a system that takes advantage of the latest chemical and equip
ment technologies, make it highly flexible to allow for the use of multiple plating a
nd coating chemistries, produce quality finishes on plated parts in a highly produc
tive and cost-effective system.

The system developed is used to plate and coat parts for companies inside and o
utside the WITTE-Group, PROPPER's parent company since 1997. The group su
pplies automotive components to OEMs and tier-one suppliers.

Products include locks, hinges and latches that are used on many different main

Successful Certification and Testing Spurs Expansion

The beginnings of PROPPER's success can be traced to the French automotive

company Renault, which asked Chemetall to help identify a partner to develop pr
ocedures to process new non-hexavalent chrome chemistries. Because of new s
pecifications banning the use of hexavalent chromates, it became necessary for
Renault to identify and develop cost-effective replacement corrosion resistant co
atings that could be applied over conventional zinc-plated parts. Testing by Rena
ult and Chemetall had shown that highly corrosion-resistant parts could be produ
ced, without hexavalent chrome, using special sealants over conventional zinc pl
ating. These findings encouraged Chemetall to find a plating and coating partner.

The time required to convert to the new chemistry could take companies, desiring
to be a partner, three months to set up. PROPPER Executive Director Volker van
der Putten decided they would take part in the certification and testing processes.
PROPPER became a key electroplating and coating supplier to Renault in 1997.
This resulted when another division in the WITTE-Group closed after its facility s
hut down due to a fire. Since that time, PROPPER became more involved with co
ating zinc-plated steel stampings and diecast parts. Even with its experience in c
oating application, the conversion to the new coatings, and in particular the final s
eal coat Finigard 105, was a difficult challenge. PROPPER used its existing WM
V centrifuge and drying equipment to finally achieve the desired results. In Dece
mber of 1999, PROPPER completed the testing. In January of 2000, it received c
onfirmation that it had met and would be certified for Renault standard 01-71-002-

Certification guaranteed PROPPER that Renault would send a specific portion of

its parts for plating and coating through 2003. Since, it also wanted to diversify its
current customer base, the increase in business required expansion and moderni
zation of the plant, plating and coating lines.

Construction of the Equipment Using Teamwork

Volker van der Putten quickly assembled the team that would provide the experti
se to expand PROPPER's plating and coating lines. In addition to WMV which wa
s responsible for the centrifuge technology, and the newly formed Coventya as th
e chemical supplier, Manz GmbH (Wuppertal, Germany) was chosen as the equi
pment builder for the barrel electroplating line. Project managers of these compa
nies worked together to develop and integrate the system. The plan was for a hig
hly automated barrel zinc electroplating line integrated with a centrifuge coating a
nd drying system. The system would use the most technologically advanced equi
pment and chemistry. It would be capable of meeting the demands of all custome
r requirements for plating and coating. Special attention to minimize the use of w
ater, chemicals and personnel was a must. Flexibility was required to assure that
present and future customer demands could be met quickly. When completed, P
ROPPER would be positioned to optimize production throughput, making it the m
ost competitive plating and coating company servicing the industry.

The plant was expanded by more than 16,000 sq ft to accommodate the new equ
ipment. It processes parts without using cyanide or hexavalent chrome products.
The facility is believed to be the largest, most modem integrated barrel electropla
ting and centrifuge coating facility in the world able to make this claim.

New Equipment--Technology Produces Volume and Quality

The final layout for the equipment arranges the system in three lines, which are p
ositioned on two levels.

The automatic filling and queuing of plating barrels is located on the lower level.
Bins of parts are loaded into an automatic lifting and dumping system that gently
transfers the parts to a vibratory storage and metering system. A specific quantity
of parts is then metered into plating barrels based on a process recipe. The vibrat
ory storage and metering system is also a scale. It measures and optimizes the p
ounds of parts each barrel will process based on a process recipe. A central contr
ol system is used to set all the parameters required to process each specific part.

To optimize production, up to 30 loaded plating barrels can be placed in a queue.

As required, the loaded barrels are transferred to the line to keep the line running
at full capacity.

All of the electroplating, coating and drying stations are located on the upper leve
l. The electroplating system includes the following zinc processes: 6 stations of al
kaline zinc, 4 stations of acid zinc, 4 stations of zinc iron, 4 stations of zinc nickel
and 4 stations of zinc manganese. All the plating baths have a solution volume of
475 gal. After plating, parts are rinsed in 3-5 counterflow rinse stations. The first ri
nse after each of the following stations, cleaning, pickling, alkaline zinc and zinc
manganese, is used as make-up solution to the corresponding chemical bath that
the parts were treated in. Due to this system, water use will only be 2,642 gpd wh
en the system is operated continuously at an average of 6,600 lb/hr.

