Metal finishing is a process that is used in many household goods, building a foundation, and everything in between. You could easily look around your desk and find at least one object that has been finished with metal on an industrial level– screws, bolts, furniture, even your smartphone or laptops.

When it comes down to it, industrial metal finishing a major part of the modern-day production of everyday products. Without industrial metal finishing, we wouldn’t have the cars, dental fillings, or the construction components we have today.

So what is metal finishing? Why is it so important, and what are the different methods of it?

What is Industrial Metal Finishing?

Industrial metal finishing is also known as industrial metal plating. It is a process of using electricity to coat metals like copper or aluminum with a layer of precious metals, usually silver or gold. This is done to make cheaper metals look fancy or expensive. It’s also a way of implementing precious metals into the construction of something without the expensive need to exclusively use that metal for the component. In a way, metal finishing is a lot like painting.

Industrial metal finishing is used for things like jewelry, making metal components for cars and buildings look nice, dental plating, and more. Metal finishing is used across many industries for a variety of products.

Looks and Durability

Looks and durability are things to be considered when considering metal plating for your products.

Industrial metal plating is a method that is used to be either protective or decorative. For example, screws and bolts in a car are often coated in a powerful steel-chromium mixture to make them durable and shiny. Jewelry is usually coated with a more delicate precious metal used for both protection and aesthetics. Regardless of the product or material, metal plating protects, toughens, and improves a product’s appearance.

Electroplating and Electricity

The process of metal plating usually involves sending an electric current through an electrolyte, which is a solution that contains electrolysis-decomposable ions. Two electrodes are dipped into this solution and then get connected into a circuit with a power supply. Once the electricity is flowing through this circuit, the electrolyte divides the metal atoms and deposits them on top of the electrodes. A majority of industrial metals get plated for products this way.

Why Use Industrial Metal Plating?

There are a number of reasons for engineers, manufacturers, and other product-based business owners to consider using industrial metal finishing.

Industrial metal finishing is used for two main reasons– to protect products or make products look more expensive. Metals like silver and gold are plated for decoration and to improve the aesthetics of jewelry without driving up their cost. For example, precious metal-plated jewelry is cheaper than items that are made from pricey and precious substances. Metals such as aluminum and tin, which are cheap and not too visually appealing, are plated to protect the outer layer while making the product look very nice. For more hefty items, precious metal plating can improve the resistance and strength of the product.

What is Electropolishing?

Electropolishing is a type of electrochemical metal finishing method, and essentially the opposite of electroplating. We will cover electroplating later on in this guide. It involves depositing metal ions onto the surface of a substrate. With this technique, the ions get removed from the substrate to create a smooth surface texture.

There are multiple methods, techniques, and forms of electropolishing:

  • Buff polishing: A method of cleaning and smoothing of a substrate without creating an electrochemical reaction.
  • Tumble slurry blasting: The use of blasting hot water to clean and smooth a metal surface.
  • Vibratory finishing: A method of removing rough edges on very hard metals.
  • Mass finishing: A cost-effective way to polish products in bulk through edge-breaking, smoothing, and uniform cleaning.
  • Shot peening: A method of plating used for reducing overall metal fatigue and stress, increasing product durability, and preventing corrosion failure.
  • Abrasive blasting: Also known as sandblasting, this polishing method is used to combine finishing and cleaning into one quick process.

Now that we know what about electropolishing, let’s take a look at electroplating.

What is Electroplating?

Electroplating is also known as electrodeposition. It involves the deposit of a type of metal and/or alloy onto the top of a substrate. An electric current is sent through a liquid or “bath” that contains dissolved ions of the substrate, as well as the metal itself. The object to be coated is a sort of cathode that attracts the ions in the bath to get coated effectively. Both metals and plastic materials can be plated through electroplating, though it is ultimately a very difficult process to do.

There are numerous times of techniques under electroplating, as well as plating techniques that are similar but not quite considered electroplating:

  • Electrocoating or “e-coating”: Using the same electrodeposition principle as electroplating, this method involves immersing parts in a coating solution and introducing an electric current. Rather than metal ions, e-coating uses electrically charged paint or epoxy.
  • Case hardening: A way to protect the surface of a metal by making it harder.
  • Hot blackening: Used to create a black matte finish on car parts and firearms.
  • Electroless plating: A plating technique similar to electroplating in which the substrate is placed in a liquid solution that contains the desired metal.
  • Passivation: Usually used as a post-plating process, this method is used to add additional corrosion protection.
  • Cladding: A mechanical process where heat and pressure are used to bond a substrate and metal.
  • Powder coating: Powder is used to coat a metal object rather than liquid solutions.

As the industry evolves, new methods of industrial metal finishing are popping up. For the time being, these forms of plating are what is commonly used.

Which Industrial Metal Finishing Method is the Best Choice?

Ultimately, the method of metal finishing comes down to what you want out of it, and the type of product that will be coated. ABITL can help you figure out exactly which metal finishing method is ideal for you. Need a quick quote right now? Contact ABITL and speak to one of our excellent specialists today!

What process of industrial metal finishing do you prefer? Tell us about your experience with industrial metal finishing in the comments below.

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