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Finishing Spotlight: Fred Mueller, CEF

February/January - 2008
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Last month, Finishing Talk interviewed quality manager of the New Jersey based General Magnaplate Corporation and AESF Past President, Fred Mueller. He now serves on the Board of Trustees for the AESF. During the interview he discussed issues such as the proposed Surface Engineering Database, last year's merger of the AESF (American Electroplaters and Surface Finishers Society)  with the NASF (National Association for Surface Finishing), and the association's plans for educational and outreach campaigns in 2008.

FTalk: To begin, Fred, why don't we start by talking a little bit about the AESF? When was the association established and which branch do you belong to?

FM: Well, the AESF has been around since before WWII. It was officially established in 1909. The organization's first branch was in Philadelphia, which is also the branch that I belong to.

FTalk: I understand that it was only recently that the AESF merged with the NASF, after all these years of being an independent entity. What was the motivation behind the merger, and what changes have you seen within the organization since the merger occurred?

FM: The merger became official in January of 2007; so yes, it was quite recent. The NASF actually consists of three individual organizations: American Electroplaters and Surface Finishers Society (AESF), the Metal Finishing Suppliers Association (MFSA) and the National Association of Metal Finishers (NAMF). The AESF being primarily individual members, many from educational backgrounds; the MFSA consists of suppliers, and the NAMF is mostly shop owners. The biggest advantage has been the cooperation of all three groups. Because of the extra support, we have been able to save a considerable amount of money. There has been a dramatic impact on our budget, and the arrangement seems to be working well for everyone so far.

FTalk: Now, with your first successful year out of the way, what plans does the AESF have for 2008?

FM: The very fact that we're able to balance a budget now allows us to get back to AESF roots. You are probably going to see incredible things coming from Frank Altmayer, the Technical Director and chairman of the AESF Technical Education Board. We're renewing and updating the courses, making them a little more ‘today' to fit the needs of our students. We are developing new courses and making them more relevant in the marketplace. We are also looking at collaborating with other finishing news sources to market our classes.

We had great success last year with our courses, so we are planning on being a bit more ambitious in 2008. Some last minute classes have been planned to take place in Arizona on behalf of the DOD this year, for instance. One of our focal points is trying to help the DOD with better selections for chrome replacements - plasma sprays, for instance. This can be quite difficult, since very often you cannot replace chrome with anything other than chrome. In addition, we will also be trying to keep the DOD aware of all the advances in the field, like trivalent baths that don't produce the same pollution and carcinogens. Our goal is to offer them safer and cleaner alternatives and to educate them as to what is available.

FTalk: Do you see a trend in the concentration of students in any particular region of the US?

FM: Our current management group is undertaking an analysis of where our students are located throughout the country. We are starting to look at a more regional approach to our classes. Not everyone can make it to Sur-Fin, for instance. So we are going to try to zone in on more regional events in the future.

What kind of effort is the AESF making to get young people interested in Metal Finishing?

FM: The AESF is making several efforts to get youth involved in the finishing industry. The Bright Design challenge is one good example. We work with the school of design for automotive to promote the use of chrome and metals in vehicle design. We've exposed these future designers to the industry, as well as given them the resources to include the metal finishing industry in their future design plans.

FTalk: Let's change pace here for a moment and discuss plans for the new Surface Engineering Database. Who proposed the idea for the database, and how is the AESF responding to the idea?

FM: We were approached by Dr. Keith Legg of Rowan Technology, who suggested that the database needed a home that was above reproach and also non-profit; the AESF fit these criteria. Furthermore, we already have a fairly substantial database. The foundation is all for it, but is looking for more detail. In the meantime, Keith is looking for funding. We are pressing ahead with it, though, because we think it's a great idea.

FTalk: Where was all of this information previously located?

It is actually part of the DOD. There is a lot of research - some of which is classified - but a lot of it is common knowledge, so we want to make it available to those that design, build, purchase, and so on. Ultimately, it's a resource that will help finishers match the right finish with the right job. 

Who will have access to the database once it is ready?

FM: The database is part of the public domain - our tax dollars go towards creating it, so there is no way to make it exclusive.

FTalk: Who will benefit the most from using the database?

When people are aware of how to use and choose coating, the U.S. as a whole will benefit financially from implementing the proper instruments and equipment for a job. America's finishing industry has a quality finish, and we expect a quality price for it, even though that often places us at a disadvantage against other countries with lower quality standards.

FTalk: I look forward to seeing this project move from the planning stage into the valuable resource it sounds like it's going to become. Shifting gears again, let's discuss the finishing industry in general. What is your take on the intense collaboration within the industry that has occurred during recent years?

FM: I think the level of collaboration that has taken place is in response to the changing marketplace. Globalization has cost the industry dearly in North America. What you are seeing is a unified response to that. Given the chance, and by working together, we can do a better job. We can turn our products around more quickly and less expensively, and with a higher quality.

FTalk: Do you see a trend towards more Environmentally Efficient processes within the industry?

FM: Yes, definitely. The AESF itself has been involved with chrome replacements. In some ways I think we have even lead the way. The EPA no longer regards us as adversaries, but more as a body to ask advice of before going down certain roads and deciding policy. We are now invited to comment rather than having to simply comply to something thrown out at us. So far, the EPA has probably had the most success by promoting volunteerism within the industry. Bridges won't last very long without surface finishing; toasters won't stay acceptable as toasters if they aren't shiny - plus, they'll rust. Literally, surface finishing is everywhere; the cars we drive, our refrigerators, bathtubs with porcelain - that's all part of the metal finishing trade. I think the way the EPA used to say it was that we are the largest, controllable source of metals. That's not to say that we're the largest source of metals polluting, but we are definitely the largest controllable source. I think we've recognized that and have done a good job of trying to improve on it. To the point  that I think we look at the EPA now as more of a partner than as an adversary.

FTalk: What do you think the outlook is for the finishing industry?

I think it's very bright. Many electronics today require some spiffy packaging, and I think metals take care of that. In the automotive industry, too, relies heavily on metal finishing for making vehicles more attractive and lighter. I read an article recently about replacing paint on a rocket with a ceramic that is a conversion coating; something new in metal finishing. It is very thin and extremely durable, and will ultimately replace paint on certain items. At this very moment, we are developing tomorrow's new finishes. It's not as mature an industry as you might expect, and I think we are evolving and changing enough to contend with the future.

~ FT~