Enviroment & Chrome Plating

PVD chroming an enviromentally friendly alternative to traditional electroplating

Industries are increasingly searching for alternatives that provides the visual appearance and durability of traditional chrome plating, but without the environmental side effects and costs associated.

However, despite the hazards of traditional chrome plating, the product is aesthetically pleasing and the demand for chrome finish continuous to grow.

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Traditional chrome plating is a process that involves the electroplating of a thin layer of chromium onto a metal layer.

Hard chrome plating is chrome plating that has been applied as a heavy coating for wear resistance, lubricity, oil retention, and other ‘wear’ purposes (e.g.  rollers, piston, piston rings, mold surfaces).

Decorative chrome plating usually involves electroplating nickel onto the parts before plating the chrome (and sometimes copper before the nickel). The nickel plating provides smoothness, much of the corrosion resistance, and most of the brightness associated with chrome appearance. Decorative chrome plating is exceptionally thin (less than a micron). Traditional chrome plating is a long and complex process, environmentally unfriendly, heavily regulated and increasingly restricted and banned.

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The PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) alternative has been used in various industries such as automotive plastic components, cosmetic packaging, appliance handles and knobs.

The PVD is the deposition of a metal onto a substrate through changes in the physical state of the metal (solid to gas to solid). The PVD layer can be deposited by a variety of methods such as thermal evaporation, cathodic arc, sputtering etc. The most common are thermal evaporation and sputtering.

Both pure metals and alloys can be used with either method, but
they will be deposited differently. For pure metals, 2 layers cycle, the final deposit is the pure element by both thermal evaporative and sputtering, but due to the method of deposition, the appearance can be slightly different.

Environmentally, there is no question that PVD combined with UV coatings are the better choice. With no hexavalent chromium exposure or disposal, no hazardous waste to report, no VOC’s emissions in the coating process and finally full recyclability of the product due to the low metal layer thickness.

The greatest development and use of PVD technology for chrome and chrome like look for interior and exterior automotive applications seem to be occurring mostly in Asia and Europe.

PVD advantages

Increased throughput: the full cycle time for PVD (2- or three-layers cycle) can be as short as 25 minutes. Traditional chrome plating can take up to 2.7 hours (dependent upon the desired chrome thickness).

Wide Range of Plastic Substrates: Traditional chrome plating is limited to platable grade substrate (ABS and PC/ABS). Certain thermoplastics, like PA/PPE, cannot be chrome plated due to their duration in high temperature baths (up to 140 °F for 11 minutes). With PVD, the possibility of substrate selection is opened greatly and ABS, PC/ABS do not need to be a platable grade material.

Wide Range of Appearances: A variety of metal colors can be achieved by using a mixture of various metals and gases within the vacuum chamber. In addition, top coatings (three-layers system) can be applied to increase performance and aesthetic/design options.

Substrate flexibility: No limitations to plate flexible substrates.

Costs: Considering the entire production process, raw material cost trend and the environmental impact and risk of traditional chrome plating, PVD combined with a UV coating process has far greater potential to reduce the cost of chrome plating.

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