• June 21, 2024
  • Shatou, Changan, Dongguan, CN
metal plating

Metal Plating Process Guide

The metal plating process is an important metal surface treatment technology that can improve the performance and appearance of metal products, and ultimately extend their service life. This article will introduce readers to various types and methods of metal electroplating, process flow, and common problems associated with this technology. By doing so, readers will be able to better comprehend and apply metal plating techniques.

Metal Plating Type

Metal plating can be divided into the following types:

1. Chromium plating

Chromium plating is mainly used to increase the brightness and rust resistance of metal surfaces. Chromium plating is commonly used in automotive parts, household items, and more.

2. Nickel plating

Nickel plating is mainly used to increase the smoothness, corrosion resistance and wear resistance of metal surfaces. Nickel plating is commonly used in automotive parts, faucets, etc.

3. Gold plating

Gold plating is mainly used to increase the decorative effect and oxidation resistance of the metal surface. Gold plating is often used in jewelry, clocks and so on.

4. Galvanizing

Zinc plating is mainly used to increase the rust resistance of metal surfaces. Galvanized is often used in building materials, metal mesh, etc.

5. Copper plating

Copper plating is mainly used to increase the conductivity and oxidation resistance of the metal surface. Copper plating is often used in electronic devices, wires, etc.

In addition to the above common types of metal plating, there are other types of metal plating, such as tin plating, aluminum plating, etc., each of which has different application fields and characteristics.

Metal Plating Method

Common metal plating methods include electrolytic plating, brush plating, and spray plating. The following is a detailed description of the three main methods:

1. Electrolytic plating

Electrolytic plating is a method of reducing metal ions to metal on the surface of an object through an electrochemical reaction. This method requires an electrolytic cell. By using the object as the cathode and the metal ion solution as the anode, metal ions get reduced under the action of an applied voltage and form a metal coating on the surface of the cathode. Common electrolytic plating techniques include chrome plating, nickel plating, zinc plating, etc.

2. Brush plating

“Brush plating” is a straightforward metal plating process often employed to coat small objects. In the procedure, a solution containing metal salt is evenly painted onto the object’s surface. Then, a circuit is formed by connecting the brush and a power supply, and metal ions are reduced on the surface of the object to form a metallic coating. This method is commonly used for silver plating, gold plating, copper plating, and other types of plating as well.

3. Spray plating

Spray plating is a method in which metal ions are atomized and sprayed on the surface of an object through a high-speed airflow, and then reduced to form a metal coating during the surface cooling process. This method can be used for coating large objects and can be carried out over long distances. Common spray coatings include sprayed aluminum, sprayed zinc, etc.

These metal plating methods can control the quality and thickness of the metal coating by selecting the appropriate metal ion solution and adjusting parameters such as current density, temperature, and time.

Metal Plating Process

The process flow of metal plating is as follows:

1. Loading

Hang the parts on the corresponding hooks and start the operation.

2. Degreasing

Clean the surface of injection molded parts and remove any grease, dust, sweat, or other substances present. Doing so will directly impact the subsequent processing and the appearance of the plated surface of the parts.

3. Roughening

Use the strong acidity of the roughening solution to dissolve the butadiene (B) component of ABS plastic so that the surface of the parts forms microscopic “dovetail” holes, increasing the contact area between the plating surface and the parts. The roughened surface will also contain polar hydrophilic groups such as -OH and -SOH>C=O=, making it more hydrophilic.

4. Neutralization

The use of a solution that reduces the surface properties of the part is essential to remain in the complex acid reduction process. Failure to get rid of the residue in the complex acid may have an adverse effect, which must be treated by neutralization and thorough cleaning.

If the complex acid remains on the surface of the part and is carried into the subsequent process, it may cause the part to be partially plated or plasticized. This situation is undesirable and can be avoided by ensuring that the surface of the part is properly treated before proceeding to subsequent processes.

5. Catalytic

The catalytic substance in the solution, colloidal palladium (Pd), is uniformly absorbed in the dovetail-shaped holes on the back of the part, providing a catalytic center for the subsequent electroless nickel reaction.

6. Decoupling

The colloidal palladium that is adsorbed on the surface of the part in the catalytic solution is not catalytically active because it is surrounded by divalent tin ions. These ions need to be dissolved in the debinding process to expose the palladium and make it truly catalytically active.

7. Electroless nickel

There is no uniform understanding of the mechanism of electroless nickel, which is explained by the “atomic hydrogen theory” and occurs in the presence of a catalyst.

8. Nickel pre-plating

The chemical nickel layer is relatively thin (0.2 μm) and has poor conductivity. By adding a layer of pre-plated nickel to the chemical nickel surface, the conductivity of the parts can be increased.

9. Bright copper

Copper has good ductility and flexibility, and the thermal expansion coefficient of copper plating is closer to that of plastic. When the surface of the part is covered with a layer of smooth and flexible copper between 15-25 micrometers thick, it helps to increase the bonds between the parts and the plating as a whole. This layer can also serve as a buffer, reducing the level of damage to the parts in case of temperature changes or impact from the external environment.

