Saturday, June 23 , 2018, 11:27 pm | Overcast 64º


Paul Burri: The Kool-Aid Kaper

A fluid process left a sour taste this time.

This happened sometime in the early 1970s. I was managing a printed circuit manufacturing company in Gardena. A large part of the printed circuit board manufacturing process involves the electroplating of various metals, including copper, solder (lead alloy), nickel, gold and rhodium. Without getting too technical, some of the metals are plated from anodes, which are bars of the material that hang in the plating bath. The process transfers the metal from the anodes onto the surface to be plated. A variation of this process is usually used for the expensive metals like gold and rhodium that use stainless steel anodes and in which the metal is transferred from the solution onto the part to be plated.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri
From time to time, it is necessary to do a chemical analysis of the gold and rhodium solutions to determine when it is necessary to add more metal to the solution, because it is continually being depleted by the process. For smaller companies like ours, this was done by an outside chemical analysis laboratory that would analyze a sample for us. When the analysis told us, we would add an ounce or two of gold salts to the solution as required. Each ounce of gold came in a small bottle of gold salts that we merely dumped into the tank. The gold solution was a beautiful bright purple color and, after a while, we could almost tell that the tank needed more salts when its color started to fade. Still, we always depended on the analysis rather than our color judgment.

One Monday morning my plating operator loaded a batch of circuit boards into the tank and turned on the timer. When the timer went off about an hour later, she removed the circuit boards to find — nothing! They showed no sign of any gold where she expected to see it. Knowing that this happened occasionally when we had a poor electrical connection, she checked the connection and set the timer again. Same results — nothing!

This is when she called me to see if I could figure out what was wrong. Everything looked OK to me and the only thing I could think of was to have a solution analysis done. I put a rush on the analysis but it still took three days to get the results. In the meantime, that operation was shut down — a major inconvenience.

Three days later we got our results back from the lab. Their analysis of the plating solution? Pure grape (purple) Kool-Aid!

Later we discovered that over the weekend, someone (whom we never did catch) had somehow gotten into our shop, drained the tank and replaced it with Kool-Aid. It was a very clever and informed “kaper” because the person surely knew it would take us several days to figure out what had happened. By then he or she was long gone.

Another interesting experience and another addition to my collection of business stories.

Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business but he is a small business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE).

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