What is Electroplating?

Electroplating (also called electro deposition) is the process of using electric current to deposit dissolved metal ions onto a metal object (called a substrate). During the process, a cathode is immersed in a bath containing a solution of metal salts along with an anode electric current. The direct current (DC) is passed through the solution depositing metal ions onto the surface. The electroplating process changes the surface properties of the metal. There are many benefits including decorative appeal, corrosion resistance, reduced friction, wear resistance, stronger conductivity, and enhanced strength. Depending on the application, varying lengths of time and levels of current are used to reach desired characteristics and thickness.

During a complete electroplating cycle, substrates typically go through a number of pre-plating steps to prepare the metal for the electroplating process. While it varies by industry and application, many metal products go through a post-manufacturing process prior to plating. This may include deburring, polishing and buffing to remove rough scratches, tool marks, and course surfaces left after forging, rolling or drawing. This is particularly common in decorative applications where satin or high luster finishes are desired.

Metal products also go through a rigorous cleaning process prior to completing the electroplating process. This is the most important aspect of plating. In order for bonding to take place, the parts must be completely free of any dirt, compound or other contaminants. Depending on the properties of the metal, the parts will be soaked and electro-cleaned in a light or heavy duty alkaline cleaner and subsequently placed into an acid to promote adhesion. Only when the metal surface is completely free of containments can the electroplating process be completed.

Metal Commonly Used in the electroplating process include:

  • Chromium
  • Nickel
  • Copper
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Cadmium
  • Tin
  • Zinc

Electroplating is used by a wide range of industries for both decorative and industrial use cases:

  • Architectural Hardware
  • Aerospace & Defense
  • Security
  • Electronics
  • Medical Devices
  • Automotive