You may have heard about electroplating but many don’t know what it is or what it’s used for. In short, electroplating is a process that has been implemented since the early 19th century for finishing or improving metals in various industrial applications. Since then, the electroplating process has vastly improved with the advent of new industrial and manufacturing evolutions.
How Electroplating Works
Through an electrical current, a thin metal coating is produced on an electrode but reducing the number of metal cations or ions. This process is called electrodeposition, as it deposits a thin metal layer on the surface of a substrate, which is a part that is being worked on.
After the anode is connected to a positive terminal and the metal to be plated, also called the cathode is connected to a negative terminal, both are bathed in a solution with an electrolyte. An external electrical current is run through the connections to oxidize the anode.
Through this process, a coating is formed on the cathode as metal atoms dissolve in the solution, which reduces the ions present. The coating that remains, is the plating desired.
This process is used to plate various types of metal with the needed coating by utilizing the proper electrolyte in the solution. The uniformity of the coating has different levels that are gauged by what is called “throwing power.” The higher the throwing power, the better the uniformity of the coating.
It is very common to find electroplating in many industry sectors where a thin layer of metal is needed to cover another metal because it lacks the properties needed to remain durable, such as corrosion resistance.
Corrosion is not the only reason to use electroplating. It is also found on metals to improve durability and reduce wear from frequent use. It protects against abrasions and reduces friction where needed under certain conditions.
When used in electrical components, electroplating can improve conductivity by adding a layer of copper onto a less conductive metal. As well, electroplating can prepare the surface of a metal to become more viable for painting or recoating.
What Kinds of Metals are used for Electroplating?
A variety of metals are often used when electroplating under different circumstances. These include copper, tin, silver, and nickel. These metals can provide the essential coating needed when used individually but they can also be included in a number of combinations to form an alloy that provides added benefits. Silver and tin, for example, are combined to finish high electrical current systems.
As an important part of any industrial or manufacturing process handling metal components, electroplating can be seen just about anywhere you look. It’s a feature that is needed for durability, conductivity, and aesthetics.