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Metal Plating: The Ultimate Guide to Style Your Projects

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Metal plating is the process of depositing a metal coating onto a substrate to protect it from corrosion and wear while providing a clean, aesthetic finish. Metal plating can benefit almost any laser cut project, from electrical applications to automotive applications. 

Here at SendCutSend, we offer two different types of metal plating in a variety of materials. Our zinc plating is available for 4130 chromoly and mild steel, and our nickel plating is available for copper and mild steel. Each type of plating provides unique benefits to different applications. Keep reading to learn which one you should use and how it can strengthen your projects!

How is Metal Plating Done at SendCutSend?

There are a few different methods for metal plating depending on the material used, the final application of the project, and the supplier. So what happens to your parts when you have them plated through SendCutSend? Let’s walk through it step by step. 

Step 1: Surface Preparation

In order to go through the plating process, your parts will need to be cleaned of any coating, scaling, or debris that may have accumulated during the machining process. There are several methods of doing this. 

Oxide Removal 

Oxide removal is the process of clearing the substrate of its oxide layer. An oxide layer can protect parts from wear and corrosion, but it also prevents the plating from adhering to the substrate correctly. There are several ways of doing this; laser cleaning, mechanical cleaning, and chemical cleaning are all viable ways of removing the oxide layer from the base metal.

Laser cleaning uses fiber lasers to burn away controlled layers in the oxide. This method is precise and effectively clears the oxide layers away without creating impurities in the substrate. However, it can also take the most time of the cleaning methods and isn’t as efficient as mechanical cleaning when it comes to thin oxide layers.

Mechanical cleaning is the simplest of the oxide removal methods. Using rotating brushes, the oxide layer can be scrubbed away along with burrs and other imperfections that may have developed during handling and machining. This method turns the oxide layer into dust which has to be stored and disposed of responsibly.

Chemical cleaning removes the oxide layer by dipping or coating the metal in an acid bath, chemically burning the oxide away from the base metal. In some cases, electrochemical cleaning may be used. In this process, the metal is placed in an electrolytic chemical bath with a weak electrical current which quickly removes any oxide layer present. 

SendCutSend uses the mechanical method for oxide removal.

Alkaline Cleaning 

Once the oxide layer has been removed, the substrate goes through a second cleaning process called alkaline cleaning to remove any oils, grease, particles, or chemicals left behind during oxide removal. The substrate is washed in an alkaline solution either by spray or immersion, which gently removes final impurities on its surface. The alkaline solution is then rinsed off and the substrate is ready for plating.

Step 2: Plating: 

Your SendCutSend parts will be plated in one of two ways: electroplating or immersion plating. Which one we use is determined by the material you choose for metal plating.

Electroplating Process

In the electroplating process, the substrate is negatively charged and dipped into a tank of conductive liquid. The metal used for plating is also put into the tanks and dissolved with a DC current of up to 6 volts. The dissolved metal then travels through the tank and attracts to the negatively charged substrate, adhering itself to the surface. 

Immersion Plating

In immersion plating, the substrate is dipped in a solution of the plating metal’s ions to produce a replacement reaction. The substrate’s atoms are displaced in favor of the plating metals, causing layers of the plating to be deposited onto the substrate. 

Step 3: Finishing Treatments: 

Phosphating 

Phosphating can further protect your part by dipping the metal plated parts in a phosphate solution. This is a solution of metal phosphates dissolved into phosphoric acid, which the part is coated in via spraying or immersion. Phosphating gives your parts further wear and corrosion resistance, promoting long-term use.

Chromate Conversion 

In the chromate conversion process, metal plated parts are dipped or sprayed in a solution containing a hexavalent chromium compound and acid. Once the solution has been applied, the coating dries and becomes hydrophobic. Chromate conversion can provide corrosion and abrasion resistance, as well as promote conductivity in metal plated parts.

Electroplating vs. Electroforming vs. Electroless Plating

The terms electroplating, electroforming, and electroless plating are often thrown around when discussing metal plating methods. But what is the difference between them? 

The key difference between electroplating and electroless plating, and electroforming, is that electroplating and electroless plating deposit a coating onto a pre-existing part. In electroforming, a mold is used to create solid metal parts and the mold is removed once the forming process is complete. 

As mentioned above, electroplating uses an electrical current to attract the plating metal to the substrate which then adheres to the substrate. As you can expect, electroless plating does not use an electrical current at all and instead creates an autocatalytic reaction, chemically reducing the plating metal and depositing it onto the substrate. Of these two processes, electroplating is more reliable when plating parts in high quantities, which is why it’s the method of choice here at SendCutSend. 

9 Types of Metal Plating and Their Uses 

Nickel Plating

One of the types of plating we offer here at SendCutSend is nickel plating. Nickel plating is highly wear resistant and corrosion resistant, providing a clear, brightly finished surface to its substrate as well. But the biggest benefit nickel plating provides is maintaining conductivity. Even with nickel plating applied to it, copper is still conductive and even experiences an increased operating temperature range. This makes it perfect for electrical applications where your parts may need a little more protection.

Our nickel plating is also available for all of our mild steel options.

Zinc Plating

Zinc plating is another plating option we offer. Zinc is one of the best plating options for increasing the rust resistance of your parts due to its extreme temperature resistance. We offer 4130 chromoly and mild steel as material options suited to zinc plating, which are both ferrous materials. And since zinc has been known to slow the corrosion rate of some metals by up to 30 years, the match up between this plating option and these metals could not be more perfect.

We offer zinc plating in black, yellow, and clear finishes, perfect for whatever aesthetic finish you want your parts to have.

