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past, present and future ELECTROPLATING

An overview of the industry by Michael Riley,managing director of Riley Surface World

The origins of electroplating go

back to the early 19th century,and have been variously attributed

to Michael Faraday, Luigi Brugnatelli and Allisandro Volta (after whom the the electric unit ‘volt’was named)

However,itwas the Elkington Brothers of Birmingham that

submitted the first viable patent for gold and

silver plating in 1840 This development

was rapidly followed with processes for

plating in bright nickel, brass, tin and zinc

As with much of the

world’s manufacturing technologies, electro- plating was founded in the white heat of

the Victorian industrial revolution

The explosion of the automotive and aeronautical industries of the early 20th century, as well as those serving the construction industry,saw another surge in electroplating processes, particularly in the use of chrome plating on steel.

However,things did not radically change for over 100 years. It was the growth of the electronics industries in the 1940s, accelerated by the technological and communications demands of World War2that saw new chemicals, pre-treatments, cleaning systems, acid bath preparations and more accurate DC power supplies come into force.

This barrel plating plant was shipped from the UK to Durban, South Africa and re- commissioned for alarge sub-contract electroplating company serving the buoyant local automotive industry

Change driven by legislation

Whilst technology and the demands for new consumer products have always been the main drivers of electroplating advances, from the 1970s onwards environmental and health & safety practices have had increasing influences. Legislation both at home and overseas governs waste water and chemical disposal, water recycling,dust and fume extraction and energy efficiency to name just a few.These regulations impose challenges on electroplating companies to maintain high standards of product quality,whilst at the same time being aware of potential harm to the environment and the health and safety of employees.

10 SURFACEWORLD january 2013

In this respect, we are not talking about some vague notion of how to prevent global warming. The dangers inherent in allowing toxic chemicals into public water systems were illustrated in adramatic way by the year 2000 film ‘Erin Brockovich’, starring Julia Roberts and Albert Finney,which was based on atrue story. The film highlighted the dangers of not properly controlling the safe disposal of hexavalent chrome (CR6) as apassivation agent. Similar issues have recently emerged in relation to the use of cadmium in the aerospace industry.

Modern electroplating plants are light years away from the dirty,smelly,polluting monstrosities of yesteryear.Aswell as being environmentally sound and energy efficient, they incorporate anumber of improvements in order to achieve ahigher quality of finished result. New practices enable greater plating speed, better ‘throwing’ power (the ability to produce a more uniform distribution of metal on products of irregular shapes), as well as afar greater variety of robust and decorative plating finishes.

New materials and processes

In addition, the electroplating of materials such as platinum, osmium and ruthenium are now used widely in electronics for connectors, circuit boards, contacts etc. Keeping up with the ever more demanding needs of the electronics, computing,aerospace and automotive indus- tries is what is driving through improvements to electroplating worldwide, creating ever more sophisticated materials and processes.

(continued on page 12) This

immaculate precious metal plating plant was sold to an automotive parts

remanufact urer and re- configured for zinc plating

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