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International Collaboration In Surface Finishing Finishing

January - 2010
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My European outreach mission started and ended the same way - trying to cram two weeks of clothes into one carry-on piece of luggage.  Looking back I find this an analogy to describe the entire trip.  There was just so much to do and so little time.  Thank goodness for the internet, otherwise I’d have never kept up with the great relationships, goodwill and partnerships that were created on this trip.  It started with the exemplary display of dedication at our booth in Stuttgart at the Parts2clean expo and extended to happily sitting through 10 hours of technical presentations on the aerospace industry.  Listening to the world’s most brilliant minds of this industry segment was mindboggling and before I got my feet firmly on the ground I found myself looking in the face of a Green Day concert going on next door to the Surface World venue in Birmingham, England, as an encore to a pretty encouraging finishing expo.

Anticipating this article I eventually saw it ias a perfect way to tie together two previous editorials, “Mission Critical” and “A Strategic Review of the Surface Engineering Industry”.  To me a trip to Europe is inspiring to the level of distraction.  It never fails that with each trip I am besieged with new ideas, new friends in which to build these ideas and new ways of looking at everything around me.  A few standout issues are common across the board and this something that I’ll share with you this issue.

The future of national associations promoting the science of surface finishing is at a tremendously precarious position in history.  First, it has been confessed by many of those at the senior levels of lobbying for the Finishing Association that most of the laws we lobby so hard against are first created in Europe then handed down to California  and finally to Washington, DC.  We then spend millions of dollars trying to protect our industry from these statutes. Just take the interview with Bill Saas in the November 2009 Products Finishing Magazine, in it Bill admits that the regulatory landscape has changed and if you read between the lines is it an international finishing confederation that is making these changes.

I spoke of this in the “Mission Critical” editorial, but long before writing this -it has been said around all corners of the globe.  I now have proof that countries such as England, France, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, and others are looking for a better way to not only protect our industry’s current position, but also to recruit the next generation of engineers.  In discussions with industry representatives from each of these countries, these sentiments came not only from the countries that you would expect, but there are similar movements in places like South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, India, and as you would expect China as well.

Now I realize that the proprietary information argument may be one of the strongest arguments against this, but when you step back and think through the history of electroplating, it always goes hand in hand with the industrialization of a country. The technology originated in Europe and the Middle East (depending on which history you choose to follow) and has followed the never ending wave of industrialization since its beginning.   It is visiting the US for a period, but will move away from us regardless of what happens. The best thing we can do is become part of the energy and thus the one of the driving forces and help direct the wave.  To further the analogy, to not go with the flow would be to attempt to be the beach which changes every minute in spite of its natural inclination to remain the same.  Either get with the times, or be prepared to get run over by it.

Parts2clean is a fine example of the type of international collaboration that is possible when two or more groups work together with an open mind for the better good.  It is also a very positive story of two family businesses working together to help make the industry better.  Parts2clean Director, Hartmut Heriden didn’t know me from the man in the moon when I first showed up in his media pavilion during his 2008 show.  Yet by the end of the event I felt like royalty.  I brought this good feeling back with me to the states and I shared it with Gardner Publications. They happened to be in the process of establishing a new event to go along with their new magazine Parts Cleaning, for Louisville, May 2010 called the Process Cleaning Expo or (PCX 2010). When your mind is open things like this tend to migrate towards you and this is what I think is real growth, both professional and personal.

Parts2clean 2010 The show itself was first class, both in the type of attendees, and the exhibitors it attracted.  We talked with dozens of people at the Process Cleaning Expo booth and were amazed at the overwhelmingly positive support we received.  Hartmut and his European contingency now have a well publicized and known platform from which to exhibit in Louisville.  We hope that this will help encourage some of the smaller European companies to get their feet wet, and try exhibiting their products and services in one of the largest industrial markets in the world.

A3ST Aerospace Symposium on Light Metals I wasn’t sure that I was actually going to get into this event. In spite of aggressive attempts to contact this organization through several messages to the office administrator and director of the French Aerospace Association I never did get a response.  So on the morning of the event, I walked up to the registration desk and with my funny accent (you know the one - if not see Finishing Talk Live Episode # 9) tried to get the ear of the event organizer.  After they discussed what I was trying to say amongst themselves for what seemed like a half hour, I started hearing a bunch of wees’, and felt like I was on the right track.  About that time I’m introduced to Alain Viola – yes Viola – just like what the magicians say!  He appeared just like that “Viola”.  Anyway Alain turned out to be one of the most interesting people I met on this trip.  He took me to a side room of the event and gave he his attention for a good 15 minutes while we discussed the future of associations, recruitment of new engineers and some of the other issues facing his segment of industry that were in common with other parts of the world.

Then to my surprise, I was handed a full conference badge and pass, and invited to stay as long as I liked.  It was only an hour or two into the formal program that I decided it was a shame I couldn’t stay for the second day of presentations.  The papers were actually about new ideas, theories, issues and concerns, not the same old stuff that we’ve been hearing every year back in the states.  It was comforting to know that there are actually people out there engaged in R&D on the highest of levels all around the world.  All on the same mission of improving the existing surface finishing sciences for the sake of the end product and for the sake of the industry itself.

