Electroless Nickel Plating and More to Get the Right Reaction

by Breana Cronk, IQS Editor

With news of a princely engagement across the pond intertwined with Black Friday deals extending to the jewelry market, those without a family jewel to bequeath to their darling might be looking for a deal that will, like the media frenzy, combine the right price with a charmed reaction from that special someone. Even with the deals, though, some might find the solid gold or silver jewelry out of their price range. Luckily, gold and silver coatings applied to a more economic substrate through electroless plating offer a lovely alternative that still gets the right reaction. Coincidentally, getting the reaction right is the key to success when it comes to gold and silver plating just as it is with the more common electroless nickel plating.

As the name suggests, electroless plating adheres a beneficial layer to a substrate without the use of electricity as is the case with electrolytic plating. Without an electric current to inspire the necessary reactions, electroless applications use chemical reactions to deposit a uniform layer of gold, nickel, silver or any of a number of metallic and composite materials onto the surface of an object. The basic process, though highly precise, is quite simple in explanation. The material to be deposited onto the work piece is immersed in an aqueous solution. This bath is then applied to the carefully cleaned substrate. This is where an electrical current would be introduced in alternative methods, but in this case a reducing agent is added to the bath solution. The additive incites the release of hydrogen which reacts with the metal ions producing a negative charge all of which results in the deposition of a layer of nickel, copper, chrome or whatever the desired coating may be.

While silver and gold plating may be the most obvious choice within the jewelry market, the two are actually used heavily in electronics where a corrosion resistant electrically conductive layer is needed for improved connectivity. Copper is also common in the field of electronics while chrome plating is popular for ornamental applications such as chrome hubcaps which are often used to add visual appeal to cars. Despite these many options, the most popular form of the processes is electroless nickel plating. Nickel coatings are used for everything from oil field valves in the petroleum industry to kitchen utensils and fixtures in residential applications. Automotive, aerospace, military, OEM industries and more apply nickel plating to substrates ranging from stainless steel to precious metals to achieve improved strength, wear resistance, ductility and hardness.

Despite its many benefits, electroless nickel plating may not be the best choice of plating material for every application. Nickel plated jewelry for example, may not win over the ladies in quite the same fashion that gold, silver or Prince Charming would. It is important to consult professionals when selecting the proper plating material as they can produce the right reaction to achieve the right results in a range of applications. So whether the plan is to woo the girly girl with sparkling jewelry, the car buff with shiny chrome or the electronics enthusiast with the best connection; getting the chemical reaction right during the electroless plating process, nickel or otherwise is a sure way to garner the right reaction.

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