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Plating on Plastics

Electroplating On Plastics for Advanced Manufacturers

From water bottles to food packaging, plastic is everywhere in our day to day lives. Since its creation in the early-19th century, the use of plastic in manufacturing has only increased. As many industry professionals like plumbers and electricians realized the benefits of using plastic components over metal ones. Some automobile components have even made the switch to plastic. But plastic alone is often not durable enough to maintain functionality for long. This is where electroplating comes in.

Electroplating plastic can provide your plastic components with a wide range of chemical and physical benefits, depending on the material that is deposited. In general, electroplating plastics greatly improve their physical strength, aesthetic appearance, provides ample protection against corrosion, and in some cases can increase their thermal resistance or conductive properties. 

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Plating for Non-Conductive Substrates

A key part of the electroplating process is the use of electricity to deposit the desired material onto the surface of a substrate. However, if the substrate being plated is non-conductive (glass, plastic, and ceramics), then the desired coating will not be deposited. 

In order to properly electroplate non-conductive materials, their surface must be made conductive. This is why non-conductive substrates require an electroless nickel base layer (or another autocatalytic material) to be plated first, allowing subsequent surface finishes to be applied.

In the case of plastic, an extra pre-treatment chemical bath is often required to make the surface more adhesive. Once prepped, the plastic is then coated through the electroless nickel process. Once coated in an electrically conductive nickel layer, subsequent layers can be applied through electrolytic or electroless plating processes. 

Note: Due to the complexity of the non-conductive substrate plating process, it is important to account for thickness, dimensional variation, and component draining ability (through hole).

Common Surface Finishes for Plastic Include:

Once the surface of a plastic substrate is made electrically conductive (through the electroless application of a nickel base layer), the material options for the subsequent finishes are endless. Depending on what chemical and physical qualities are desired, there are a wide range of finishing combinations for your plastic substrates. Some of the most common finishes for plastic substrates include:

  • Gold
  • Copper
  • Silver
  • Electrolytic Nickel
  • And more!

Frequently Asked Questions

Benefits of Plating Plastic
While non-plated plastics have found decades of use across a multitude of different manufacturing sectors, the need for plated plastics has been steadily increasing. As 3D printing and other Advanced Manufacturing processes continue to evolve and integrate with the traditional manufacturing process, 3D printed plastic components are becoming increasingly more common. 

These components often need physical improvements/altercations that can only be acquired through the electroplating process. Some of the benefits of electroplating plastic include: 
  • Improved Electrical Conductivity
  • Improved Thermal Resistance 
  • Increased Strength
  • Abrasion Resistance 
  • Smooth and Aesthetically Pleasing Finish
  • Make non-metallic components appear metallic
  • And many more!
Common Industry Applications of Plated Plastic
The rapid increase in demand for plating plastics in the last few decades is large in part due to the Automotive industry’s switch to using a majority of plastic components during their manufacturing process. Studies show that plastic polymers make up 15-20% of some car models’ total weight. Aside from the automotive industry, the electronics and pluming sectors also see frequent use of plated plastics. Some of the most common industry uses of plated plastics are: 
  • Gear Shift Knobs
  • Automobile Emblems 
  • Light Bezels 
  • Door handles
  • Car bumpers
  • Appliance Control Switches
  • Plumbers Pipe
  • And many more! 
For more information about plating on plastics and other surface finishes, including Military Specs, AMS Specs and ASTM Specs, visit AOTCO Military Plating Specs page.
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