Chemcut is perhaps the most experienced and knowledgeable company in the field of chemical etching. This can be largely attributed to Chemcut’s long history and dedicated staff. At Chemcut, we have employees who have been in the field for over 50 years and have seen the evolution chemical etching has gone through. In fact, some industry-wide changes can even be attributed to some of these employees– today you will hear from one of them. Recently, Chemcut’s Process Engineer, Christopher Bonsell, conducted a short interview with Stanley Smith, a mechanical engineer who has been with chemcut for nearly 60 years, about his experience at Chemcut.
Bonsell: How long have you worked for Chemcut, and how would you sum up your career there?
Smith: I started in May of 1961 as a draftsman after taking ME at Penn State University for 4 years. I needed another year or so in order to graduate, but I decided to take a break for a year and work in the mechanical field as a design/draftsman.
Chemcut was hiring people like me to help develop their NC Control System they had developed for the printed circuit industry. At that time, the company name was Centre Circuits Inc.; they had been building and selling chemical spray chambers that conveyorized printed circuit boards that needed to be etched. That business started in 1956. Therefore, the company was divided into two sections: Chemcut Division and the Controls Division. The latter one concentrated on producing and selling a control system that was low cost, simple, and easy to adapt to shop machinery for point-to-point drilling of PCBs. My job was to redesign the prototype for ease of manufacture and lower the cost to build.
After several years in that segment of Chemcut, I was responsible for similar work on improving the chemical etching machines. The centrifugal pump used for the spray systems of the etchers were designed and made by Chemcut. My main job, for a number of years, was to redesign the impellers for better performance and efficiency. Later I came up with a series of Chemcut pumps that basically were all plastic, at least in the wetted areas, and lower their cost by eliminating the titanium used previously.
Later I became the person responsible Chemcut’s Developers and Stripping/Filtering equipment. That meant keeping a check on their performance capabilities, attending NEPCON/IPC Conferences to explain the process we had developed for proper developing and stripping of PCB’s. As upgrades were made, I was required to accompany at least the first 10 installations in order to be sure there were no other improvements, manufacturing or operational, needed.
My career at Chemcut had been and still is one of trying to be on top of what keeps their products the best one can buy for producing circuit boards or chem machining thin metal parts.
Bonsell: You seem to take up a lot of the various projects that happen at Chemcut, and if a prototype is in need of being designed you seem to be the go-to-person.
Smith: It has to be that I been at Chemcut long enough to recall what has been tried before plus I do keep up to date by reading technical magazines – especially those on new materials. There’s always something new that’s become available in the way of polymers and metal alloys.
Bonsell: Is there any project/projects that you have worked on that stand out to you?
Smith: Yes, and it did involve making use of a new material that became available in the mid-1980s. In the elastomer world, a new resin was developed. It was a mix of rubber and a polymer that could be molded and not need to go through the vulcanization process that the special materials like EPDM and Viton need. I feel I helped cut the cost and time for Chemcut’s manufacture of the molded wheels and other elastomeric parts used in the Wet Processing Equipment being sold. After several months of experimenting and chemical compatibility testing, I was able to have Chemcut make use of new elastomer resins. Later the most proud achievement was the yearlong work that was done to be able to co-mold the new elastomer over 2 to 4-foot long steel tubing for the 2″ diameter conveyor roller assemblies. We had been told by a number of resin suppliers that it not possible to co-mold such items. The final product we achieved was a close tolerance diameter and straighter roller than those previously made by buying rubber tubing that needed pressed onto a SST or Ti section of tubing. The design/use of this resin won Chemcut as runner-up in a worldwide contest held by Schell Company in 1992.
Another highlight of my past was the designing of what is called the “S-Wheel” that ended up getting a patent in 1996. There was a need for a conveyor wheel that didn’t crease the very thin PCB panels while being transported through the spray chambers. Also, it needed to be as thin or thinner than the present wheels being molded. My sketch made of a potato chip like wheel was looked at as a possibility, and, within a month, a mold was made, and we tried the wheels in Chemcut’s Lab machines.
That was one of three patents I got while at Chemcut.
Bonsell: Do you have any fond memories while at Chemcut?
Smith: For the most part I’ll always recall my time at Chemcut as being where one was challenged with designing a product for production but could also be either rearranged or upgraded in any manner to suit the customer needs. As the PCB and Chem Machining industry grew, so did the ways they used our equipment. Coming up with solutions worked out to be a challenge and a worthwhile mission that keeps me coming back. The talent and enjoyment working with the skilled folk makes it fun.
Bonsell: Thank you for your time today, Stanley.
Smith: Thank you, Chris.