Company Handles Precious and Non-Precious Metal Plating for High-Tech Industries
Foresight Finishing's high-throw plating chemistry allows the company to plate small parts that can be difficult to plate, such as these custom microwave contacts measuring 0.200-inch long and 0.055-inch in diameter
Photo courtesy of Foresight Finishing
An Arizona firm offers copper, nickel, bright tin, and gold plating of small, fragile parts for the aerospace, medical, and other industries.
Chrome plating a large, classic car bumper or a stick shift lever is painstaking work, but plating small, fragile, close tolerance, precision aerospace and defense parts with critical applications is exacting work with very stringent specifications. These specifications require challenging processing and complex planning from beginning to end. A plating company in Tempe, Arizona — Foresight Finishing, LLC — is able to handle these small, critical parts and components for a variety of high-tech industries that require parts to have specific properties when they are finished.
The company operates state-of-the-art vibratory barrel plating processes, coupled with high-throw plating chemistry, which allows it to plate small, fragile, components with deep recesses and blind holes. Foresight serves companies in such industries as aerospace, defense, aircraft, electronics, RF microwave, and telecommunications. This critical, close tolerance, plating work must be exacting to satisfy their requirements for excellent quality. The production systems the company has in place are based on the requirements of the industries it works with on a regular basis.
"Our high-quality and production system are the forefront of our success," says Casey Weizel, the president of Foresight Finishing. "So by designing a facility specifically for customers' components, we've been able to take a lot of their concerns away, and have improved on the processes and on the quality of our customers' components significantly. What really separates us, since we're so specific to an industry, is that a large part to us is about 1.5 inches long. So the way our facility is set up is by component sizes for the chemistry and the baths. We're not running such a large variety of work that it impedes the processes or controls that we have on the baths."
Foresight specializes in doing the small, fragile, more precision parts, those that take extra care and handling and planning. "Depending on the customer, we run orders as small as 50 parts, up to orders of 100,000 parts, so we do a broad range of production runs," says Weizel. "A lot of the companies have gotten away from running large volumes. Many of the companies these days are on a stock-to-dock program, so they just order parts as they need them out of our stock."
Planning is Critical
Utilizing a customer's purchase order and a review of the part, Foresight's planning department provides its staff with specific instructions, from receiving materials to shipping off the finished parts. "Planning is the most critical part of our operation, says Weizel. "It really doesn't matter if your parts are plated perfectly if they are packed like sardines. As far as the planning goes, we're very part specific, especially on the incoming review of parts. We take a look at the parts to see if there are critical dimensions, if there are tight tolerances, or if we're going to have problematic issues—for example, maybe with cleaning if they are especially dirty. So the planning is done around that specific component, rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach, such as saying we do gold plating on brass components. Most processes are generically set up for that, but our processes are specific to the part that comes in on that day."
One of the first things that happen when parts arrive at the plant is inspection. While the parts are on the cleaning lines, they will be inspected to make sure that part dimensions are correct, and that the cleaning will be able to go down inside the tight cavities. At this point, if they're not clean, there is no reason to go on to the next plating step.
"We check continuously through each of our processes, until we get to final inspections," Weizel confirms. "We go through and do a cleaning process and then inspect them to make sure they're clean. We make sure we have coverage on the copper; if the copper is OK, we move on to the nickel. If the nickel coverage is good, we move on to the gold plating. Our in-process inspections really impact the outcome of those components. Just because we may have run the component before doesn't mean it's going to come out the same way. The parts could be a little dirtier, or they could have more heat treating scale on them. We're checking parts for dimensions and to make sure we're not removing too much material, and we're checking parts for coverage down inside holes."
The layers of metal that are laid down by the plating processes at Foresight Finishing are very well defined. "It's very exacting plating," says Weizel. "On a total part, we're typically holding 2.5 tenths of tolerance. Typically, the parts will have a copper flash, which basically is just color, maybe 10 to 15 micro inches of copper. Then the next layer will be nickel plating, which is about 50 to 100 micro inches of plating, and then the final layer will be the gold plating, which will be about 50 to 75 micro inches. Most parts we process have a tolerance of 0.00005-inch. We have the capability of plating components with 0.0002-inch tolerances."
Many of the applications that the company handles with gold electroplating require using three specific metal solutions for corrosion protection and conductivity — namely copper, nickel, and gold. "Typically, especially in the connector industry, if you put gold directly over a copper plated part, you're going to have zinc that is a component of that copper or brass," says Weizel. "And then it will migrate into the copper layer, and end up coming through the gold layer and oxidizing and corroding it. So we put down the copper layer first, then the nickel layer, which acts as a barrier layer, and then the top coating is the gold. If the component can't have nickel due to magnetics, a thicker copper deposit is required. Gold electroplating has industry standards, like Mil standards and ASTM standards. When you're dealing with gold prices, you want to control that thickness as tightly as you can."
Applications Include Aerospace and Aircraft
The parts and components that Foresight plates are for a variety of applications and industries, mostly high-tech, where the parts are used for critical applications. "As far as applications, they're going into everything from space applications, satellites, and aircraft, to special weapons," Weizel explains. "We don't always know which weaponry or aircraft that they are going into. We work on a lot of electrical contacts, connectors, coaxial cable contacts, sockets, connector pins, and also RF components, which are gold plated contacts used to control radio frequencies."