Chrome Plating

Although it’s corrosion and wear resistant, chrome plating is most often used for aesthetic purposes. Used to plate cheaper metals like nickel, chrome plating provides a clean finish for everything from car parts to household fixtures. Chrome plating also increases the hardness of the substrate metal, promoting durability.

Gold Plating

Gold plating is often used in aesthetic applications such as jewelry, but it adds value to many projects in electronics applications as well. Similar to zinc, gold plating can maintain and improve the conductivity of the material it coats. Gold plating is also oxidation resistant, protecting the metal underneath from harsh elements and wear. 

Silver Plating

Silver plating is used in decorative cases and electrical applications similar to gold plating thanks to its aesthetic finish and conductivity. When silver plating is chosen over gold plating, it is often due to the affordability silver plating provides.

Copper Plating

Affordable, highly conductive, and anti-bacterial, copper plating has a wide variety of uses in everything from the medical industry to the delicacy of circuit boards. Copper plating has double use as a pretreatment for substrates before they are plated with a different metal. 

Rhodium Plating

Rhodium plating is most often used in jewelry and other delicate, decorative projects to protect them against tarnishing and scratching. Rhodium, as a type of titanium, is also hypoallergenic, the perfect plating option for people who experience discomfort in contact with other common metals or platings. 

Cadmium Plating

In addition to being corrosion and chemical resistant, cadmium plating is also so wear resistant that it only takes a thin coating to adequately protect the substrate beneath it. This makes it extremely lightweight and adds little thickness to the overall part, positioning cadmium plating as the ideal plating for aerospace applications.

Tin Plating

Tin plating is non-toxic and corrosion resistant, lending itself to an array of applications, including the food industry and the electronics industry. Tin plating is also one of the best plating options for parts that will later need soldered, often plating materials such as copper and nickel.

Benefits of Metal Plating

Metal plating has a wide range of benefits and suits most projects and parts. These benefits will vary depending on which substrate you choose and especially which type of plating you choose, but most plating options offer several of the following benefits:

  • Corrosion resistance 
  • Decorative appearance
  • Higher strength
  • Lower friction
  • Altered conductivity
  • Greater paint adhesion
  • Deposition of materials
  • Higher magnetism

Downsides of Metal Plating

The only real downside to metal plating lies in the dangers and complexity of executing the process correctly. The chemicals used in electroplating and electroless plating can cause severe injuries and those exposed to the chemicals over long periods of time can suffer from hexavalent chromium exposure when the proper precautions aren’t taken. The storage and disposal of the materials used in the process is also dangerous, time consuming, and expensive. 

For these reasons, it’s better to go through a supplier for all your metal plating needs as they are correctly trained and prepared to give you the best, safest result possible. To add plating to your SendCutSend order, all you have to do is select the plating and finishing options you want during checkout and we’ll take care of the rest. Plating will add just a $9 minimum to your order, and there are quantity discounts available as soon as you order more than one of an identical part. Metal plating with us is simple, affordable, and efficient!

Applications and Uses of Metal Plating 

All the benefits of metal plating lend themselves to dozens of major industries. If you don’t think any of your projects can benefit from plating, think again! Take a look at this list to see just a few of the many applications for metal plating and get some inspiration for your next project or product.

Aerospace

As we mentioned earlier, several plating materials are able to be applied to a substrate in very small quantities, making a thin, lightweight layer which still adequately protects the parts from the elements. Almost all fasteners used in the aerospace industry are plated, but many outer components and panels of the aircraft itself can also be plated to further increase the lifespan of the materials. 

Automotive 

Metal plating has a similar place in the automotive industry as it does in the aerospace industry. Chrome plating is highly popular among large companies and project car enthusiasts alike, giving cars and motorcycles an aesthetic finish while protecting the core components of the vehicle simultaneously. 

Medical and Dental

Plating is necessary to most medical tools which require constant cleaning and sterilizing. Many kinds of plating in the medical industry can protect the base metal beneath it from the wear and corrosion that such constant use and cleaning introduces to the tool. In addition to the popular metal plating options such as gold and copper, tin is especially useful in medical and dental applications as it’s non-toxic and easily sterilized. 

Power and energy

Plating is popular in the power and energy industries because it provides parts with corrosion and wear resistance, and in many cases it can improve the conductivity of a part. This makes it an ideal addition to solar power farms and plants as it can help the equipment stand against the elements and improve its output.

Prototyping

If you are in the early stages of product development, you know how time consuming and costly prototyping out of metal can be. Pairing metal plating with more affordable material and manufacturing options (such as additive manufacturing) allows you to prototype efficiently and with materials that are close to the final product without breaking the bank.

Food Preparation

The culinary industry is demanding of its tools and work surfaces, requiring them to be durable and strong but expecting them to be replaced every few years. Parts will need to hold up to constant use, be food safe, and remain affordable. Putting all these things together is no easy task but plating with non-toxic metals allows parts and work surfaces to fulfill all requirements. 

Getting the Perfect Metal Plating for Your Project 

Metal plating has a place in every project from its corrosion resistance to its aesthetic finish. This is one of the best ways to further improve upon the base metal you choose to make your part out of, and will ensure your part’s quality for years to come. 

Here at SendCutSend, we offer zinc plating in black, yellow, and clear finishing options for all our mild steel and 4130 chromoly options. We also offer clear nickel plating in all our mild steel and copper options. Adding just a $9 minimum to your order, we make metal plating more accessible and affordable than ever. 
Be sure to review our Guidelines for Sheet Metal Plating to ensure that your parts meet the required specs for plating before placing your order. And then place your order and get a metal plating quote today!

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