Durability vs. Appearance With Electroplating Onto Plastics

For decades, manufacturers in industries such as automotive, electronics, plumbing fixtures manufacturing and consumer products have experienced the advantages of electroplating onto plastic as part of their production processes. Two of the most prominent benefits include increasing the durability of the plastic material and enhancing the appearance of the finished product.
While many manufacturers seek to derive one or the other from the plating process, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Several of the most common metals used when plating onto plastics will make the product stronger:

Gold: When most people think of gold, the thought that first comes to mind is the attractiveness of this perennially popular precious metal. But gold will do more than add luster to a plastic substrate; it also has exceptional heat shielding capabilities that will protect plastics with low melting points in high-temperature applications. While gold is among the most expensive metals, many manufacturers find that the increased durability offsets the initial cost, resulting in an excellent long-term return on investment.

Nickel: Nickel will increase the hardness of a plastic surface, especially when alloyed with other metals. Many industrial platers (including SPC) also now use nickel as a less toxic alternative to hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen. End-users often find that the silvery-white metallic look of nickel resembles white gold or silver regarding visual presentation and appeal.

Copper: Manufacturers of plumbing fixtures frequently choose copper to metalize the plastic parts found in many of their products. Copper can help to lengthen the product’s lifespan, and the reddish-brown color of copper can add an attractive touch — think of a shiny, brand-new copper penny.
Also, with nickel, copper can be used on plastics to provide EMI shielding.

• Chrome: The first known applications for plating onto plastics with metal occurred during the 1960s when automakers found a way to plate chrome on plastic parts and exterior trim. This made the parts more durable and added a metallic look that many car buyers demanded. However, as mentioned, plating with chrome has fallen out of favor in the automotive industry (and several others), as the EPA now classifies hexavalent chromium as a hazardous material. Platers and manufacturers that still insist on chrome plating for plastics must implement stringent (and expensive) procedures during the electrodeposition process.

*Please note that Sharretts Plating does not plate with chrome. This content is for educational purposes only.

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SPC brings more than 90 years of experience and expertise to the challenging process of plating onto plastics. Whether your goal is to increase durability, improve appearance or a combination of the two, we can develop a customized plating process that will meet your objectives — and exceed your quality, longevity, and presentation. Contact us for more information and a no-obligation quote today.