The company specializes mainly in plating smaller parts, which seem to be getting smaller and smaller as time goes on. "Some of the parts are so small you can hardly see them," Weizel remarks. "Therefore, we use a lot of microscopes to inspect them. Some of the parts are so light that they will float in the solution tanks. We have to have a lot of processing skills to handle these parts, and have controls over our processes. It starts with quality awareness and the production system. Our system is so specific to these components that the equipment that we're using generally manipulates what we're able to process, as far as having the right tooling and barrels for this type of work."
While the company doesn't have any engineers on staff, it is still able to give its customers engineering assistance and guidance. What the company has done internally is come up with selective plating procedures. "We've come up with proprietary, selective plating machines," states Weizel. "We have four of them, and they're set up for Mil-spec contacts, and PC tail contacts —16 through 22 gauge. With these components, we're able to automatically load the parts and the fixtures and do the selective plating. With the selective plating, basically because of the cost of gold, if you have a component, everything has a mating end on the contacts or sockets that we're plating. Basically, it's a male and female receptacle. The mating end has to have the highest resistance, or performance from the plating standpoint. But it's extremely expensive to put 50 micro inches of gold over that entire part, when in reality, you only need it on that mating end. We can save our customers a lot of money by doing these processes."
With gold so expensive these days, the company has to be extra careful how it uses the precious commodity, which it receives in a salt form, like table salt. "There are obviously security measures with the gold, and we have to make sure we control the process very well, so we're not overplating," Weizel affirms. "With some parts, we could easily lose thousands of dollars' worth of gold if we leave the parts in too long. We use rectifiers with automatic shutoff to prevent this."
Foresight utilizes the more traditional barrel type of plating, and also vibratory plating, and it makes much of the fixturing that it uses. Barrel plating is done in a rotisserie type of barrel that has the parts moving in a centrifugal motion.
"Barrel plating keeps the parts constantly agitated and moving as it's accepting the plating layers," says Weizel. "In the vibratory barrels, the parts will sit horizontally in a basket. The vibration of the barrel causes the parts to move horizontally onto each other, so they have a tendency to plate uniformly. It gives them almost an ultrasonic movement. The solution transfer is much greater than standard barrel plating. Vibratory plating gives good coverage down into blind holes, or inside of recesses. High throw plating is basically a bath chemistry that is made to give you the most plating distribution. It's designed to get the plating down into small, blind holes and crevices. The vibratory and high throw plating work hand in hand."
Nadcap Accreditation Assures High Quality
Foresight is Nadcap accredited, which mandates high quality, traceability, and repeatable processes by the OEMs involved. Nadcap (formerly NADCAP, the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program), is an auditing and monitoring tool for the large aerospace OEMs, such as Honeywell, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Raytheon. They put together Nadcap to monitor and audit the processing and quality systems of their vendors. "Nadcap is a very difficult accreditation to get," says Weizel. "We've put a lot of work into getting it. We were re-accredited in July, which resulted in zero findings. With Nadcap, you are allowed so many findings, which could be a major infraction, or a minor infraction. It's very difficult to get zero, but we achieved that with our last audit. Most companies will charge a premium for their work with the Nadcap accreditation. Because of our overall system, every job we do is run with a Nadcap certification. So regardless of the need, the Nadcap certs or not, our customers get it, and we don't charge a premium for it."
With Nadcap, a major effort is made to document the company's plating processes and procedures with its job travelers. "Our job travelers are very well defined as far as the processes that the operators are running," says Weizel. "The operators run every job with a job traveler, which documents the times, temperatures, and amps that they use for each particular job, and it lets them know what fixture they have to use. Our travelers take all of the guesswork out of the processing. They don't have to make calculations, and they don't have to decide what fixtures to use."
Weizel said in an online response that the company's biggest strength is its major emphasis on customer service. "Our niche is service; we just happen to be in the plating industry," said Weizel. "This is our core concept. We are able to provide incredible service due to our solid infrastructure. Basically, it really comes down to the fact that everyone in our facility has one common goal. This is being able to adapt to our customers' needs."
Extra Production Capacity for Quick Turnarounds
With additional work stations and procedures in place to handle quick turnarounds, Foresight reports that the company can offer its customers same day service without charging an expediting fee. In addition, Foresight's other customers aren't put off their schedules or bumped, because the company sets aside a segment of its production infrastructure for the quick turnarounds.
"We allow extra capacity daily for our customers that need same day service," Weizel states. "By allowing this capacity, we know we're going to have a handful of customers that are in a jam and really need to get their parts turned around the same day. It allows us to have flexibility and to move production around to be able to accommodate these customers. It allows us to do same day turnarounds, and we don't have to charge our customers more for the service. Our objective is to be the solution when our customers are in a crunch; charging more for something you should already be getting doesn't make sense. We don't want to put our customers in a bad position. We anticipate that there will be a certain amount of people that need expedited service."
Foresight has many cost cutting measures in place that allow the company to offer a competitive, cost effective plating service. "We started off with a very generic platform of a plating shop software," says Weizel. "Over the past three years, we have been making revisions to this baseline software that are specific to our operation. It helps us document our times, temps, and amps. And we have very tight parameters on our baths. Our software automatically gives operators the tools and information needed to be successful. We get our thickness checks with our X-rays to confirm that we are either within specification, or that we need to add more time."
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