Dogern (District of Waldshut, Germany) – Whether a swivel chair or a desk, every third pedestal ordered by Sedus customers is requested in the “chrome-plated” version. This is not only for aesthetic reasons, but also qualitative, because chrome surfaces are scratch resistant and less sensitive than the alternatives of powder coating, polished aluminium or wood. The technique of using chrome is historic. The previously unknown metallic substance with the formula Chromium III was discovered by chance in 1797 by Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin, but was only made industrially usable on a large scale in the 1920s by the addition of other chemical substances. However, the cost has always been high because the globally widespread process Chromium VI is cheaper and simpler but also extremely toxic and hazardous to health. Chromium VI compounds enter the body via the respiratory tract, can mutate and damage DNA.
It was not until the 1960s, when the first reliable galvanizing systems were developed, that Sedus owner Christof Stoll decided to build such a plant at the Dogern site in Germany to offer chrome-plating. A second state-of-the-art new plant followed in 2010 and, with an investment of 7.5 million Euros, is considered the largest electroplating plant in southern Germany. Production Manager Dr Jens Bohnet advocates chrome-plating based on lower-risk chemical raw materials that have been available for large-scale industrial processes and can now replace the more toxic and dangerous Chromium VI processes. However, the process is more complex and potentially costlier. Bohnet states, “the conversion to Chromium III was almost a matter of pride for us as an environmentally oriented company and a welcome challenge from a technical point of view. Also, the conversion costs of around a quarter of a million Euros will be recovered in the foreseeable future, because we expect increasing orders from similarly environmentally friendly customers in the next few years.
The motivation for converting to Chromium III came from technical advances in chemistry and new legal frameworks. ECHA, (the European Chemicals Agency), which legislates and regulates the use of chemicals, has the goal of monitoring chemicals that are harmful to health and the environment and, if possible, replacing them. The Chromium trioxide (Chromium VI) used in electroplating is one of these critical substances, which in the future may only be used under certain conditions and with a special permit. “We were faced with the decision either to obtain a permit for further operation or to replace Chromium VI with the less critical Chromium III compound,” writes Bohnet. “Since Chromium VI is already very much under surveillance today and, in our opinion, is no longer absolutely necessary for decorative application, we have opted for the more environmentally friendly, safe and future-proof way and have switched to using Chromium III. The galvanising process in the Dogern plant is one of the nation’s largest which successfully uses this much more advanced process for vertically manufactured products.”