You would be surprised just how many items in our lives have electroplating. From your car when driving to work to the jewelry worn on special occasions, commercial manufacturing processes rely on this process to protect metals, as well as plastics, by coating them with an exterior layer of metal. While the most well-known reason to electroplate items is to improve their outward appearances, manufacturers also select different coating products to provide additional advantages to these objects.
Electroplating involves using electricity to attach a coating of metal onto an object. Think of this method as a large battery where there is an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte solution. Instead of producing power, the cathode will consist of the object that will be coated and an electrolyte bath consisting of the metal which will coat the object. The anode will be the same metal as the electrolyte bath. A voltage is applied to the anode, making metal ions form in the electrolyte bath as these ions become attracted to the cathode and deposit on it to create the metal layer.
Advantages to Different Coating Products
Numerous metals are used to coat different items. Silver and gold are precious metals that can be applied to add a more lustrous appearance. Yet these metals along with brass, copper, tin, nickel, tin lead, palladium and cadmium also provide advantages to the mechanical and electrical properties of objects.
Nickel Electroplating: Nickel is a commonly-used product for manufacturers. This plating is corrosion resistant, reduces friction on moving parts, and can withstand high temperatures when it is combined with zinc. Zinc-nickel plating alloys are also sought after by manufacturers to prevent “whisker” protrusions of metals that can occur when electrical components experience shorts and sparks. In addition, nickel plating may also be used as a base layer when plating with another material for better adhesion to the object.
Copper Electroplating: Like nickel, copper is a plating material that is often used as a base layer when adhering another metal, such as chromium or nickel, to an object. It has excellent thermal and electrical conductivity, making it an ideal plating for electronic parts.
Tin and Tin Lead Electroplating: Both tin and tin lead plating offers corrosion resistance and great solderability. Tin by itself is considered non-toxic. However, it can develop tin whiskers when applied to electronics. To prevent this issue, tin lead plating will be used. Another great advantage to tin and tin lead is its ductility, as objects can be bent and stamped without experiencing damage.
Zinc Electroplating: Zinc is found in many alloys including brass and zinc-nickel. Yet when used by itself during the electroplating process, it helps to galvanize other metals including steel. Zinc provides corrosion resistance and offers a luster to improve the product’s appearance.
Brass Electroplating: As a combination of copper and zinc, brass is mainly used as a decorative plating layer. It can also be used to protect the substrate when placed on as a base layer when other metals will be electroplated on top, as the brass prevents the substrate metal from migrating.
Cadmium Electroplating: When plating with cadmium, this metal often acts as a sacrificial anode. The coating will be used in corrosive environments as it will dissolve away first to protect the substrate.
Selecting the right electroplating material will be based on the type of substrate that the plating will be adhered to, the application, and environmental factors. Here at Belmont Metals, we provide electroplating metals for manufacturers in a range of industries, including automotive, aerospace and jewelry makers. Contact us today to discuss your application and metal material needs.