Benefits and Difficulties of Plating onto Plastics

Companies in a variety of industries these days are relying on plastic parts and components when designing and manufacturing their products. Compared to heavier, bulkier materials, plastic offers a lightweight alternative that is surprisingly tough and durable. However, plastic in its natural state may not produce the desired result when manufacturing certain types of products. Consequently, many companies implement electroplating to provide a metallic finish to plastics.

Plating onto plastic is not a new concept. The process dates back to the automotive industry in the 1960s when automakers began using a thermoplastic polymer called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) to produce trim and other exterior components. The use of ABS allowed the manufacturers to mold these components into a wide variety of shapes, giving them greater design flexibility. They also discovered that pretreating ABS facilitated the adhesion of a metal coating that enhanced the appearance of the parts, making the vehicles more appealing to consumers.

What Are the Benefits of Plating onto Plastics?

While many manufacturers plate onto plastic to enhance the aesthetic appeal of their products, the process can also provide additional benefits such as:

  • Promoting electrical conductivity: Applying a metal coating onto plastic parts and components used in electronics manufacturing will enable the surface to conduct electricity.
  • Increasing surface hardness: Some forms of plastic may be too soft to withstand the rigors of heavy-use applications. “Metallizing” the surface via electroplating can add an extra layer of protection that can help to resist exterior damage.
  • Enhancing corrosion and wear resistance: Electroplating can make a plastic surface more resistant to damage from corrosive chemicals and other harsh materials used in various manufacturing processes.
  • Providing a base coating: In some cases, applying a metal such as nickel or copper via electroless plating can serve as a base coating before the application of another metal such as gold or silver.

The Challenges of Electroplating onto Plastic

When considering electroplating as a finishing technique, you should be aware that not every plastic material is amenable to the process. Besides ABS, examples of other “plateable” plastics include Teflon, polycarbonate, phenolic and polysulfone. Materials that are not compatible with plating include the Valox family of products. Other plastics may only be plated in a blended form. It is also necessary to perform a series of pretreatment steps including etching, acid neutralization and activation to ensure proper coating adhesion.

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SPC Can Meet Your Plastic Plating Requirements

As one of the most experienced and innovative metal finishing companies in the industry, SPC has perfected the challenging process of plating onto plastic. We can work with you to develop a customized technique for your specific applications. Contact us more information or to receive a no-obligation plating-on-plastic quote today.