Plastic Materials as Electroplating Substrates

Which Plastic Materials Make The Best Electroplating Substrates?

While electroplating is typically known as a metal-on-metal process, some manufacturing applications require plating onto plastic materials. The reasons can be functional, such as metallizing a plastic substrate to enable it to conduct electricity or to harden and protect the surface. Plating onto plastic can also help to achieve a decorative objective — a metal coating can produce a shiny finish that improves the appearance of an automotive part or household appliance component.

While electroplating onto plastic offers a variety of benefits, it is often more difficult to execute successfully than plating metal objects. Perhaps the biggest challenge is creating a bond between the plastic substrate and the metal coating. Attaining a successful outcome usually requires the implementation of several additional surface preparation steps to ensure sufficient adhesion and a uniform coating distribution.

The Best Plastics for Electroplating

It’s also true that the properties of some plastics make them more amenable to electroplating than others.

Examples of the most easily plateable plastics include:

  • ABS

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is a thermoplastic polymer widely regarded as the first plastic material used for electroplating. The process was specifically developed for the automotive industry in the 1960s and is still practiced today.

Examples of ABS products include:

  • Novodur P2MC
  • P2K
  • Polylac
  • Cycolac
  • Toyolac
  • HI 121

ABS consists of various embedded properties that facilitate metallization in high-volume production applications. There is also little visual difference between plated ABS and pure metal components. Other uses for plating onto ABS include bathroom accessories, electrical fittings and hardware items.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene-polycarbonate (ABS-PC) is a widely used industrial thermoplastic. Its demand results from its ability to combine the strength and heat resistance of PC with the flexibility of ABS, which makes ABS-PC ideal for applications within the telecommunications, electronics and automotive industries.

Examples of ABS-PC products include:

  • Bayblend T45, T65 andT85
  • Cycoloy
  • Xantar CCM 206

In recent years, demand for ABS-PC has grown due to the increased interest in utilizing chrome within the automotive market, such as for door handles, trims and more. The manufacturing advantage of ABS-PC products for a chrome look, such as Cycoloy, is they offer a lighter weight than metal and lower cost for milling and polishing.

  • PPA

A member of the nylon family, metal-plated polyphthalamide (PPA) products often serve as substitutes for metal objects because of their enhanced chemical resistance, increased strength at elevated temperatures and exceptional dimensional stability.

Some examples of PPA products include Adilene and RTP 199×69949.

It is also possible to plate other types of plastics made from custom-blended resins. Examples include Xylex, Urethane, Polypropylene, Nylon and Noryl, as well as Polyetherimide and PEEK. Plastics that are not plateable in any form include Valox, Polyethylene, Polyester and PVC.

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Contact SPC to Learn More About Plating Onto Plastic

As one of the leading metal finishing companies with more than 90 years of expertise, SPC can develop a customized process for plating onto ABS and other plastic materials for your specific manufacturing applications. Contact us for more information and a no-obligation quote today.