Good reasons to consider electroplating in design

In many cases, the surface properties required for components in terms of corrosion protection, various functionalities and optical aspects are only considered after the design stage is concluded. However, involving an electroplating specialist at an early stage has a range of advantages. "In product development, the surface finish is often the last factor considered," says Udo Langner, Sales Manager at the Holzapfel Group. "What properties does the component need to have? Where will the component be installed, which influences will it need to withstand and in which quality? Does it require surface treatment? If so, which kind? These and similar questions are the starting points for our project work as plating specialists."

Langner is convinced that it would make sense to involve electroplating specialists in projects at a much earlier stage: "Involving us in the early stages of development work makes it possible to take electroplating into account in the design, which can favour many factors in advance and eliminate potential problems during the subsequent plating process." Usually, once the design has been completed, a specification sheet is submitted to the plating specialists showing the requirements profile of the component in further assembly, as well as which safety and anti-corrosion factors need to be considered. Based on this information, the plating specialist then recommends a surface and a layer thickness.

"However, if we are consulted at an earlier stage, we can influence the design to enable it to be plated more cost-effectively," explains Langner and gives examples: "For example, a hole can be drilled with the aim of preventing air bubbles or air pockets from forming during the plating process. Designs can be adapted so that more components fit on a rack, or parts can even be galvanised using the barrel method instead of racks in order to cut costs." By taking downstream steps such as the plating or surface treatment into account, the electroplating specialist can submit proposals that could make the component less expensive and, together with the customer, decide whether it is workable in terms of design. One example would be to design a lug on a component to make barrel coating possible instead of using the more expensive rack method.  "In some cases it would be possible to save a great deal of money by involving the electroplating specialist at the project stage and not only then when the product is finished," says Langner with conviction. "Our approach is to take an in-depth look at the project together with our customer as well as their end customers and contribute knowledge of electroplating that the designer might not have in mind." Based on the Holzapfel Group's experience, surface finishing costs can be reduced by up to 50%.

Plating not only optimises component properties, but also creates new ones

Michael Kolb is convinced that it can also be worthwhile incorporating plating expertise at the design stage of a component for other reasons. Kolb is innovation manager at the Holzapfel Group and has already been involved in numerous development projects: "In many cases we are only called in when the design and calculation stages have largely been completed. It would often even be possible to use less expensive base materials and provide them with the required surface properties by means of plating. We can coat low-cost substrates with special finishes that can help give a component specific properties such as solderability, a higher absorption rate, reflectivity, catalytic functions, greater efficiency, a better friction coefficient, improved wear behaviour or UV resistance."

A range of concrete applications underline the success of this approach

The Holzapfel Group has plenty of examples of component designs compatible with electroplating processes and also of coatings, which exactly adapt to the specifications of components. An ideal example is the zinc-nickel FleXXKorr process, a bendable zinc-nickel layer used as anti-corrosion plating for tubes, e.g. in the automotive industry (hydraulic lines) or in plant engineering. When it comes to plating tubes that are already bent, handling can be both awkward and expensive. For this reason, a customer presented the Holzapfel Group with the challenge of developing a zinc-nickel process that enabled the tubes to be bent after the plating had been applied. The task was to develop a plating capable of withstanding subsequent bending, but still display good corrosion resistance properties at the same time.

In close collaboration with a process supplier and the customer, who was also involved in the development with tests, the Holzapfel Group developed the FleXXKorr zinc-nickel process as a solution to meet these specifications. The bendable, deformable, zinc-nickel-based corrosion-resistant surface treatment makes it possible to bend and deform tubes, hydraulic lines and even crimped components and sheet metal parts such as spindle tubes and magnet housings after plating. The process not only saves plating costs, because more parts fit on a rack when straight, but also logistics costs, as more parts can be transported per cargo unit if the pipes are not yet bent. Overall, Zn-Ni-FleXXkorr therefore means more parts, lower logistics volume and less process risk. Moreover, the customer can perform bending and assembly processes in a single operation using an automated system. Previously, the hydraulic lines had to be bent and then plated prior to assembly.


Other examples / case studies of solutions especially designed ba Holzapfel Group to meet customer's requirements:
•    Coloured anodising gives hybrid components for coffee machines an appealing touch and feel
•    Impregnating and plating sintered materials with Sinter Surface Solutions
•    Enabling lightweight construction with solderable electroless nickel on aluminium