10. Semi-bright nickel

The appearance of the part presents a semi-bright nickel coating that is mounted onto the surface. The coating exhibits good ductility and leveling. Additionally, the semi-bright nickel layer has a low sulfur content (<0.005%). The potential for bright nickel plating is brighter than the parts in the copper layer. This means that the surface continues to be plated with a layer of semi-glossy nickel and bright nickel combination. As a result, the parts have good mechanical properties and corrosion resistance when used.

11. Pearl nickel

Pearl nickel has a pearlescent appearance that gives the part an elegant, soft-colored appearance.

12. Nickel Seal (Microporous Nickel)

In the bright nickel plating solution, add some poorly conductive fine particles (generally about 0.5 um in diameter) to the solution. During the plating process, nickel is constantly deposited on the parts, while these particles are also brought into the plating layer. However, due to their non-conductive nature, the particles will not get plated on the other plating layer. Therefore, they are plated after the base layer, creating discontinuous holes in the nickel layer. This results in corrosion of the parts. The presence of these micropores increases the exposure area of the nickel layer. This, in turn, disperses the corrosion current and reduces the corrosion rate. As a result, this method helps to avoid the concentration of strong corrosion and provides very good corrosion resistance.

13. Bright complex

The bright silver-white color of the plating makes the parts achieve the best decorative effect.

14. Hanging

The parts are removed from the hangers, inspected, and packaged.

Common problems and solutions in metal plating

Common problems in the metal plating process include the following:

1. Uneven electroplating layer

The unevenness, spots or holes of the electroplating layer on the surface may be caused by the uneven concentration or precipitation of some components in the electroplating solution.

Solutions include: adjusting the concentration of components in the plating solution, adding agitation or circulation of the plating solution to provide uniform flow, and checking for defects in the plating setup.

2. Poor adhesion of the electroplating layer

The adhesion between the electroplating layer and the substrate is not strong enough, and it is easy to peel off or fall off. The cause may be improper surface treatment of the substrate, inappropriate composition of the electroplating solution, insufficient electroplating time, etc.

The solutions include: appropriate pretreatment of the substrate, such as cleaning, polishing or activation; adjusting the concentration of additives in the electroplating solution; extending the electroplating time to increase the thickness of the electroplating layer.

3. The metal color deviates from the requirements

The color of the metal after electroplating is not as expected, it may be that the concentration of additives in the electroplating solution is wrong or the electroplating time is too long.

Solutions include: adjusting the concentration of additives in the plating solution to suit the desired color; controlling plating time to avoid color changes caused by overheating.

4. Bubbles in the electroplating layer

Bubbles on the surface of the electroplating layer may be caused by impurities in the electroplating solution or gases generated during the electroplating process.

The solutions include: filtering the electroplating solution to remove impurities; adjusting the electroplating temperature and current density to reduce the generation of air bubbles.

5. Cracking or cracking of the electroplating layer

The cracking or cracking of the electroplating layer may be caused by the excessive stress of the substrate and the inability of the electroplating coating to withstand the pressure.

Solutions include: controlling the surface treatment of the substrate to relieve stress; increasing the thickness of the electroplated coating to enhance its pressure resistance.

The above are just some solutions to the common problems of metal plating, which need to be analyzed and dealt with according to the actual situation. At the same time, each parameter should be strictly controlled during the electroplating process, the equipment and electroplating solution should be kept in good condition, and the operating procedures should be followed to ensure the quality of electroplating.

Application fields of metal plating

Metal plating is widely used in several application areas. The following are some of the main application areas of metal plating:

1. Electronics and communication

Metal plating can be used in the manufacture of electronic components and communication equipment, such as circuit boards, connectors, electronic devices, etc., to provide good electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance.

2. Automotive industry

Metal plating can be used in the manufacture of automotive parts, such as body and interior parts, wheels, suspension systems, etc., to provide corrosion resistance and decorative effects.

3. Home decoration

Metal plating can be used for metal products in home decoration, such as lamps, hardware, furniture accessories, etc., to provide corrosion resistance and decorative effects.

4. Jewelry and accessories

Metal plating can be used in the manufacture of jewelry and accessories, such as gold, silver, platinum plating, to provide the appearance and durability of precious metals.

5. Medical devices

Metal plating can be applied to the manufacture of medical devices, such as the surface coating of implantable medical devices, to improve their biocompatibility and antibacterial properties.

6. Mold manufacturing

Metal plating can be used in the manufacture of molds to improve the hardness and wear resistance of the mold surface.

7. Aerospace

Metal plating can be used in the manufacture of parts in the aerospace field, such as aircraft engines, spacecraft parts, etc., to provide corrosion resistance and high temperature resistance.

8. Radar reflector

Metal plating can prepare a surface with good radar reflection performance, which is used in the aerospace field.

9. Nanotechnology application

Metal plating can be used in the field of nanotechnology to prepare nanostructures and nanomaterials, such as nanopattern manufacturing and nanosensor preparation.

In general, metal electroplating is widely used in industrial manufacturing, scientific research and daily life, and is an important surface treatment technology.

Summarize

It is hoped that through the introduction of this article, readers have a deeper understanding of the metal plating process, and can correctly apply it to practical work to provide high-quality metal products for all walks of life.

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