My favorite presentations of the day were Dr. Anne Juhl’s talk on the cost benefits of Pulse Anodizing, and Dr. Gary Critchlow’s discussion on the perfect anodic coating for the bonding of aluminum layers.  The night ended with Gary, Alain, and myself sitting outside (because they gave us each several beers, then promptly locked us out) of the Citron Café arguing over what country produced the best Rock and Roll.  I have to say I was at a disadvantage, and couldn’t name more than a couple great American Rock and Rollers. The last thing I remember was finding a cab driver who charged me 60 Euros because the subways had closed hours ago.

Surface World The next day at 5:30am I found myself dragging my carry-on’s two week’s worth of luggage down empty streets between the Gare DeLest and Gare DeNord.   I’m lucky I made it really, considering I landed at the Holiday Inn at 4:00am. I basically had just enough time to figure out how to get that suitcase closed again (something that got more and more difficult each time I did it).  Then I saw her, The Eurostar! But first, and thank goodness I showed up early, I had to pass through customs and immigration at the train station.  While they are much more efficient than their counterparts in the airports, it was still something that was unexpected.  Finally on the platform I was a little dismayed when I found my seat about as far back as you could possibly walk on the train.  It was dark most of the trip (and I think I slept for an hour or so too) but I really didn’t feel like I was doing nearly 200 mph – it was all a blur at this point anyway.

I was rousted from my stupor when the train arrived in London – in 2 hours and 15 minutes I might add.   Note to self – always expect the unexpected when traveling in new countries. Seems there are two train stations on the same street in London, and you have to actually walk about 10 city blocks to get from one to another, so needless to say between discovering this, my dizzied haze and the amazement with seeing London for the first time ever – I missed my connection by a long shot.  So I ended up in their customer service line (I swear it was 90F in that building at this time – I was sweating like a pig) to find out this happens all the time and got routed on the next train to Wolverhampton.   Again in the cattle section of the train it was less than enjoyable and more or less a blur.  Four stops later I was at the Birmingham NEC – having had the opportunity to bypass the downtown station on my arrival.

Somehow I arrived at the NEC, and managed to find my way around the maze of a place that it is, to wind up on a refreshing (wet) walk to the Crown Plaza, about a half mile away – still dragging that damn suitcase.  I was just about to walk in the back door of the hotel, when out of the blue “Viola” Mike Jones, and Scott Wells appear out of nowhere!  They scared the crap out of me really as the last thing I was expecting was to run into someone I’d met the week before at parts2clean in Stuttgart, while I was trying to sneak in the back door of the hotel.

With a quick check-in using Priority Club miles I was assigned a very nice room – the first one of the trip.  Too bad I couldn’t stay more than 18 hours to enjoy it.  So I freshened up (flipped my boxers inside out again) and headed back down that half mile walk to the convention center to check out this UK style Sur-Fin.  While getting in the front door was a bit like Sur-Fin, the show certainly was not. I found an equal share of coating disciplines, both organic and inorganic.  It was a vibrant and active show and it was hard to not notice the largest supporter by a long shot was Riley’s Equipment who was running full tour buses to their warehouses on the hour.  With just over 200 exhibitors I was quickly informed that the show was much smaller than in previous years.  I heard that just a few years ago it was as much as 4 times the size that it was in 2009.

It didn’t take long to find my friend Paul Wynn at the Institute of Metal Finishing’s booth, who was excited because they had signed up their first member in their first hour of being open.  Paul took advantage of a neat photo op (right) and then took me around the floor to introduce me to some of his mates.
I met Tony Dolphin, with Surface World Magazine and discussed the importance and necessary role of the internet in the dissemination of information.  I was also introduced to Huw Williams of Serfilco and president of the other metal finishing association in the UK called the Surface Engineering Association. He was my kind of a no BS guy, and I wish I could have had more time to talk, but I soon found another face book (twitter) contact James Newton of Metal Finishing Trader. We sat down over first several espressos, then several pints as I listened with excitement about his new website and service for connecting buyers and sellers of new and used finishing equipment around the UK. He then tried his hardest to get us into the Green Day show, but thankfully it didn’t work out.

Before my whirlwind of a visit to Surface World was over, there was one last stop back in the tradeshow hall to meet the famous Mr. Riley in person before we wrapped it up for the day.  Back at the hotel I joined Paul and Huw Williams for a couple of pints of Guinness before heading over the Bear Inn at Berkswell, which is a bar and restaurant that has been serving people since the 15th century.  Over dinner Paul and I discussed the pros and cons of an internationally based confederation of metal finishing associations that would work on a global scale to enhance the industries position both in the minds of the public, students, but also with politicians.  By the time dinner was over we decided that it would be a good idea to follow up on this concept scheduling a round table discussion on the topic in Charleston next year at the Southern Metal Finishing Conference.

The date for this round table discussion will be October 3, 2010 in Charleston, SC at the Francis Marion Hotel.  If you are involved in the Surface Finishing industry and would like to be part of this new discussion please contact me to get on the invitation list.  The meeting will be open to all those who are sincerely concerned about the future of our industry, and are willing to work with others around the world to protect it.

Hope to see you all there!