All solution baths are connected to a corresponding solution tank on the lower lev
el. There are also 2 oil separators on the lower level that are connected to the cle
aning stations. The separators remove oil to increase the life of the cleaning solut

A hoist elevates plating barrels from the loading or queuing areas and transports
them to various stations in the electroplating system. The transport carrier handle
s 2 plating barrels at a time. Each barrel has a capacity of 330 lb. The carriers an
d barrels are transported with a total of 6 transfer hoists and four 90-deg shuttles.
One of the shuttles carries plating barrels under solution. This allows the station t
o act as a buffer, when needed, while keeping the surface of the parts active. The
electroplating line is 147 ft long and 49 ft wide.

Chromating and Seal Coating Without Hexavalent Chrome

After electroplating, plated parts are transferred from the plating barrel to coating
centers (perforated baskets) located under the electroplating system. The coating
centers, filled with parts, are then transferred automatically to the centrifuge line.
They can hold 660 lbs of parts. This is the largest coating center used for treating
parts with chromates that the supplier has ever produced. The line consists of 9 c
entrifuges; 4 are used for pre-chromate treatment, chromating and post chromate
treatment, 1 applies Finigard 105 sealant, and 2 drying centrifuges dry the parts
and cure the Finigard sealant. The last two centrifuges strip cured Finigard 105 of
f the coating centers after parts are finished and transferred to the customer bins.
The coating centers are then returned to the loading position. The system is 115 f
t long and 13 ft wide.

Parts remain in the same coating center for the entire treatment process. The ce
ntrifuge equipment uses the latest generation of centrifuge technology. All centrif
uges have the capability to tilt at various angles and spin at infinitely variable spe
eds. Each chromate centrifuge station can activate, chromate and rinse parts all i
n the same centrifuge. The spinning and tilting capabilities reduce the dragout of
chemicals and rinse water by up to 95% versus conventional automated barrel or
manual chromate systems.
The centrifuge line is capable of processing the following finishes:

* Transparent and black chromates for zinc nickel

* Yellow and black chromates for zinc iron

* Blue and yellow chromates for acid zinc

* Pre- and post-treatment for zinc nickel and zinc iron

* Activation for alkaline and acid zinc

* Finigard over all coatings, if desired.

The chromate stations incorporate a patented solution distribution system. This s

ystem enables parts to be treated with activators, multiple colors, pre-and post-ch
romate treatment and rinse in a single centrifuge. Bringing specific chemistries a
nd rinse solutions through an innovative manifold system to the parts and then re
turning them to the tank they originated from accomplishes this.

Automation Creates a Cost Effective System

All the equipment in the system is freely programmable. A master control system
allows technicians to make changes to the program easily and quickly. A man/ma
chine interface and the control system's software allow the technicians to develop
and change treatment recipes. The ability to create specific recipes for specific p
arts optimizes the appearance and coating performance.

In the event new chemistries are needed, obsolete solution tanks can be change
d over to new chemistries. It is also possible to add additional solution tanks and
centrifuges to accommodate a new chemistry.

Due to the automation and ease of operation, one person can operate the entire
system. PROPPER's previous systems required approximately 15 people for ope
ration of the plating and coating system while producing less than half the new sy
stem's volume.

The participating parties were able to plan and construct the entire system in less
than one year. The final and possibly the most impressive accomplishment was a
chieving a production-capable system only three weeks after the first parts were r
un. Due to the ease of operation and flexibility, there are now more than 10,000 d
ifferent parts that can be processed through the line.

Ready for the Future

PROPPER GmbH also provides deburring services to its customers. It currently
processes steel and diecast parts in a large centrifuge media deburring unit. Addi
tional mechanical finishing systems include a ball polishing system to burnish an
d etch stainless steel parts. It also deburrs zinc die-cast parts.

All partners in the expansion deserve to be recognized for their contributions. Th

e vision of PROPPER's staff has established it as a leader in its industry and now
ranks it at the highest level for innovation, modernization, productivity and conser
vation of resources. Customers and visitors that tour the facility are impressed wit
h the mechanical and chemical technologies employed.

The company is now positioned to service its customer base with superior finishi
ng results long into the future. Currently, it processes parts for more than 100 cus
tomers, 85% of these produce products for the automotive, construction, and equ
ipment industries. It is now ready to continue diversifying its customer base and e
xpand its business.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gardner Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group