It’s fairly obvious in this difficult economy that companies have no choice but to change in order to survive, let alone thrive. The world is moving and shifting so fast that companies who fail to adapt their thinking, processes, and systems are being left behind and closing their doors. Alpha could have been one of those sad stories. Fortunately, the story hasn’t ended and we’re happy to say that we’ve turned a corner.
I faced many new challenges when I started at Alpha in 2010, the main one being that I said I would never work in my father’s anodizing business. God must have a great sense of humor when we use the word “never.” We were in a downward spiral and the morale of the staff was at an all-time low. We needed more than just a new strategy in sales and quality, but a serious overhaul in the attitude and focus of the leadership. As I read “How the Mighty Fall” by Jim Collins I couldn’t help but think that we were experiencing the silent creep of doom. Call me a bit naïve since I’m new to the anodizing industry, but I came in with a sense of urgency and started with what I knew we needed to do before we could have any discussions: grow sales. I’m sure the management team must have thought I was crazy. We hired in a great sales person to assist me in mining the opportunities for business development that lay dormant, many that were just plain missed.
Ben Franklin once said “Drive thy business or it will drive thee.” For me, that means you can’t just sit there and expect business to come to you through your normal supply chains, especially if the economy is hurting. You have to go get the business, proactively! As it was, my salesperson and I put together a great strategy for marketing and sales. What we didn’t anticipate is that we would meet resistance at every step of the journey from the management team. Oh, they nodded their heads at our ideas and tried to smile but it was obvious that they thought “He just doesn’t get it.” For us, the change meant excitement.
"Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better." --King Whitney Jr.
I must confess, I really thought that they would eventually catch the vision and excitement for what I saw as great potential for Alpha. Unfortunately, they had no desire to take things any farther. All change is painful and can produce a certain amount of fear, even complacency. The pain and consequences of not making changes though can be even worse. As the sales started to grow within a few months I detected a slight spark of enthusiasm, but when the growing pains came with it I knew the managers were not along for the ride. It was time to make the hard decisions from the top down: the managers needed to go. For sure, there was much agonizing over this decision. If Alpha was ever going to get back off the ground we needed a transformation in the leadership and culture. At a previous company I worked for I experienced firsthand the devastating effects of having the wrong leaders at the top. It damaged momentum, morale, and caused sales and service delivery to decline. We couldn’t allow this to happen at Alpha.
Winston Churchill followed three basic principles in selecting his personnel: 1. Pick the best person suited for the job and ignore seniority. 2. Have your plans in mind as you select your executives so that they serve your design and not their own. 3. Start at the top, not the bottom, in building your team. That is essentially the strategy that we followed as we replaced three good managers. I had taken quite a bit of time to identify leaders within the current staff at Alpha so that when the time came to lay off two of our managers we had a transition plan in place. One manager seemed to be on board with us and showed a willingness to hang in there. Ultimately, the change was just too stressful for him so he opted to resign.
I wish I could say that this transition was smooth. It was not! No leadership change is ever perfectly smooth and certainly we experienced a great loss in our knowledge base as well as the investment in their training. Not to mention, there were major hiccups in quality and production for about three months as the new leadership team learned their new roles. Were there some mistakes made in how we handled the leadership transition? Definitely. It was difficult to think through how all of the changes would impact us and the rest of the staff. We did not have the luxury of a change management team. But we kept moving forward with the principles from Jim Collins' Good to Great: “Those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus.”
Some of you may be asking “Was there a payoff?” Most assuredly. In the past two years we have experienced solid growth in sales (nearly 20%) as well as a huge change in the morale and productivity of the staff. Not to mention we have received many compliments from our long time customers. We haven’t hit all of our goals and objectives but as the new leadership team has begun to gel and find their groove in how they work together it is clear that we made the right decision. Was the transition easy? No. Was it painful? Yes. But I’d rather have growing pains any day. Surviving these hard economic times is good but we make it our aim to thrive, not just survive. That takes unwavering faith in what you’re doing and why.
