ELECTROPLATING IN SOUTH AMERICA
The Experiences Of An American Electroplater In Several Shops In Buenos Aires Written For The Metal Industry
By Harry Greene
This is the letter which is mentioned in our correspondence columns in this issue. Mr. Greene is having most interesting and valuable experiences, and his observations are worth noting not only by electroplaters, but by manufacturers and supply houses.–Ed.
Out for a job, naturally, I was refused at some places as no help was wanted, but finally landed at one place which was in need of a "dorador," a gold plater. I was shown the plating room which was merely a small room in which were a few small tanks and enameled pots of about two gallons size. The enameled pots as he explained me were for such solutions to be used hot, and in this particular case for gold solutions. He also added that the reason for plating from an enameled pot was because it was so handy to heat as it could be easily put on the gas stove and heated. The price of gas is high here, since the price of coal is $36 gold, the gas being a product of the coal. Nearly all solutions are run cold, probably for that reason; to run a boiler for steam would also be a great expense. You can picture the difficulty of being deprived of such a necessary feature as steam heat, but still they have means of overcoming part of this obstacle.
Now returning to where I left off, I can say that the whole arrangement was odd, taking into account the dynamo, sand blast, and the drying of work in cold sawdust. The sand blast operated by hand, which will give an idea what a slow process it is, taking into account the large pieces to be sand blasted.
At the above mentioned place I arranged to appear the next morning, but it seemed to me that this place was not the one to suit my purpose as I was able to see all I wanted during the time I spent there. The shop was very small, but I accepted the job, at the same time thinking of locating a big shop which I had on my list.
The next place, Joselowich Bros. & Co., 2570 Sarmiento Street, looked to me more progressive. I applied for a job, which at first was refused, as no help was wanted, but on learning that I was a North American, their curiosity was aroused to learn how plating was done in the States, and after a conversation, learning of my experience in plating, I was hired to appear the next morning.
Now having two positions on hand I decided to take the latter as it seemed to be the more advanced factory, employing some 75 hands, engaged in manufacturing brass beds and articles such as sugar bowls, bread trays, serving trays, barbers' supplies, such as shaving cups, perfume sprayers, and many other articles used here in barber shops. Then again this factory makes store display fixtures made of brass and articles of special types too numerous to mention.
On time the next morning I was there ready for work. All the "Officiales" places occupied, that is, those doing the plating, I was put to do the scouring, but I did not object as it did not matter to me whether I was classed as an "Official" so everything went along smoothly, as it looked like the place I wanted.
I shall now give you a description of the factory, the plating department and the handling of the work. I regret very much to say that my scheme of taking snapshots of the different departments of the factory did not prove a success after a hard try to take some. The firm was considerate enough to permit me to take photographs of the factory, but on account of being dark inside and not having a suitable camera for the purpose, they were failures. I did take some, but the pictures did not show enough to give a fair idea, so I shall try to describe it on paper as best I can.
The factory occupies one and half stories running about 250 feet deep, and 75 feet wide inside, two-thirds of it being used for workshop and the other third for the buffing and plating departments. In the workshop I have noticed much of the work being done by hand, which to my judgment could be eliminated and performed in less time and better results by modern machinery, but as it is not in my line and being unable to describe my ideas thoroughly, I shall not go into details, but shall go on describing the buffing and plating ends. In the buffing room there are employed 12 men, all occupied in different operations, such as surfacing, cutting down, buffing, coloring and glossing. The conveniences are far from modern; dirt, polishing material and dust fly all over. There is no such thing as suction to take up the waste from the wheels and polishing compound. It seems that the health of the operators is very little thought of, and then again the operators themselves do not seem to bother much. Well, I don't think they have ever seen things any better.
The plating room is divided in two sections with a wall between. One side is used for a pickling, acid dipping and cleaning room, while the other is where the plating tanks are installed. The former is an awful sight. In the first place there is no suction fan to take away the fumes from the acid, so they remain in the room until they find their way up to the skylight, which is located in the centre. Imagine the accommodations! None of the acid tanks are big enough for a quarter of the size of the pieces treated in them. In case the article is too large to be immersed, the acid is poured over it by means of an enameled dipper. Sure enough it is very difficult and the results are very poor in comparison with what they would be under modern improvements. Then again no tanks for rinsing are directly connected with the sewer, so that whatever is in excess runs over the top on the floor, until it finds its way into the spout located in the centre of the floor. The workers are constantly in the midst of it. The plater is subjected to the wet and acid floor and the bad acid fumes all day long.
Now as to the plating end of it there is more to tell, but first I will mention what solutions are used and capacity.
Nickel Solution, 500 gallons.
Nickel Solution,100 gallons.
Brass Solution, 150 gallons.
Copper-Cyanide Solutions, 50 gallons.
Silver Solution, 200 gallons.
Gold Solution, 10 gallons.
In all the above baths, anodes are used with reference to the solution except the silver bath, in which platinum anodes are employed, drawing constantly from the bath, which is replenished when it is judged to be low in metal. The brass and copper are run cold. A silver strike is used before transfering to the plating bath, platinum anodes being used there also.
After they are finished in the buffing room the articles are brought into the plating department where they are flashed through a potash solution, because they believe that all the potash is for is to soften the grease.
