Joaquín Tortola
Managing Director
Atotech de México
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Chrome Plating Innovation a Priority for Atotech

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 16:20

Q: What are the priority areas for Atotech’s operations in Mexico?

A: For light and heavy vehicles, the Atotech product range covers technologies for the entire spectrum of decorative and functional electroplating, and semiconductor and printed circuit board manufacturing. The Atotech surface technologies for automotive applications cover various materials including steel, aluminum and plating on plastics and all possible applications from engine and power train to electrical devices. In Mexico, our operations include distribution, technical assistance, testing, and manufacturing of two types of plating. One is purely anticorrosive, with or without nickel or cobalt, in order to comply with the mechanical and chemical standards required by manufacturers. The other kind of plating we provide is decorative, but it still needs to be corrosion resistant. Certain plastic parts of the vehicle also go through this procedure to offer more effective mechanical properties and a longer lifecycle. Similarly, copper parts need to be treated with nickel and chrome to avoid corrosion, as well as any other effect that oxidant elements might have on the component.

Q: What are the biggest challenges involved in the plating process and how does Atotech overcome them?

A: Our biggest challenge lies in obtaining the most efficient processes with the least impact on the environment. Even though chrome is one of the most anticorrosive materials, there are certain harmful elements like chrome-6, so we are conducting investigations to find a more suitable replacement. In decorative plating, chrome (VI) can be practically eliminated, considering that there are certain processes that leave a white or smoked-gray finish that use chrome (III), a much more stable element that does not have the same health implications. Furthermore, the differences between a chrome (VI) and a chrome (III) finish are so minimal that they can only be detected by an expert, and several of our clients are already using them in their decorative processes. Additionally, we offer instruction on how to use our products in a plant and in a laboratory setting. Any company that works with metal coatings must invest in laboratory facilities, human resources and equipment. On our premises we can conduct corrosion tests, chromatography for analyzing organic additives, atomic absorption, X-ray equipment for measuring thickness, and substance identification.

Q: Other than chrome (VI) substitution, what new trends have you detected in the automotive market?

A: We are developing new alloys that offer more effective mechanical properties at lower costs. We are constantly adapting new technologies and processes to update our products and ensure more effective processes and an adherence to legislation. Aside from trivalent chrome plating, we have introduced smoked-chrome finishes and satin nickel processes. There are various finishing techniques that differ in terms of the level of light reflection in the material, and each manufacturer has its preferred image. In terms of decorative elements for the automotive industry, plastic parts are more important since they are lighter, cheaper, and far easier to manufacture, and we have developed important relationships with plastic injection companies, which have helped us avoid certain issues that arise when we want to plate the component. New materials like aluminum and magnesium are now being used in the automotive industry, but they are more complicated to treat, which gives plastic a greater advantage over these elements.

Q: How are you approaching new companies entering the Mexican market, and what processes are you offering them?

A: Given that there may be several companies offering the same process, we find that it has become vital to optimize our service, with efficient sales strategies and an attractive product portfolio. Aside from our normal services we also offer immersion products, treated with a zinc-aluminum alloy to leave a coating called zinc flake. This process is specially designed for parts that cannot be in contact with hydrogen, either because of their size or because of the fragility this might contribute to the component. In terms of OEMs with a large international presence, we first need to identify their suppliers, and then we can determine whether or not we can comply with their norms and specifications. As leaders in the plating segment, we also provide certifications to other suppliers, recognizing them as automotive approved applicators and, although we have not yet granted this certification to any Mexican company, there are several strong candidates.