Since the 19th Century, electroplating has been widely used for a number of industrial applications. Plated coatings including copper, tin, gold and silver can be applied to a variety of metal substrates from aluminium to zinc. Electroplating is carried out to improve the properties of the substrate such as giving enhanced solderability and electrical properties, or to increase durability, corrosion and chemical resistance.
What is electroplating?
Electroplating is achieved by passing an electrical current between two electrodes immersed in an electrolyte solution. In straightforward terms, one of the electrodes will be the substrate you wish to plate. The electrolyte solution will contain metal atoms of the substance you wish to use as a coating (i.e. you need a silver-based solution if you wish to plate the substrate with silver). When the electrical current is passed through the solution, the atoms split up and are deposited in a thin layer on the electrode.
Are there any regulations governing the use of electroplating?
There is a large amount of legislation surrounding the use of electroplating. From the Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations to the Water Framework Directive, there are many codes, standards and regulations that the surface coating industry has to comply with.
The Registration, Evaluations, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations, for example, covers the use of chemicals in the electroplating process. Its aim is to provide a high degree of protection to the environment, as well as the health of people working with the chemicals.
Also, for companies involved in processes like cadmium plating, because of its high toxicity and potential carcinogenic properties, the use of cadmium is strictly controlled under the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive.
Where can I get the best advice on electroplating?
The Surface Engineering Association (SEA) is a trade association representing the surface treatment industry. We ensure that our members are provided with the very best advice, from technical and business support to guidance of the latest UK and European legislation which could affect their business.