PH Stainless Steel

Precipitation Hardening Steel

You are probably familiar with the four main types of steel: Carbon steel, alloy steel, tool steel and stainless steel. But there is another type of steel that is growing in interest which you may have heard of. This type of steel is called precipitation hardening steel, or PH stainless steel.

What is PH stainless steel? What are the benefits of it, and if you have components made of precipitation hardening steel, can you plate it? Are there effective surface treatments for precipitation hardening stainless steel and is there a benefit to plating on precipitation hardening steel?

Read on for all you need to know about precipitation hardening steel and precipitation hardening steel plating.

What Is Precipitation Hardening Steel?

Precipitation hardening steel is also called age hardening steel. Precipitation hardening refers to a heat treatment method that is applied to increase the yield strength of stainless steel, as well as a number of other different malleable structural alloys. The result of this treatment on stainless steel is a product with extremely impressive high-temperature strength.

How Is Stainless Steel Precipitation Hardened?

Age hardening stainless steel is a three-step process. The first step is to treat the material with a solution at high temperature, dissolving all the solute atoms to form a single-phase solution. The result is that many "zones" — microscopic nuclei — form on the metal. Following this, rapid cooling takes place across the solvus line, exceeding the solubility limit and producing a supersaturated solid solution in a metastable state.

The final step is to heat the supersaturated solution to an intermediate temperature. This induces precipitation. One then maintains the metal in this state until it hardens. For age hardening to work, the alloy composition must be less than the maximum solubility.

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What Is Precipitation Hardening Steel Used For?

Precipitation hardening of your stainless steel can render many useful benefits beyond the already impressive corrosion resistance of stainless steel. First, as mentioned, the process gives the metal extremely high tensile and yield strength. However, it also increases wear resistance and facilitates easy machinability, all without causing any distortion to the component.

Industrial applications for precipitation hardening steel include:

  • Oil and gas: Hardening valves, gates and machine parts
  • Automotive: Strengthening engine parts, shafts, gears, plungers, balls and bushings
  • Aerospace: Treating aircraft parts, turbine blades and airplane engine parts
  • Other general industrial applications: Processing equipment, valve stems, molding dies, nuclear waste cracks, fasteners and more.

Can You Plate Precipitation Hardening Steel?

Plating on stainless steel alloys is a little bit trickier than plating on standard substances to which you would typically add a metal finish. The problem is that the chromium oxide film that protects your stainless steel part from corrosion also makes getting the metal finish to adhere to the stainless steel, or in this case, the precipitation hardened steel, very difficult.

The typical approach is to prime the precipitation hardened steel with a wood nickel strike, which in turn makes it receptive to the electroplating process, which can then proceed relatively normally.

Why Would You Plate Precipitation Hardening Steel?

One might ask, once you have gone through the trouble of getting stainless steel parts and precipitation hardening them, why would you then take the further step of electroplating them?

The reason is that there are more benefits to electroplating than just corrosion resistance and tensile strength, although these are important features for your parts to have. You may find that some or all of your precipitation hardened parts can benefit from these other properties of electroplating. For example:

  • Nickel plating can improve performance, reduce friction, make soldering easier, give your product magnetic properties and reduce wear.
  • Gold and Silver Plating can make your components more attractive and look more valuable. They can also improve your components' electrical conductivity.
  • Palladium Plating can absorb excess hydrogen, improving catalytic converter performance. It can also increase the thickness of your components.
  • Copper Plating improves adhesion and gives you a smooth and uniform finish.

If you're not sure whether you should plate your precipitation hardened steel, call SPC 717-767-6702 and we'll be happy to help you determine whether or not this is the right approach.

Can You Use Precipitation Hardening Steel as a Metal Finish for Plating?

You would not normally use precipitation hardening steel as a metal finish for plating, as the properties that make precipitation hardening steel beneficial would not translate as a finish and it would be a waste of the precipitation hardening process.

Can SPC Plate Your Precipitation Hardening Steel?

SPC can absolutely plate your precipitation hardening steel, as well as any other stainless steel products or components made of steel of any kind, in addition to non-steel parts and components. With a 70,000-square-foot production facility in South Central Pennsylvania and over 80 years in the plating business, SPC has the skills and experience to handle any and all of your plating needs, regardless of industry.

Our growing roster of satisfied customers includes top companies in the electronics, automotive, telecommunications and hardware fields and many more. We are experienced with all manner of metal finish plating, from gold and silver to palladium, copper, nickel and more.

We can service electroless plating needs, as well. We can plate metals onto precipitation hardened steel, stainless steel, carbon steel, titanium and even plastics. We welcome you to bring us any plating challenge.

Get Started Electroplating With SPC Today

If you're ready to give your business the benefits of electroplating for the company that knows electroplating the best, we're ready to service you. SPC's reputation as a pioneer of electroplating processes is well-known. We have been ISO-certified since 1994. We were the first U.S. industrial electroplating company to receive the Department of the Navy's Best Manufacturing Practices Award.

We have a continuing commitment to the environment and to our customers. Let us show you why SPC is known throughout the U.S. as one of the most trusted and reliable names in electroplating services. Contact SPC today for more information about how electroplating works and how it can benefit your particular business or for a completely free quote on your electroplating project.


"I would like to thank you for the help you have provided us in developing an electroless nickel plating technique on an unusual substrate. The sample platings you provided show that we should be able to reach our goals. I especially appreciate your willingness to take on an unusual job, with the uncertainties that that entails...We are looking forward to working with you in the future on our plating needs."

– Robert K.