Nickel surface finishing continues to be relevant in a changing world

August 15, 2015


Superficially, not a great deal has changed in the plating and electroforming industry. But beneath the surface—where the nickel is found—there have been enormous shifts not in the processes but in the products that depend on the processes. Products that were unheard of 30 years ago but which are now part of daily industrial and household life are made possible or better with nickel plating.

The largest use of nickel is in metallurgical alloys such as high nickel alloys for heat and corrosion resistance, stainless and low alloys steels, non-ferrous alloys including coinage, and ferrous castings. But to the average consumer, the most obvious use of pure nickel is for plated coatings. From the humble paper clip, to attractive automotive trim, this widespread use reflects the useful properties of nickel as a coating, and its versatility. By modifying operating conditions, the properties and appearance of nickel can be customised to suit designers’ and consumers’ specific needs.

Electroplated nickel is used extensively to enhance the utility, value and sales appeal of manufactured products. Other nickel coatings improve the physical properties such as wear, heat or corrosion resistance. In many important applications, nickel coatings serve the dual role of providing an attractive decorative coating plus imparting improved corrosion resistance or other functional properties.

Over the 30 years since Nickel magazine was first published, the most notable developments in nickel plating have been the greater use of durable nickel- chromium coatings on plastics and aluminium components. Bright, satin, pearl and black coatings are widely selected for automotive, motor cycle and commercial vehicle components, along with tapware and bathroom fittings, door and cupboard fittings, metal furniture, appliances and consumer electronics.

An important application is electroforming, where nickel is built up by electrodeposition onto a suitable mandrel, and subsequently removed to produce a nickel product which corresponds precisely to the shape and texture of the original substrate. Examples are rotary textile printing screens, nickel foam battery electrodes, stampers for CD/DVDs/holograms and security printing plates for bank notes and postage stamps.

Electroless nickel plating is another method for depositing nickel onto a substrate. This is a chemical process which reduces nickel ions in a solution to nickel metal by chemical reduction, rather than with electric current. The unique properties of the resultant nickel deposit include uniform thickness, hardness, corrosion resistance and magnetic response. The largest application is for hard disc drives, while other examples are the metallising of plastics for electroplating, automotive brake cylinders, pumps, valves and other engineering products.

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