During the anodizing process, the aluminum oxide film grows perpendicular to the surface of the part. Because of this there will be less coverage on the sharp corners of parts leaving a thin spot in the anodic coating. That thin spot will then be a site of low dielectric strength and reduced corrosion resistance. In the case of parts being hard anodized, because it is a site of low electrical resistance, an increased amount of current will flow at that spot, frequently causing the part to overheat and produce a discoloration or “burn”. In some cases the temperature becomes so hot that the anodic coating and the underlying aluminum are actually dissolved in the sulfuric acid electrolyte and large amounts of material are removed from the part.
This phenomenon very rarely causes a problem in conventional anodizing. However, in the hardcoat anodizing process where power densities can approach 3000 watts per square foot, sharp corners or points can initiate a “burn” which can destroy portions of the part. Being aware of this potential problem, Alpha Metal Finishing has developed procedures and computer control technology that will minimize this possibility. However it is much better practice to design parts without sharp points or edges.
A different but equally undesirable phenomenon occurs with sharp inside corners. The two surfaces growing perpendicular to each other impinge upon each other at the corner creating a seam. The seam is not contiguous like normal anodizing and can expand and contract with temperature allowing the environment access to the base aluminum at its root. MIL-A-8625 recommends a minimum radius of .030 in. on both inside and outside corners.
Anodizing is the process of electrochemically converting the surface of an aluminum part to aluminum oxide. Aluminum oxide occupies about two times the volume as that of raw aluminum. Therefore, anodizing will cause parts to grow dimensionally. This factor should be taken into consideration when designing parts that will be anodized.
Typical standard clear and color anodizing creates an aluminum oxide film in the range of .0002 to .0008 inches, (.005 to .020 mm), on each surface. Hard anodizing is typically in the range of .0005 to .003 inches, (.013 to .076 mm), the most common being .002 inches. (.051 mm).
The process of hard anodizing a part to .002 in. film thickness will therefore grow .001 in. on each surface or .002 in. in overall dimension.
Higher purity alloys are always preferred for anodizing. Alloying elements such as copper and silicon do not anodize and leave microscopic voids in the aluminum oxide film. Since the anodizing process converts only the aluminum to aluminum oxide to form the anodized finish, higher purity aluminum will yield a denser and harder layer of aluminum oxide. High concentrations of some alloying elements will also affect the surface finish and color of the anodized finish and will reduce the effectiveness of the sealing process causing reduced corrosion and wear resistance and decreasing fade resistance in dyed parts.
The most popular alloys used for anodizing are 5000, 6000 and 7000 series alloys. These alloys will provide consistently excellent quality finishes for hardcoat and conventional anodizing. High purity alloys like 1100 and 3000 series will also form very good finishes. Although 2000 series alloys are popular alloys because of their strength and machining characteristics ithey are not the best choice for good anodized finishes because of their high copper content. It has all of the disadvantages noted in the above paragraph. Alpha Metal Finishing Co. regularly provides good anodized finishes for parts made from 2000 series alloys, however a superior anodized finish will be obtained with higher purity alloys.
Anodizing is an electrolytic process for producing controlled aluminum oxide films on aluminum. Oxide forms naturally on untreated aluminum, but the anodizing process produces a coating which is uniform, much harder, and more dense than natural oxidation. Aluminium oxide also possesses excellent thermal and electrical insulating qualities.
The anodic film is formed by converting the surface of the part into aluminum oxide. Unlike paint, which can flake off if not applied properly, anodized aluminum finishes are actually formed from the original material and cannot flake off. The aluminum oxide finish is very hard and exceptionally wear resistant. Anodizing is good for many consumer products and sporting goods due to its aesthetic and corrosion protection properties. Anodizing is the primary finish for aluminum aircraft parts including major components before assembly and painting. We also offer Teflon impregnation to further enhance your parts resistance to wear.
Parts can be dyed during the anodizing process to produce luxurious finishes with a deep color that can only be imitated by paint. Alpha Metal Finishing currently offers aluminum anodizing in clear, black, gold, red, blue, and green. A variety of other colors are available for your higher volume products.
At Alpha Metal, our standard anodizing process conforms to MIL-A-8625 Type II.
Benefits of Aluminum Anodizing: