What is Electroplating and how does it work?
Electroplating is the process of using hydrolysis for plating one metal onto another. The process of electroplating is extensively used to modify the surface properties such as rust resistance and abrasion of objects. This process involves the use of an electric current, which is passed through the electrolyte (solution) containing two terminals called as electrodes. These electrodes are connected through a circuit with the power supply or battery. On passing an electric current through the circuit, the electrolyte in the solution splits up and some atoms from the metal are deposited on the top of one of the electrodes in the form of a thin layer. Metals like copper, gold, nickel, zinc, silver, cadmium, chromium, and tin are used in the electroplating process. This process is considered to be an important aspect in the production of electrical and electronic appliances, as it provides a coating on the surface of the metal of components used in these appliances. This helps in improving corrosion resistance, improves the conductivity of electricity, and enhances the solderability of the substrates. There are various applications of electroplating, but before deep diving into that, let’s see its different types:
Types of Electroplating
Mass plating is one of the types of electroplating that is used to plate a large volume of components in little to no time. To perform mass plating, a barrel is loaded with parts and then placed inside a container, which is filled with the coating material. Following this, the barrel is rotated to ensure that all the components inside the barrel are evenly coated for protection from corrosion. Mass plating is one of the most common types of electroplating and is one of the processes with the maximum applications. However, the mass plating process also brings parts in contact with one another, which can create an adverse effect on the coatings. So, another electroplating process can be used for components that require a high degree of aesthetic appeal.
Following are the common examples of parts or components that undergo these types of electroplating:
- Electrical Connectors
Rack plating is used to electroplate large, complex, and brittle parts that are tough to plate using other methods. In this process, parts are mounted to a “rack” and then immersed in a plating solution. This method provides uniform distribution of coating since the rack holds different parts that are plated at the same time. These types of electroplating processes are common in aluminum and zinc, and chrome and nickel are commonly used as plating solutions. Shape, size, and quantity of the parts must be considered before settling on this process.
In continuous plating items like tubes, wires, and strips are plated by running them continuously through a plating solution, one after the other. This process involves the even distribution of the coating material, such as zinc, aluminum, or tin, onto a metal like steel. It helps to enhance the corrosion resistance, appearance, wear, or other properties of a metal. Continuous plating provides even distribution of the coating and the electric current.
To know more about the applications of electroplating, continue reading or view the full report
Applications of Electroplating
#1. Forms a protective layer– One of the most important applications of electroplating is that it helps the plated parts to last longer and less frequent replacements. It also helps the metal to hold up the extreme conditions.
#2. Improves appearance– This is one of the most useful applications of electroplating that helps make products more appealing aesthetically. Jewelers can sell products that look like pure gold or other precious metals at a much lower price.
#3. Minimizes friction– This is one of the valuable applications of electroplating. It helps to improve performance and reduces friction to a large extent.
#4. Prevents whiskers formation – This is one of the prominent applications of electroplating since it reduces the damage caused by shorts and arcing in electrical components and parts caused by whiskers.
#5. Improves durability – Plating helps the metal surfaces to become less susceptible to damage when dropped or struck and, thus, increases the lifespan of the metal.
Electroplating uses in different industries
Electroplating is extensively used in the automotive sector for both functional and aesthetic purposes. Components such as engine parts, fasteners, and even entire automotive bodies can be electroplated to improve their resistance to corrosion, wear, and abrasion. Chrome plating, for instance, is commonly applied to automotive parts like bumpers, grilles, and wheels to enhance their visual appeal while also providing a protective layer against environmental factors.
The electronics industry relies on electroplating to manufacture printed circuit boards (PCBs) and semiconductor devices. Electroplating is used to deposit thin layers of metals like copper, gold, and nickel onto various components. This is crucial for creating conductive traces on PCBs, improving solderability, and ensuring reliable connections. Gold plating is often used on connectors and contacts due to its excellent conductivity and corrosion resistance.
Jewelry and Accessories:
In the jewelry industry, electroplating is employed to coat various metals and non-metals with precious metals like gold, silver, and rhodium. This process enhances the appearance of jewelry items, making them more visually appealing and durable. Additionally, electroplating can be used to create unique finishes, such as matte, satin, or brushed looks, allowing jewelers to offer a diverse range of designs to customers.
Aircraft and spacecraft components are subject to harsh environmental conditions, including extreme temperatures and corrosive agents. Electroplating plays a critical role in protecting these components from corrosion and wear. It is used to plate parts like turbine blades, engine components, and structural elements with specialized coatings that offer superior resistance to corrosion and abrasion, ultimately contributing to the safety and longevity of aerospace systems.
Medical and Healthcare Industry:
In the medical field, electroplating is utilized for various applications, including the production of medical devices, implants, and surgical instruments. For instance, orthopedic implants are often coated with biocompatible materials through electroplating to improve their compatibility with the human body. Electroplating also enables the creation of conductive coatings for electrodes used in medical diagnostic equipment such as ECG and EEG electrodes.
These are just a few examples of the many industries that benefit from the applications of electroplating. The process continues to evolve with advancements in materials science and engineering, enabling a wide range of industries to enhance product performance, appearance, and longevity.