Types and advantages of electroplating in the worldwide automotive industry
Automobile manufacturers always seek new and improved ways to protect their products from relentless corrosive forces. Most people who own an automobile will have experienced rust at some point. Rust can spread like wildfire, damaging an automobile paint job in almost no time at all, while also causing unsightly holes due to eating away bit by bit through the car’s body. Rust can be caused by many factors such as acid rain, bird droppings, tree sap, dirt and even dead insects on certain occasions. As the clear outer paint coat gradually gets “eaten away” by these contaminants, the metal body below the paint becomes even more prone to corrosion. Exposure to sea-salt or road are just some factors that can hasten corrosion, along with small scratches, dents or nicks on the vehicle. Corrosion can cause a great deal more damage than simply tarnishing the vehicle’s fit and finish. It can affect critical operating systems such as the vehicle brake, fuel, electronic and electrical systems, endangering the lives of both the driver and the occupants. Unlike external body rust that is instantaneously apparent, internal system corrosion may not even be evident until there is a massive amount of damage, further compounding the problem.
Initially, the primary cause of automotive corrosion used to be sea-salt that was limited to coastal areas worldwide. However, since the 1970’s, the de-icing material used on American highways led to serious corrosion in the Snowbelt region of the country. Corrosion Cost estimates that rust-related damage costs consumers around $23 billion every year. From the 1970s, automobile manufacturers began to place a greater emphasis on corrosive protection. This led to the advent of the metal finishing technique now called electroplating. In simple terms, metal plating enables metal ions to be deposited on a metal part, called the substrate. The metal ions are a single component used to create an electrolyte solution, called a plating bath. A DC current is then used to start a reaction that causes the metal ions to be deposited in the plating bath onto the surface substrate, forming a sleek, protective metal coating.
Zinc-Nickel alloy plating
A zinc-nickel alloy provides a powerful punch that can nip corrosive activities in the bud. The zinc-nickel alloy effectively functions as a barrier that does not allow rust to reach the metal surface of the automobile. A typical zinc-nickel ratio is approximately 80%-94% zinc and 20% -6% nickel. A reliable method to judge corrosion resistance levels of any material is through salt-spray testing. It has been shown in these tests that a zinc-nickel alloy prevents white rust from forming for up to 500 hours and red rust for up to 1000 hours. Zinc-alloy nickel plating can improve the appearance of an automobile by adding a shininess that brightens the metal part finish, making it closely resemble a chrome finish. This is found on many car parts including the power steering system, under-the-hood components, brake systems, chassis hardware etc.
A key characteristic of Palladium is that it doesn’t react with oxygen under normal circumstances, so it is safe to use when exposed to air. Palladium features the lowest melting point of all the platinum metals, is the least dense, but is harder than gold. It provides excellent resistance to both wear and tear and corrosion. Palladium plating is useful to produce catalytic converters that help transform toxic exhaust fumes into less harmful ones. Palladium has the unique ability to absorb an excessive amount of hydrogen that can potentially lead to hydrogen sulphide gas forming. More than half the Palladium in automobile manufacturing is used to produce catalytic converters.
Metal plating provides the following benefits –
- Corrosion resistance– Metal finishing allows customers to drive their vehicles for longer by reducing their corrosion-specific repair and maintenance cost.
- Wear resistance – Plating reduces the wear and tear leading to longer part life. Longer part replacement time leads to lower ownership cost in the long run.
- Tarnish prevention – Certain automobile parts may tarnish over time. Plating helps prevent this, prolonging the time that the vehicle looks new and attractive.
- Plastic part metallisation – Plating can potentially make plastic parts electrically conductive, while simultaneously improving their appearance. This improves the durability of the vehicle’s plastic components.
Electroplating is one of the most common practices in a wide range of industrial processes, and this is one of the important factors driving the growth of the electroplating market. Electroplating allows players from the manufacturing industry to use low-cost materials and inexpensive metals in a majority of the processes and use high-quality and expensive metals in only a few parts of their products.
With decorating finishes, electroplating enables end users to limit their manufacturing costs while improving the outer appearance of the product, protection, and various other specific engineering and mechanical material properties. This is one of the leading factors driving the growth of the electroplating market.
A mounting number of manufacturers are also investing heavily in research & development to explore more innovative and lucrative methods of manufacturing unique products, in order to establish a lead in the global electroplating market. Experimenting with electroplating metals is one of the prominent trends in this landscape. While gold, silver, nickel, chromium, copper, and zinc are among the most popular metals used in electroplating, aluminum is also emerging as a useful metal as it can be used in the development of micromachining processes as well as in the fabrication of microstructures.
Leading manufacturers in the electroplating market are also increasing their focus on designing electroplating racks with customizable features for offering high-quality rack plating services. Companies are aiming to develop a strong customer base in industrial areas where optimal electroplating for sophisticated and high-quality components is required.
Furthermore, the demand for electroplating is also increasing significantly in the automotive and consumer electronics industries. With the impressive growth prospects of these industrial areas, the demand will continue to grow, and this is expected to have a huge influence on the upcoming strategies of leading players in the electroplating market.