Application of chemical analysis as an aid to waste minimisation in the electroplating industry.
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A chromium plating line used by a local company was monitored to identify any potential waste minimisation opportunities. Plating of the workpiece surface is carried out by immersing the workpiece in seven process (treatment) solutions including nickel and chromium plating baths. Between each process step the workpieces are rinsed. The chromium plating process was evaluated using the results of a waste minimisation audit. This involved gathering data on the composition, flow rates and costs of the inputs of the process. Two types of data were collected namely new and existing data. The new data included chemical monitoring (concentration levels of Ni, Cr, Na, S, B, P, Si, Fe, Cu, Zn, Pb as well as conductivity, TDS, SS and pH measurements) and water usage data. The existing data included raw materials, utility inputs, composition of process solutions and product outputs. The data were analysed using three established waste minimisation techniques. The Water Economy Assessment (a form of Monitoring and Targeting) results were determined using an empirically derived model. The Water Balance and True Cost of Waste results were obtained through more detailed calculations using the results of the chemical analysis. The results from the audit showed that the water usage on the chromium plating line has the highest waste minimisation potential. The True Cost of Waste analysis showed there is no significant chemical wastage in the effluent stream. The potential savings of the effluent stream was negligible (approximately R10 for 238 days). Drag-out calculations were also performed and showed that the drag-out volumes were in good agreement with the typical volumes found in the metal finishing industry. Intervention using simple lowcost and no-cost waste minimisation opportunities were recommended as a first step before contemplating further focus areas for technical or feasibility studies.