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NYS Governor's Awards for Pollution Prevention - IBM Endicott

IBM - Endicott Plant, Microelectronics Division


At its plant located in Endicott, IBM develops and manufactures sophisticated electronic circuit boards and chip carriers for its own needs and for sale to other computer companies. This IBM Microelectronics Division facility consists of four million square feet of building space housing process development, manufacturing and other operations. The facility employs more than 5,000 people in Endicott.

Methodologies and Procedures

Circuit board production is based on photolithography and requires a complex series of chemical, mechanical and electronic processes. Raw materials include copper, epoxy, various chemical solutions for plating, etching and stripping of metals and photosensitive films, water for rinsing and energy to provide process heating, cooling and ventilation. The entire process generates significant amounts of wastewater and hazardous waste.

A major part of the production is copper plating. Traditionally, the copper plating steps had been performed for most products using an older acid-copper plater (ACP) plating technique that required vertical dipping of large racks holding parts into big open-top tanks of chemicals and rinse waters. The copper plating operation requires several multi-step series through different tanks and chemistries to achieve the desired results.

The older process produced waste and scrap caused by "drag-out" of chemicals from one tank to the next and by the inadvertent plating of copper onto the racks and fixtures holding the product. Large volumes of evaporative waste were also produced from the open tank design used for plating, etching, rinsing and drying the circuit components.

The improvement implemented at IBM's Endicott plant in 1996 consists of a new copper plating process referred to as the Thin Panel Plater (TPP). This more efficient and less polluting process supplanted the older ACP technology for many of IBM's circuited products. Conceptually, the major difference is that the new TPP uses horizontal processing of parts on conveyorized rollers in place of vertical dip tanks.


The horizontal configuration of the TPP lends itself to a number of environmental improvements. Benefits include a completely enclosed process with smaller chemical tanks and lower ventilation requirements; use of a more efficient "fluid head" technology for chemical solutions and rinse waters, elimination of racks and the associated waste of copper which inadvertently plated on the racks, reduced levels of drag-out, reduced rinse water requirements and reduced evaporative losses. In addition, the new process incorporated several other techniques resulting in more environmentally friendly chemistries. Specific environmental benefits include the following:

  • Rinse waters reduced by 75 percent or 30,000 tons per year through the use of flood bars/fluid head techniques instead of vertical dip tanks and vertical spray nozzles. Use of "fluid head" consumes only one-half gallon per minute versus the 3 to 5 gallon per minute consumption of the older immersion tanks and spray heads.
  • Plating bath efficiency improved by 20 percent, primarily as a result of eliminating vertical racks and associate rack stripping steps. The result is less drag out and reduced plating on fixtures. This efficiency is gained across each of several chemical processing stations, including cleaners 1 and 2, persulfate microetch, sulfuric acid pre-dip, activator baths, reducer bath, electroless copper bath, acid dip, and several acid copper baths. The total waste reduction is estimated to be 60 tons per year.
  • Reuse of spent micro etch bath for maintenance reduced waste by 55 tons per year. The spent persulfate solution from the microetch station is saved for reuse during weekly maintenance to cleaning or etching of excess copper that plates onto interior tank walls and fixtures.
  • Toxicity reductions were achieved by converting a previously hazardous and corrosive activator bath to a neutral activator chemistry.
  • Toxicity reduction was achieved by electrifying a plating bath, which enables use of lower concentrations of copper, hydroxide and formaldehyde.
  • Energy savings of more than 500,000 kilowatt hours were realized as a result of conveyer efficiency compared to the old hoist system and reduced process ventilation for the enclosed process design.
  • Overall process efficiency was improved by using chemical totes instead of 55-gallon drums, realizing a savings of more than $20,000 annually.

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This page was last modified April 21, 2000

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