The deposition of a metallic coating on a substrate has important benefits, such as the enhancement of their wear and corrosion resistance and the improvement of the aesthetic appearance of the object. The aesthetic aspect involves making an object shiner or providing the object an attractive color through the coating. A simple example is jewelry, which are often coated with silver or gold to improve their aesthetic appearance. The metal coating can also be used for protection of the substrate material, as the coating will increase the corrosion, rusting and wear resistance. As a result, electroplating is one of the most used plating methods, and many applications can be identified.
The global electroplating market is mainly driven by the rising demand in automotive industry. Electroplating is used for a variety of different components in the automotive sector, covering from surface treatment to functional and decorative electroplating applications. Did you ever wondered how vintage classic cars are preserved in excellent condition, protected against rust and tarnishing? Electroplating can maintain the quality of the metal parts, increasing their protection against wear, tear of abrasion and rust. What is more, the shining metal coating obtained through electroplating restores the original appealing aesthetic characteristics of a classic car, while increasing its value. On the other hand, modern automotive industry will be forever thankful to plating on plastics for being able to produce a wide range of parts, such as bumpers, exhausts, hubcaps, and other parts, from plastics coated into metal layers. The lightweight plastic parts reduce the overall weight of the vehicle and, therefore, the fuel consumption leading to more sustainable vehicles, while the metallic finish obtained through plating on plastics provides both an attractive appearance that satisfy buyers and desired characteristics of metals, such as wear and corrosion resistance. Another application is the use of electroplating to create custom automotive parts for prototyping, such as the “Type 20” concept vehicle of VW, in collaborating with Autodesk, where plastic hubcaps were 3D printed and then electroplated.
Increased protection is ranked highly in the aerospace industry priorities. One of the reasons many airplane components are metal-coated is to enhance their corrosion resistance and as a result to increase their lifespan. Considering that the airplane components face extreme changes in temperature and other environmental factors, the addition of a metallic coating on the substrate will also increase the wear and tear resistance of the components ensuring their functionality during these extreme changes.
When considering art and home decoration applications of electroplating, there is a variety of different components and purposes. Delicate or biodegradable items can be transformed into durable and long-lasting art pieces, with the metallic coating to enhance their aesthetic appearance and preserving fine details. After a search for “electroplating” on Etsy, a worldwide platform focused on handmade, vintage items and craft supplies, electroplated phone cases were identified as number one trend, providing both protection to the electrical device and a shining, appealing appearance. Another interesting application is the electroplating of 3D printed sculptures or other art pieces. The substrate material may vary depending on the application, while the plating metal can be copper, silver, gold or other metal of choice, that will provide to the substrate material the desired finish and durability. The manufacture of this type of items can be characterized as easier and cheaper compared to solid cast metal items.
The multibillion-valued jewelry industry is associated with precious metals and electroplating. Rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and others are being created by a variety of different metals. While gold dominates the jewelry market, combinations of metals are also quite popular to achieve unique finishes. For instance, yellow gold involves gold, silver, copper and zinc; white gold involves gold and nickel, silver or palladium; gold, copper and silver are mixed to produce rose gold; and green gold includes gold, silver and traces of copper. Designers and manufacturers choose electroplating to enhance the aesthetic appearance of jewelry items, as well as their durability. A common challenge in the jewelry industry is the mismatched coloring throughout a specific piece. Electroplating offers the solution, coating the jewelry piece to ensure even color, shininess, and protection against tarnish.
The use of various metal products in the medical industry shall meet extremely high standards of sanitation, reliability, and safety. Electroplating provides metal finishing to medical and dental products, ensuring high quality and performance. In particular, electroplating provides many benefits to medical industry parts, such as cleanliness and sanitation, wear and corrosion resistance, electrical and thermal conductivity, strength, radiopacity, among others. Considering that many products are inserted into the human body, it is necessary that the coated products are biocompatible and harmless to the human tissues.
For the medical industry, gold has been the most used metal for electroplating due to its high biocompatibility, electrical conductivity, and corrosion resistance. Common medical applications include electrical contacts for medical devices; catheter braids that improve resistance to kinks; scope and imaging devices in arthroscopic, endoscopic tools and scanning devices; device housings, such as the metallic protection structure of a stethoscope or radiological device; and implants for orthopedic, cosmetic, and other applications. Orthopedic implants to replace joints are particularly famous during the last years, and it is very important to ensure high quality of the implant during the manufacturing, as well as the plating process.
The dental industry has witnessed a tremendous advance during the last few years, and so did dental equipment. Precious and common metals are used for the manufacture of metal tools and implants. Electroplating offers dental tools many advantages, such as sanitation, corrosion resistance, radiopacity, biocompatibility, hardness, durability, thermal conductivity, electrical conductivity, and aesthetics. A thin metallic layer allows manufacturers and dentists to benefit also from the low material costs compared with old methods, high efficiency and minimal waste of precious metals. The use of gold plating in dentistry is widely spread with many applications in crowns and bridges. There are many applications of electroplating in dentistry, namely partial dentures, dental clasps, dummy pontics, Maryland bridges, retention posts, orthodontic implants, device housings, and electrical contacts.
There are numerous applications of electroplating in the electrical and solar industry, with the addition of the metallic coating to increase conductivity. The ever-growing industry of renewable energy and more specifically solar energy is a great example of electroplating application on the solar cell contacts. The plating material is carefully selected, aiming to limit the use of precious metals and replace them with cheaper and widely available alternative metals, while maintaining the desired conductivity. Another application of electroplating is on antenna parts. Antennas’ manufacturing shall meet specific requirements, such as compactness, high gain, while the cost shall be maintained low. Electroplating (and more specifically plating on plastics) allows the use of plastics, even 3D printed plastic parts, with good mechanical and thermal properties, as well as design freedom, competitive cost and light weight, while the addition of the metal coating provides the necessary electrical conductivity to the antennas. In addition, a variety of metals, such as gold, copper, nickel, silver, tin, or tin-lead, can be electroplated on wires, providing conductivity, corrosion resistance and a solderable surface. Gold is one of the metals that are frequently used to increase the lifespan of the above-mentioned parts, while being conductive and ductile.