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ELECTROLESS PLATING AND ELECTROPLATING OF PLASTICS / POLYMERS

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Plastics are non-conductive, which means they do not conduct electrical current. However, there are times when there is a need for a plastic to conduct electricity, Electroless plating of plastics, such as polycarbonate, ABS and polypropylene, is a process whereby a conductive layer (gold, nickel or copper) is applied to the surface, as a finish. This is also known as metalising a polymer. This process is widespread in the automotive industry, as it means lightweight plastics, that conduct electrical current, can be used in place of heavier metals.
The purpose of a metal coating, is not always to improve conductivity. It can dramatically improve resistance to ‘wear and tear’, resistance to chemicals and increase the hardness of the polymer’s surface.
A metalised surface can enhance the appearance of the polymer . This is seen with mobile phone casings. In the automotive industry, a nickel metalised polymer surface, replaces chrome on metal, reducing weight.
The process of electroless plating polymers, involves dissolving ions of a metal onto the surface of the polymer. This is usually a three stage process.

 
STAGE ONE: The polymer to be metalised, is put through an etching process, which removes butadiene, leaving a surface capable of bonding with metal ions.  
     
 
     
STAGE TWO: The polymer is removed from the etching tank and cleaned with water. This is applied as a spray. The polymer is allowed to dry.  
 
 
 
STAGE THREE: ELECTROLESS PLATING can now take place. It is called an ELECTROLESS process, as it does not require electricity, but is achieved through a chemical process (a catalatic reaction), which allows gold, nickel or copper to be deposited onto the surface of the polymer.  
 
 
 
If ELECTROPLATING is required as an additional process, it can now take place, as the surface of the polymer has been metalised. Electroplating involves the use of electricity, as a method of transferring a range of alternative metals to the polymers metalised surface.
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SAMPLE ELECTROLESS PLATED / ELECTROPLATED POLYMER PRODUCTS
 
 
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