Greg Wood did something a while back that he has never done in his career as president at Alpha Metal Finishing in Dexter, Michigan.
He hugged a supplier that helped him fix a major issue at his electroplating operation.
“I literally teared up,” Wood said after Hubbard-Hall’s Robin Deal and Stewart Holloway helped Alpha solve a four-year problem with their wastewater system after Wood had been through three other suppliers.
“I told Robin, ‘I know this is awkward, but can I hug you?’” Wood says. “What they had done for us, we had paid thousands of dollars to someone else with very little success. But Robin and Stewart brought us farther and faster and helped us finally complete this project.”
If you need to know one thing about Wood and Alpha Metal Finishing, it is that they take environmental concerns extremely seriously. That’s why in early 2018, the company became concerned when it identified an urgent need to upgrade its wastewater treatment systems.
“Although the situation was not an emergency yet, we could see that it would become one in the next year or two,” Wood says. “Our volume and growth in anodizing and chromate were quickly getting close to the upper limit of our wastewater permit.”
Alpha’s old plate settler and waste treatment system was primarily designed for computer chips that the company processed back in the 1980s and 1990s. Wood says it was never designed to handle high volumes of color anodizing, hardcoat, and chromate.
“We had some of the correct infrastructures, but we needed to add and upgrade critical areas in order to continue to meet wastewater compliance in the near future,” he says. “Most importantly, whatever we did needed to fit our values and goals related to environmental stewardship.”
Options Appeared to be Extensive and Expensive
In mid-2018, Alpha Metal Finishing began a wastewater treatability study with a waste treatment vendor they had met at a trade show. In the meantime, Wood says he consulted with an attorney that specialized in Michigan’s metal finishing industry to see what the prognosis was of getting into compliance with local and state regulators.
“When I shared our wastewater discharge permit limits the attorney’s recommendation was that we move,” Wood says. While that wasn’t an option, he realized that changes were potentially going to be extensive and expensive.
After almost a year of equipment quotes from the waste treatment vendor and trying to piece together a system that bridged with their current equipment, Wood says they realized that they couldn’t make their solutions work.
“We recognized that we were in a very difficult situation with challenging budget constraints,” he says. “They did their best to assist us, but we ultimately knew our goals were not aligned.”
New Vendor Provides Potential Solutions But Falls Short
That’s when Alpha Metal Finishing began consulting with a new vendor in wastewater treatment that was local to them in Dexter area. They started polysulfide testing and created a wastewater treatment system design that included their current equipment and technology, with options to add and upgrade pumps and controls and increase flow, with the goal of bringing our wastewater discharge of metals down to the lower limit — or less — of their POTW permit.
Wood says over the next year and a half, they reviewed several designs and put together an equipment list for upgrading their critical areas of waste treatment. In 2020, COVID and several other urgent issues at Alpha Metal Finishing slowed down this project almost to a halt.
“Although our vendor was very helpful in many ways, by the summer of 2021, we realized we needed to reach out for help in a different direction,” Wood says. “To say that we were becoming discouraged with the hope of finishing this project would have been an understatement.”
That’s when Wood reached out to a few finishing industry connections and was advised to contact Hubbard-Hall, which has been helping finishers since 1849 with their surface finishing needs and wastewater treatment problem.
Finally, Finding a Workable Solution
Hubbard-Hall to take a fresh look at the problems they were having with wastewater.Alpha Metal Finishing began working with Deal and Holloway from
Deal is a wastewater treatment specialist and the Product Manager for Aquapure, the company’s line of high-quality industrial wastewater treatment chemistry that includes products to remove metals, oils, fluoride, and nutrients, as well as deliver BOD/COD reduction. Holloway is a Senior Account Manager at Hubbard-Hall who works closely with shops and facilities to ensure their wastewater systems are flowing to meet expectations.
Wood and his team — which included project specialist Brian Muscat and maintenance mechanic John Nebelung — had an initial virtual meeting with Deal, which Wood says was very encouraging.
“What I appreciated is that Hubbard-Hall recognized we had a unique and challenging situation that there was not an easy, cookie-cutter solution or approach for,” he says.
Holloway then assisted Muscat and Nebelung with jar testing to evaluate the proper chemistry they would need, and the trio worked closely with Deal in analyzing the samples at Hubbard-Hall’s Inman, South Carolina research laboratories.
Review Equipment and Systems to Find Right Answers
More importantly, Holloway and Deal also reviewed Alpha Metal Finishing’s existing equipment — pumps, tanks, pH controllers — to come up with a plan to add and upgrade key components. That included looking closely at the shop’s anodizing lines and its nickel seal lines to see how the components were working in cohesion.
Wood says Holloway and Deal were on site multiple times to assist with testing, adding new equipment, and troubleshooting.
“They went above and beyond in helping us ‘find our way to solving our need for an improved wastewater treatment system,” he says. “And it was great timing because we were going from urgent to almost desperate.”
Deal says they used their Aquapure DW-45, which is a blended liquid coagulant formulated to meet the diverse needs for clarification operations. She says this unique coagulant offers the effectiveness of a highly charged aluminum complex salt with organic components for better clarification and liquid/solid separation.
“It can be used to replace alum, ferric, lime, and other inorganic coagulants,” Deal says. “It minimizes the volume of sludge generated while producing an easier to dewater sludge.”
They also recommended using Aquapure AN Clear, which is a liquid, ready-to-use anionic flocculent designed for use in settling suspended precipitates in wastewater treatment. Deal says it will cluster the precipitate into a manageable mass and works best as a post-treatment.
“After Stewart and I analyzed their samples, we knew those products were really the right combination,” Deal says. “It was extremely low dosing for them, and we were aware that a previous vendor had recommended about 15 gallons a day. They weren’t having severe chelation issues, so we knew there was a better solution.”
Vastly Improved Numbers on Metals Discharge
And because of the equipment constraints that Alpha Metal Finishing was having, Deal says they went in with a ready-to-use polymer with AN Clear, which she says was pumped right out of the drum and “did its job very well.”
Wood wholeheartedly agreed that the products recommended by Deal and Holloway did the job for his facility.
“Our waste treatment system is mostly completed and functioning with vastly improved numbers on our metals discharge,” Wood says. “We have a few more tweaks and controls to add in the future, but we are extremely happy with the results.”
Wood also says he is very pleased with how this project aligned with their environmental stewardship goals and compliance with wastewater.
Despite taking nearly four years, three previous vendors, thousands of dollars spent in consulting, and hundreds of hours of his team’s manhours to solve the issue Wood says there have been many great lessons and takeaways from this experience.
“We have found an excellent partner in chemistry and wastewater treatment,” he says. “It’s great to find someone who has such a great understanding of all of these aspects of waste treatment, flow, and chemistry. We were very confident that Hubbard-Hall was going to help us solve this problem.”