Typically, when you are interested in metal plating for your parts, you will opt for electroplating as the most common method. However, there is another method. You may wish to use electroless plating techniques as an alternative to electroplating in certain cases. In fact, there are many advantages to electroless plating, and many industries are exploring electroless plating more and more as a cost-effective, simple alternative to traditional electroplating techniques for coating their parts with metal.
What is the difference between electroplating and electroless plating? Why would you need to use electroless plating methods over traditional electroplating? What are some common materials or uses for electroless plating, and how does electroless plating work? For you determine whether or not electroless plating is right for you and your industry, it's important to have a better understanding of the electroless plating process and how it works vs. traditional electroplating methods.
How Electroless Plating Works
Electroless plating, also known as autocatalytic plating, or conversion coating, is a way of plating your part without using an external power source. The process involves placing the part in an aqueous solution and depositing nickel, creating a catalytic reduction of nickel ions to plate the part without any electrical energy dispersal.
Unlike electroplating, this is a purely chemical process, with no extra machines or electrical power necessary.
Why You Might Choose Electroless Plating
What are the advantages of electroless plating over electroplating?
If your primary goal in plating your parts is to generate corrosion resistance rather than, for example, to beautify the product, electroless plating methods are often a better choice because the resulting plated part tends to be very hard and less porous, thereby more resistant to corrosion. For this reason, electroless plating techniques are very popular in industries where parts are vulnerable to wear and corrosion, such as in oil fields or marine applications.
You will often find electroless plating techniques used on parts like pumps and valves, which are frequently subjected to corrosive agents. You also tend to get very uniform metal deposits with electroless plating, with consistent thickness all around the part.
Thus, if you have parts with complex shapes where uniform plating might be difficult to achieve using conventional electroplating methods, electroless plating may be a much better alternative.
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Electroless Plating vs. Electroplating
In general, how does electroless plating stack up against electroplating? Both techniques make a component tougher and more corrosion-resistant. Both techniques can also make a part more attractive, although this is usually only an issue when plating jewelry or other parts that consumers are likely to view directly, as opposed to parts that you are more likely to situate within a larger machine or use on a factory floor.
Naturally, the main distinction between the two methods is the use, or not, of electricity. Electroplating makes use of a power source like a battery or rectifier, which delivers electricity to a component in a chemical solution, altering the chemical composition and depositing a hard, durable metal coating onto the surface of the component.
Electroplating is a more complex process than electroless plating, requiring clean conditions, using potentially hazardous equipment and in some cases needing multiple applications to get the desired plating thickness.
Electroless plating is a much less complex process. In electroless plating, we start by cleaning the component with chemical cleansers that remove oils and other corrosive elements, then dip it in the aqueous solution and add anti-oxidation chemicals. The result is a plated component that is highly resistant to friction and corrosion.
Also, with electroless nickel plating, there is no complex filtration or other equipment required, and since there is no electricity, there is also no danger of electricity-related accidents. SPC engineers utilizing electroless plating methods have much more control over the process and can produce a smooth, consistent nickel plating of the thickness and volume that you specify.
What Industries and Parts Are Best Suited for Electroless Plating?
So, what are the industries that are most likely to make use of electroless plating for their parts that require metal coating? As indicated, industries where parts have complex shapes or may be subjected to heavy corrosive factors are prime candidates for electroless plating. These industries may include:
- Food Service Industry: For example, molds and food processing machine parts.
- Oil & Gas Industry: Anything from valves, balls and plugs to barrels, pipe fittings and more.
- Automotive Industry: Vital car parts like shock absorbers, cylinders, brake pistons and gears.
- Aerospace Industry: Valves, pistons, pumps, rocket components.
- Chemical Industry: Pumps, mixing blades, heat exchangers, filter units, etc.
- Plastics and Textiles: Molds, dies, machine parts, spinnerets, extruders and so on.
This is by no means a complete list of industries and parts that can benefit from electroless plating techniques. You will have a better idea if electroless plating will suit your particular business or industry, but if you're not quite sure, call SPC at 717-767-6702. One of our experts can help you determine if electroless plating is right for you.
SPC for All Your Electroless Plating and Electroplating Needs
SPC is proficient at plating a wide range of parts with both electroless and traditional electroplating methods. We work with all industries and a variety of precious and non-precious metals for coating your parts. We can go over the key benefits of electroplating and electroless plating as well as the various metal coating options to help you maximize the advantages plating can provide.
SPC has been in the plating business for over 80 years, so you can be sure we are the most qualified experts in the field, with the greatest capability for identifying and carrying out your plating needs. To learn more about our plating methods and how they can work for you, or to find out about any of our other services or request a free quote on plating for your business, contact SPC today.
LEARN WHAT OUR MANY SATISFIED CUSTOMERS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT Us
"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.