Exploring the Differences Between Industrial and Decorative Plating

Manufacturers and metal finishing companies perform electroplating for various reasons such as improving the appearance of the workpiece, increasing durability, enhancing corrosion resistance or promoting adhesion. Perhaps the most familiar use of plating for decorative purposes is to apply a coating of gold or platinum on jewelry to provide a shiny finish that makes the product more appealing to buyers.

However, this process is not classified as “industrial” plating because it does not provide additional protection for the product. In fact, jewelers and consumers can purchase do-it-yourself plating kits to apply a superficial coating on a ring, watch or pendant for cosmetic purposes.

At Sharretts Plating, we are committed to providing industrial functional plating services that solely enhance and/or protect the base material. While the end product could be aesthetically pleasing, our end goal is not at all related to the appearance, but rather how the part functions and works with other components.

What Is Industrial Plating?

The industrial electroplating process is much more complex than what is typically used for coating products to provide aesthetic appeal only. The methodology entails immersing the workpiece (substrate) into an electrolyte solution containing dissolved ions of the coating metal, along with other chemical additives.

The metal finisher then introduces a DC electric current into the solution that applies the metal ions onto the substrate, a process known as electrodeposition. Electroplating creates a much stronger bond between the substrate and the metal coating than is possible via less sophisticated plating techniques.

Combining Decorative and Functional Benefits in One Process

A key benefit derived from the electroplating method is that it can give the manufacturer the best of both worlds. It can supply the protective properties that will increase the lifespan and enhance the functionality of the product, while also meeting the manufacturer’s and end-user’s aesthetic requirements. For example, manufacturers have traditionally used chrome plating to improve the appearance of various vehicle parts — although chrome is being replaced by nickel and other metals due to the toxic nature of hexavalent chromium. The coating will also enhance the part’s corrosion and chemical resistance.

Electroless plating, which applies the coating via autocatalytic reaction instead of electricity, can also meet the manufacturer’s functional and appearance requirements. The military and defense industry frequently use a black electroless nickel coating to absorb light, while also providing a dark finish that it requires for certain types of equipment.

Of course, manufacturers also implement electroplating for its functional advantages without concerns about aesthetics. For instance, copper plating works well as an undercoating that will promote adhesion when applying a secondary coating or finish, especially when working with a base material like plastic. Since this underlying coating will remain invisible to the end user, its appearance will mean nothing to the consumer.

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At SPC, we offer a variety of electroplating and other premium industrial metal finishing services that can meet your functional requirements — and improve the appearance of the product if needed. Contact us for more information and to receive a no-obligation project quote today.