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Zero Discharge for Electro-Plating and Anodizing
Ken Emilio   

Comply or Die!

The Small plating and anodizing shops will prosper only because they will have learned to be incredibly smart and use Survival Tactics that their fathers never dreamed of…

Sounds tough, but the small metal finishing shop in 2007 is faced with the reality of survival everyday. For 30 years I have seen small job shops get regulated and beaten down. One by one, owners of the premier shops of the past 50 years got sick and tired and finally let their life's work die.

I know. I come from a family that has owned and operated no less than eight plating&anodizing companies since 1960 in California. Every one of them is gone, along with my father, a big brother, two uncles, cousins, literally hundreds of good employees and alot of friends.

One of the toughest regulatory nuts to crack for the metal finisher has been the sewer connection. I have to tell you some of the great moments in my career have been hearing customers tell the District to shove it after they successfully closed the sewer.

If you are a metal finisher and believe government and big business are not hell bent on forcing you out of business think again! If you are hoping that the nice inspector at the District has your best interests at heart, then you really need to re-think your desire to be a metal finisher!

The only sure way to stay in compliance with the Sanitation District is to say goodbye to them forever!

We used to say that metal finishing was so important that society had to have us or the planes would not fly and the cars would not run, etcetera, etc! Well guess what? We were right! Metal finishing is necessary, but who do you think will do the work? That's right, not me and not you if we keep playing the game using 50 year old methods.

The work will go off-shore just like most of industry is going off-shore. Mil-spec work is being done in the Pacific Basin and Europe. Some is even going to Communist China!

Ok, so you are in compliance now. But what happens when cadmium and chrome are not permitted at any level. What if zinc, copper or nickel limits are set below 0.5 ppm? What if Sanitation requires total cyanides below 0.05 ppm and TDS levels below 1,000 ppm?

Maybe you think you have a niche market, but you still have to comply if you are using the sewer, and that my friend is getting tougher and tougher. The good news is that closing the sewer is getting easier and cheaper everyday, but only if you know how!

If you are trying to stay in compliance with continuous flow treatment using pH and chemical precipitation, you know the difficulty of meeting the limits. Why is it so hard?

Because chemical precipitation is inefficient for removing metals at low levels. No one can consistently guarantee you, the Feds or anyone else that using pH adjustment, DTC, Mag-Hydroxide, alum based coagulants, or any other continuous flow system will always keep you out of hot water with Big Brother! Even if you batch treat, test and then discharge, you are still fighting a losing battle. Especially if they keep lowering the limits!

I have seen our industry change dramatically in the past 30 years. But what I see coming in the next 10 years will make the last 30 look like a cake walk!

The sewer connection is like drugs, you hate it but you think you cannot live without it, or you are too scared to try. You think a closed system costs too much or may disrupt your shop. You feel you do not have the time or the people to master a complex system. So you keep using the sewer until it sucks you dry and finally kills you.

I do not know one right-thinking professional metal finisher who has not dreamed about closing down his sewer connection. Shops just like yours have tried to close that connection and have had mixed results or even disaster - you have heard the stories. Some have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and still not succeeded.

More and more shops are doing it successfully…

But they had to be 100% committed. They had to think outside of the box and approach metal finishing in a new way. They did it, and they are the ones who will survive and prosper.

The small shop will prosper only because they will have learned to be incredibly smart and use survival tactics that their fathers never dreamed of. One of those survival tactics is to get off the sewer. Our company has designed and built over 500 plating facilities and over 300 wastewater treatment systems in 30 years. I am trying to get you to see that these next 10 years may see the end of the big job shop and the return of the small shop.

What is also very exciting is that with the advent of new Zero discharge techniques, electro-plating and anodizing is now becoming practical for the machine shops to bring these processes in house.



Can any metal finishing shop successfully close the sewer?

Sorry the answer is No. Some are not able but most do not how or are not willing to try.

What do you mean by successfully closing the sewer?

Successfully means closing the sewer within a reasonable time frame and budget which an owner can afford. It must allow him to stay in business and make a profit. It must permit high quality production. A system that causes more trouble than it is worth is not successful.

Who are the best candidates for Zero sewer discharge?

Shops that use less than 10 gpm peak flow or less than 10,000 gallons per day. Also operators who know their processes well or are at least willing to learn in a way they have not before.

Are we talking about ION Exchange, (IX), as the principle method of treatment?

Absolutely not! ION Exchange alone is rarely successful. IX may however be one part of a successful program. The most successful Zero discharge systems use a combination of treatment methods tailored for each individual shop and waste stream.

Is there an automated system that I do not have to worry about?

The answer is definitely NO! Forget it! No way! Not a chance! - Did I leave anything out?

Do I have to change what I am doing upstream?

Yes - If you are not willing to change the way you process now then closing the sewer is not for you. And by the way if you have convinced yourself that you cannot change or if you think you know it all, then you really have deceived yourself. Good Luck in your next career choice!


Ken Emilio has owned and operated job shops for years. He is also the president and CEO of IPEC Global Inc. His expertise is in the design and construction of electro-plating and anodizing systems to many industries. He has also worked with hundreds of metal finishers and regulatory agencies in developing successful waste water treatment systems.

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