Vacuum Plating Protects Metal from Abuse While Looking Good!

protective metal finishes series

One of the most popular processes for protecting metal is vacuum plating. To understand how to vacuum plating as a protective metal coating works, let’s take a closer look at how this process works and why it’s so beneficial.

To effectively protect metals from corrosion and other types of damage, manufacturers use various processes to create protective coatings or layers on the surface of the metal. Using vacuum plating helps extend the lifespan of any metal by protecting it from outside elements. 

Let’s explore vacuum plating’s role in protecting a metal.

What is Vacuum Plating?

Vacuum plating is a process that uses electroplating to affix a coating to the surface of a metal. During this process, operators submerge a metal item in a solution of water and electrolytes attached to two electrodes.

Applying a current causes the electrodes to dissolve and deposit metal from the electrolyte solution onto the metal submerged in the solution. The vacuum plating process uses a vacuum to remove unwanted gases from the electrolyte solution, helping remove impurities from the solution and preventing bubbles from forming on the metal surface.

Along with some catchy music, here’s a quick video illustrating the vacuum plating process.

Vacuum plating is often used to plate metals with low corrosion resistance, producing a thin, smooth coating on metal items often used to protect metal items from wear and tear while in contact with a corrosive fluid.

How Does Vacuum Plating Protect?

Vacuum plating acts as a protective coating by creating a layer of metal on the surface of the metal item. This layer of metal protects the metal item from the elements by covering any exposed areas which are porous, allowing the item to be in contact with a liquid or atmosphere that may be corrosive. When vacuum plating is used to create a protective coating, often referred to as hard plating.

Hard plating uses a thick, porous metal coating applied to the metal item, protecting the metal from corrosion by blocking air and moisture from coming into contact with the metal.

Vacuum Plating Benefits

  • Extended Lifespan: One of the biggest benefits of vacuum plating as a protective coating is that it extends the lifespan of the metal. Hard plating protects the metal from corrosion and other damage, leading to the item needing to be replaced sooner than expected.
  • Wear-Resistant: Vacuum plating creates a durable layer on a metal item that withstands wear and tear and lasts for a long time, which is beneficial in various scenarios, such as when metal items are in contact with corrosive fluids or used regularly to move heavy loads. 
  • Smooth Surface: A proper vacuum plating results in a smooth surface on the metal item, helping maintain its aesthetic appeal for a long time. Keeping the surface of a metal item clean and free from debris helps extend the item’s life, making it more efficient.

Vacuum Plating Drawbacks

  • Costly: One drawback of vacuum plating is its price. This process often requires the metal item to be submerged in a solution for an extended time, driving up the cost of the plating process. 
  • Not Suitable for All Industries: Vacuum plating is not suitable for all industries, although it is one of the most popular processes used to create protective coatings. We often use this process in the automotive, chemical, and oil and gas industries to protect metal items from corrosion. 
  • Low Corrosion Resistance: Vacuum plating is unsuitable for all metals, though it creates a protective coating on metals with low corrosion resistance. Certain metals, such as titanium and stainless steel, have high corrosion resistance and don’t benefit from this process.

How to choose the right coating?

  • Consider the environment.
  • Consider the aesthetics and use. 
  • When deciding on a coating, consider:
    • Is the environment corrosive? 
    • What will the end product look like?

In Sum

There are several benefits vacuum plating provides as a protective metal coating. Its smooth finish creates a wear-resistant surface, resulting in a longer lifespan.

Like most finishes, knowing the environment and job the metal fab project needs to perform helps determine the best coating for your expensive component.

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