The next operation is to remove the grease with the brush and pumice or lime. Every article from the smallest to the largest is scoured. An electric cleaner would be a handy thing here. After a thorough scouring, spending much time and energy it is then plated. Not much pains are taken to obtain the brightest deposit possible, because it is figured that if the article is burned on the edges or blurry or stained or any such thing, the glosser will take care of same. The above is in reference to nickel, brass, copper plating or any other finish. Then again small articles are wired up for plating, which could easily be plated in modern barrels, increasing the output, and lowering the cost, but that is absolutely unknown here. I took the pains to explain to the foreman the advantage of an "electric cleaner," plating barrels and other means of producing better finish, increased production and much lower cost in the best Spanish I could, also by the aid of photographs of your journal The Metal Industry, but I impressed him little as he could not see how the features could work as I stated. Only a practical demonstration could possibly obtain some good results, and, of course, of the above I had none at hand. It might have been easy enough to arrange a bath to remove the grease by the electric current, but here again I was at a stand still on account of the lack of heat and sufficient electricity, as the dynamos at hand could not produce the desired results. On account of not having means to demonstrate my ideas practically I could make no headway.
Now as to the labor question. That is far from equal to the States. The wages are low, when one considers that nearly everything necessary to life is about equal to that in the States. This has reference to the metal and plating trades, but I have heard that the same is true of other industries as well. The reason for this I may say is because the supply is greater than the demand. Foreman platers receive from five to seven pesos, paper money a day, which is less than half of the value of gold, while every commodity bought is priced equal to gold money. The above may be interesting to you as a matter of information, and I have purposely dwelt on it. Also I mean to bring out a more interesting feature, that is, why the manufacturers or job platers have not taken pains to search for modern equipment improvements. The labor is cheap and plentiful. It concerns them very little how long it may take to do a certain operation, and again how many operations can be eliminated, and still obtain the same results. Because of the cheapness of labor, the manufacturer is able to put his article on the market no matter what it may cost to produce and still be able to compete with foreign made goods of the specified articles.
All of the above is true of the present, but the times are changing gradually. The strikes which occurred here lately are a sure sign that the old system can not hold its ground very much longer, and by that I mean to say that sooner or later the proprietors will have to find ways and means to place their products on the market at the same cost as the foreign manufacturer, with his modern improvements and speed of production.
There is no doubt that the United States had made the most progress in the plating industry and automatic machinery for it. The science and machinery of the above can not only be very well utilized here, but it is badly needed. I am saying this because I am convinced that it is so.
Although everything in the manufacturing line may be in its infancy, yet it is necessary to look at the growth of Argentine. Only a matter of some years and you will find the Argentine Republic among the foremost nations. Because of this I believe that there are open channels for American chemicals, manufactures and modern improvement in plating. Speaking of chemicals reminds me of some American chemicals already here; those of the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works of St. Louis, Mo. Some manufacturers as you can see have already established trade here, and I say that there are plenty of opportunities for many others. The field is big and growing.
Now going back to where I left off in regard to my "job" at the Joselowich Bros. & Co. I stayed there 3 weeks. I would probably have stayed a little longer as I wanted to ask permission to take photos of the factory again, but the condition of always being in a puddle of water, as the floor was constantly, drove me away. However, during all the time I was there I made a study of everything possible. The working hours are very convenient, from 7.30-11.30 A. M. and from 1.30 to 5.30 P. M., having two hours for dinner, which is the usual custom everywhere. It is convenient in this respect, that no matter how far any one may live, he or she may enjoy a home meal and a little rest.
The next job was at Paulucci Bros., 1230 Corrientos St., also Buenos Aires. I am writing this letter while being employed there. In this place the conditions are about the same; in some respects better and in others worse. There is much to be improved, and rearranged, but here I find the same obstacle as I have already mentioned; a practical demonstration is the only convincing power to obtain the desired results, and on account of not having the means to accomplish it, I am merely looking things over. A great factor in the chemical line here would be sodium cyanide, on account of the high price of potassium cyanide, although much lower than in the States, and for that reason the brass, copper and other baths do not get all which is necessary to obtain a good bright deposit. I frequently found the anodes "green" for lack of cyanide. I explained to the owner one day that cyanide was necessary to add to the bath, because of the anodes being corroded and the high resistance in the bath did not allow sufficient current to flow through, and, of course, for that reason the work came out smutty and dull, which made it necessary to scratch brush afterwards. This could be easily avoided by just adding cyanide, but the answer I received was that cyanide was too high and could not be afforded. Of course it would be an expense to add potassium cyanide at the present prevailing prices yet cheaper than to employ extra scratch brushers. At the same time "sodium cyanide" is so much cheaper that in some cases, as it would be in this case, it would find itself received with open arms. I inquired whether any was for sale anywhere, but I was told that there was not; moreover they did not know of any such chemical as "sodium cyanide." I could mention a whole page or more of articles in the chemical line which are needed, but suffice it to say that such is the case. I just happened to mention "sodium cyanide," because I know what an important factor that is in plating.
The feeling of gratitude to The Metal Industry for benefits I have derived prompted me to write this letter; also the fact that American chemical manufacturers, will become aware of the fact that there are opportunities for them in the South American republics. It must be borne in mind however that "new country, new customs," and they must be studied to achieve success. Experts in the line whatever it may be, and literature, in Spanish describing the use of articles are absolutely essential; of course, not overlooking the important fact that the expert must know the language thoroughly. Without the latter one is positively lost.
Source: The Metal Industry - February 1920