(Plating finishes are not done in-house, they are sub-contracted items)

Electroplating is a process that uses electrical current to reduce dissolved metal cations so that they form a coherent metal coating on an electrode. The term is also used for electrical oxidation of anions onto a solid substrate, as in the formation silver chloride on silver wire to make silver/silver-chloride electrodes. Electroplating is primarily used to change the surface properties of a part (e.g. electrical conductivity, abrasion and wear resistance, corrosion protection, lubricity, aesthetic qualities, etc.).

The process used in electroplating is called electro deposition. It is analogous to a galvanic cellacting in reverse. The part to be plated is the cathode of the circuit. In one technique, the anode is made of the metal to be plated on the part. Both components are immersed in a solution called an electrolyte containing one or more dissolved metal salts as well as other ions that permit the flow of electricity. A power supply supplies a direct current to the anode, oxidizing the metal atoms that comprise it and allowing them to dissolve in the solution. At the cathode, the dissolved metal ions in the electrolyte solution are reduced at the interface between the solution and the cathode, such that they “plate out” onto the cathode. The rate at which the anode is dissolved is equal to the rate at which the cathode is plated, vis-a-vis the current flowing through the circuit. In this manner, the ions in the electrolyte bath are continuously replenished by the anode.

Other electroplating processes may use a non-consumable anode such as lead or carbon. In these techniques, ions of the metal to be plated must be periodically replenished in the bath as they are drawn out of the solution. The most common form of electroplating is used for creating coins such as pennies, which are small zinc plates covered in a layer of copper.

Cleanliness is essential to successful electroplating, since molecular layers of oil can prevent adhesion of the coating. ASTM B322 is a standard guide for cleaning metals prior to electroplating. Cleaning processes include solvent cleaning, hot alkaline detergent cleaning, electro-cleaning, and acid treatment etc. The most common industrial test for cleanliness is the water break test, in which the surface is thoroughly rinsed and held vertical. Hydrophobic contaminants such as oils cause the water to bead and break up, allowing the water to drain rapidly. Perfectly clean metal surfaces are hydrophilic and will retain an unbroken sheet of water that does not bead up or drain off. ASTM F22 describes a version of this test. This test does not detect hydrophilic contaminants, but the electroplating process can displace these easily since the solutions are water-based. Surfactants such as soap reduce the sensitivity of the test and must be thoroughly rinsed off.

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