BY BRIAN K. SMITH
Southern Schuylkill Bureau Chief
TAMAQUA - Take a piece of stainless steel - like an ice cream scoop - and place it under an electron microscope.
The smooth surface is revealed as a landscape of jagged ridges and deep valleys.
"It looks like Colorado with the Rocky Mountains," Charles D. Brown, president of Fabrication Concepts Inc. said Tuesday. He held up a computer generated picture to demonstrate.
The pits and crevices are inviting to bacteria and collect other nasty things - residue from when the thing was made, or just plain old grime - you might not want in your food or medicine.
However, take the stainless steel into the new electropolishing shop on Broad Street and hook it up to a DC positive terminal. Then soak it in sulfuric and phosphoric acid with the juice on and ...
"You have Kansas," Brown said, lifting up another microscope picture, this one showing a flat, desert-like surface. The shiny electropolished metal is now corrosion resistant, stronger and uninviting to germs. Pollutants slide right off its surface.
The process - called electrolysis - drew the iron and nickel atoms out of the metal and left behind a surface layer of chromium oxide. It also works on regular steel, copper, brass, bronze, aluminum, and nickel.
It beats the grinding mechanical methods of polishing that produce the microscopically rough surfaces.
Brown and his partners, vice presidents Jason W. Davis and James B. Trinkle plan to electropolish machine and equipment parts for the pharmaceutical, chemical, food, beverage and semi-conductor industries.
Tuesday they gave a tour of their small operation in the Tamaqua Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ). It is one of three such operations in the Northeast - the other two are in York and near New York City.
The building, leased from Ronald S. Dmytrow and Thomas L. Blew, both of Tuscarora, wasn't in move-in condition for what they wanted to do. "We did an awful lot to this building," Trinkle said. "When we came in, there was grease all over the floor. It was filled with trucking parts. It was basically an inventory building."
The dirt had to go since the object of electropolishing is to make a clean product.
They cleaned up, set up their equipment, and have been doing the electropolishing all themselves. The work is nothing new to them. The trio had formerly worked at Rhetech in Coopersburg. The company makes semiconductors and the men worked in the electropolishing section.
Electropolishing was entirely in-house at Rhetech, and eventually the trio struck out on their own. Brown said they chose the Tamaqua location because the real estate prices were "more reasonable" in Schuylkill County than "in the valley."
Moreover, he said the labor market in Schuylkill County was more to his liking.
Trinkle said they expect to hire about eight employees. These will include machinists, because the company wants to manufacture the items they electropolish.
They will also need laborers to do the electropolishing.
Brown said the machinists and laborers would be paid wages comparable to other machinists and laborers in the county.
At Tuesday's tour, Tamaqua Councilman Micah J. Gursky, the coordinator of the Tamaqua KOZ, said "for a long time, Tamaqua was known as the area of no opportunity. We're here to celebrate with you and Fabrication Concepts that those days are over."
Schuylkill County Economic Development Officer Mark J. Scarbinsky said, "It makes me feel good that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Schuylkill County."