MARCH 2011 METAL FINISHING MAGAZINE
Above & Beyond
Many finishers “preach” customer service, but at Easley, S.C.-based Palmetto Plating, client focus is Commandment #1.
By Reginald Tucker
In the realm of collegiate sports, the state of South Carolina is renowned for its beloved “Gamecocks” and “’Tigers.” But when it comes to specialty pretreatment and finishing processes for complex, large-scale jobs, it’s Palmetto Plating that’s top of mind.
Based in Easley, located northwest of rhe state capital between Atlanta, Ga., and Charlone, N.C., Palmetto Plating has been sought out by virtually everyone from automotive original equipment manufacturers to designers of heavy industrial machinery to makers of components for nuclear power plants. Even other surface finishers have been known to send jobs its way. What clients are seeking, for the most part, is access to Palmetto Plating’s coveted expertise in nearly a dozen surface finishing process categories (pickle passivation, electropolishing, and chromate conversion coatings among them).
One such customer is Clint Simmons, Manufacturing Engineer, CWI/CWE, at Toccoa. Ga.-based Patterson Pump Co. Simmons cited one particularly challenging project that required passivation on massive 48-inch to-66-inch diametcr stainless steel elbows and piping for a municipal environmental water works department. ”The parts were out of our realm–much larger than anyone else was willing to handle,” he recalled. “We called several folks, but they wouldn’t touch it. Palmetto Plating turned it around quick and with om any problems.”
Tampa Bay Steel, a Florida-based operation specializing in metal distribution and processing, is another Palmetto Plating client who needed assistance in tackling an oversize project. In this case, the job called for the surface preparation and finishing of a multitude of massive, stainless steel/nickel alloy air pollution control units designed for use in clean power generation plants. Tampa Bay Steel constructed the units, known as “absorbers,” then sent them to Palmetto Plating to ensure they were completely free of iron contaminants.
Steve Wilson, who oversees special projects for Tampa Bay SteeL says Palmetto Plating has long been the go-to source tor its special passivation needs. “All the projects they have done for us were very sizeable, some of which are multi-million-dollar projects. The quality of their services and attention to detail have allowed us to offer our products with full passivation, which has given us an edge against our competition. It also gives us the assurance of a defect-free product.”
The list of satisfied customers goes on. Paul Morey of Easley-based Stair Crafters, Inc., described a fairly recent job in which Palmetto Plating was called on to electropolish a curvy, winding stainless steel stair-way measuring 24 ft. long X 4ft. wide. The stairway unit, which entailed a “No. 4” finish prior to elec-tropolishing, weighed more than 4,000 lbs and consisted of upwards of 300 individual pans. With the staircase slated for installation in an upscale residence in the Bahamas, the architect and builder on the project required a finish that not only offered optimal brightness and cleanability, but one that also removed burrs and free iron.
“We have been very pleased with the services that Palmetto Plating has provided us on several of our very high-end staircases,” Morey said. “The completed finish is always just what we want, whether it is stainless steel that is being electropolished or cold-rolled steel that has to have a chrome-nickel finish. Our customers are always amazed at the finished staircases we design, fabricate, and install for them with the help of Palmetto Plating.”
Palmetto Plating’s technical prowess is only part of the allure. Many of its customers also cite the finisher’s willingness to go above and beyond when a tight turnaround is warranted. Greenville S.C.-based Standard Motor Products. Inc.-a leading independent manufacturer, distributer and marketer of replacement parts for motor vehicles in the automotive aftermarket industry-knows this firsthand. During a recent winter storm that crippled parts of the Southeast region for an entire week, Palmetto Plating worked extra shifts over the weekend leading up to the winter storm in order to make sure the supply chain was nor impacted by delays.
“Due to this effort, the client’s customer was able to keep running production, as many businesses were forced to shut down,” said Kevin Phillips, quality manager, Standard Motor Products. ”Palmetto has demonstrated cooperation, flexibility and customer service during a time of need. They have proven to be a supplier with a partnering attitude.”
And that’s precisely the point, according to Palmetto Plating’s president, John Cutchin, the man who founded the company in 1964 after graduating high school. When Palmetto Plating performs the metal finishing on customers’ products, he says, they get more than quality finishing-they get individualized attention. This driving philosophy, which has been cultivated throughout the company from the front office to the back shop, borders on obsession. It is especially evident in the pre-plating, consultation phase of the job.
”We do a lot of prototyping and testing with the customer in advance to ensure we meet their specifica-tions.” Palmetto Plating’s Cutchin explained. It’s this much sought-after capability–the knack for engineering and product design-that also helps the finisher educate its clients on the multitude of possibilities available with various processes and techniques.
It’s an advantage that many clients clearly recognize. Case in point: Charlotte. N.C-based Ward Tank & Heat Exchanger Corporation, which specializes in the custom design and fabricarion of process equipment for the chemical, pharmaceutical, food/beverage, pulp/paper, power, refinery and pure water industries. Bob Besh, the company’s vice president of operations, has long appreciated the time and effort Palmetto Plating always takes in making sure he and his company completely understand the processes involved. It’s also refreshing, he notes, to work with a finisher that consistently performs services as quoted and delivers on time.
“We have always thought of Palmetto Plating as the best possible source to answer not only our questions but our customers’ questions as well,” Besh said. “We have [referred Palmetto Plating] to a variety of customers who were having different issues and wanted to better understand what was possible by coating, chemical cleaning, pickling, etc. Palmetto Plating has always been able to help them understand the different altternatives, regardless of whether it created business for themselves.”
One company that’s confidently sending business Palmetto’s way these days is Victaulic, a Doraville, Ga.-based manufacturer of pipings and castings for a host of industries, including fire protection, ship build-ing, power generation, oil and gas, chemical mining, and water treatment. Tom Port, Victaulic’s plant manager, has yet to be disappointed, referring to the finisher’s work as consistently outstanding. “Palmetto Plating has met or exceeded our expectations in regards to quality and delivery. Their ability to respond when we need an immediate turn around has been exceptional.”
Palmetto Plating didn’t develop into a multimarket finishing specialist overnight. In fact, the 47- year-old company originally provided metal finishing services mostly to the local textile industry. Over the years, it grew—partly out of necessity—-to accommodate the needs of emerging and changing industries, both regional and beyond. With U.S. industry at large continuing to face seismic changes today. Palmetto Plating’s approach to survival hasn’t changed: explore new market opportunities while maintaining its customized approach to surface finishing.
“We’re doing some interesting things that other platers don’t do,” Curchin said, hinting at a new barrel-plating process designed to replace hexavalent chromium. Palmetto Plating also plans to continue exploring innovations in proprietary formulations and processes. The company is also keeping its options open in considering offering services beyond its present line-up of in-demand finishes.
But one element of Palmetto Plating’s business that is not likely to change is its sharp focus on the cus-romer- the driving factor behind its success for nearly half a century. And that’s just fine by its long-time customers.
“Over the years, Palmetto Plating’s service and quality have been extremely beneficial,” said Bruce Lawson, senior buyer for Rodney Hunt Company, a full-line manufacturer of fluid·control devices and a Palmetto customer for 15 vears. ”I would not hesitate to give a recommendation to anyone.” ###