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What is electroplating? How does the electroplating process work?

May 16, 2017 11:37:30 AM By Hua Fan

Electroplating is the process of applying a metal coating on another piece of metal (or another conductive surface) through an electro-deposition process. In electroplating, the deposited metal becomes part of the existing product with the plating/coating. 

What is Electroplating? The electroplating process Explained. 

The Electroplating process is quite similar to the Electroforming process: both are a form of additive manufacturing, and both work through an electro-deposition process.

In Electroplating, both an anode and a cathode (the metal part to be coated) are immersed in an electrolytic bath that is composed of a solution of salts, including the metal to be plated. A direct current (DC) of electricity is passed through the solution, effecting the transfer of metal ions onto the cathodic surface, plating the metal onto the item.

Electroplating vs Electroforming

In electroplating, the deposited metal becomes part of the existing product with the plating/coating.

In electroforming, the mandrel (patterned substrate) will be removed from the product. After the mandrel is removed, the object that remains is entirely created through electro-deposition. After electroforming, it is possible to perform electroplating to add a coating to improve corrosion-resistance or to get a more attractive (cosmetic) product. So rather than the two methods being used independently, they can actually be used in a cooperative manner.

To learn more about electroforming — and how it helps engineers and manufacturing companies drive continuous innovation — you can download whitepaper of electroforming here.
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Materials suitable for electroplating

Electroplating comes with several material capabilities. The materials used in the plating (coating) process depend on the composition of the plating bath and the deposition conditions. Here are the most commonly used materials: 

  • Nickel
  • Black nickel/chromium
  • Chromium
  • Palladium or Palladium Nickel Alloy
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Copper
  • Tin
  • Platinum
  • Ruthenium
  • Cadmium
  • Brass
  • Zinc

The applications of electroplating

A good example to demonstrate the purpose of electroplating is an application in the medical devices industry. A lot of components for medical devices are created with nickel. Nickel, however, isn’t supposed to come into direct contact with the human body. So to prevent that contact from occurring, a coating of palladium or gold is applied to the nickel surface.

The same coating process applies to an ink-jetting nozzle plate, where the released chemicals would cause the nickel plates to deteriorate. If you require a component that’s highly resistant to corrosive environments, electroplating can help create that property.  

To sum up, you can realise next-level engineering by leveraging the synergy between electroplating and electroforming, rather than seeing them as independent manufacturing methods. If you would like to discover the pull potential of electroforming — such as ultra-precision metal parts, high repeatability, and short lead and delivery times — we have an electroforming whitepaper available for you.  You can download the whitepaper here.

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