Production Chrome Electroplating on ABS Plastic

In earlier years, components for cars and motorcycles were almost always made from metal, because consumers valued the bright, lustrous finish that metal could offer. However, these parts were not always ideal, as metal components were expensive, and added extra weight to the vehicle.

Plastics have advantages over metals in some applications, particularly the automotive industry, because they are light and flexible, and easily fabricated; however, plastic cannot achieve the desired high-quality, lustrous finish of metal.

It was discovered that electroplating would not only provide the desired aesthetic qualities, but also a similar ease of cleaning, and resistance to corrosion, that the solid metal pieces possessed. Thus, the finished components had all the advantageous qualities of both plastic and chrome.

Many people think that electroplating is only possible with metals, and other electrically-conductive materials, but this is not true; almost any material can be electroplated (the methods differ for some types of plastic).

The problem with electroplating plastics and organic materials is that they are not electrically conductive, so they can’t be immersed in a normal plating solution and plated in the same way that metal objects can be.

Before production methods for plating plastic were developed (along with special plastic materials for this purpose – called ABS plastic) the only way to circumvent this problem was to first deposit a film, made of a conductive material, which would adhere well to both layers, and which was electrically conductive.

In a “production” environment, the current procedure for plating ABS plastics is to first etch the surface of the substrate using, among other things, a chromic acid solution, which provides good adhesion to the subsequent conductive layer.

The surface of the substrate is then coated with a thick layer of copper, to compensate for the difference in thermal expansion between the plastic substrate and the metal coating. The copper is covered with another thick layer of nickel, which prevents corrosion of the copper undercoat; two layers can be used on parts that are intended for use in severe environments.

Once the plastic substrate has undergone this process, it can then be plated with chrome, using conventional electroplating methods.

The automotive industry has been the largest consumer of electroplated plastics products, and since the mid-1970s, when the process of electrodepositing plastic was perfected, large areas of nickel and chromium plated plastic trim were appearing on vehicles.

The trend was more noticeable in North America, were bright trim has always been more popular than in Europe. Plated plastic trim on automobiles reached its peak in North America in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, but the industry has grown about 50% since 1993 in Europe, and by almost 100% in the United Kingdom.

Many car and motorcycle enthusiasts choose custom chrome shops (job shops) to chrome-plate their parts after purchasing a vehicle, as there are ultra-bright, “show-quality” chrome finishes available, which are not typically used on factory vehicles.

Almost any part of a vehicle can be chrome-plated, including any plastic fixtures or accessories, to not only enhance the look and feel of these components, but make them resistant to corrosion and wear as well. In addition to vehicle parts, many household fittings such as flanges, towel rails, light fittings and more, are often made of ABS plastic and plated in chrome, satin chrome or gold.

Metal finishers and companies that specialize in electroplating will typically be able to plate any object, and save the consumer time and money in the long run by improving the durability of their plastic (or metal) components.

Post time: 04-11-2017