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Electroless Plating

Electroless nickel (EN) plating is a chemical reduction process which depends upon the
catalytic reduction process of nickel ions in an aqueous solution (containing a chemical
reducing agent) and the subsequent deposition of nickel metal without the use of
electrical energy. Due to its exceptional corrosion resistance and high hardness, the
process finds wide application on items such as valves, pump parts etc., to enhance the
life of components exposed to severe conditions of service ,particularly in the oil field
and marine sector. With correct pretreatment sequence and accurate process control ,
good adhesion and excellent service performance can be obtained from EN deposited on
a multitude of metallic and non-metallic substra6tes.

In the EN plating process, the driving force for the reduction of nickel metal ions and
their deposition is supplied by a chemical reducing agent in solution. This driving
potential is essentially constant at all points of the surface of the component, provided the
agitation is sufficient to ensure a uniform concentration of metal ions and reducing
agents. Electroless deposits are therefore very uniform in thickness all over the part's
shape and size. This process offers distinct advantages when plating irregularly shaped
objects, holes, recesses, internal surfaces, valves or threaded parts. Distinct advantages of
EN plating are:

• Uniformity of the deposits, even on complex shapes.

• Deposits are often less porous and thus provide better barrier corrosion protection
to steel substrates, much superior to that of electroplated nickel and hard chrome
• The deposits cause about 1/5th as much hydrogen absorption as electrolytic nickel
and about 1/10th as much hard chrome.
• Deposits can be plated with zero or compressive stress.
• Deposits have inherent lubricity and non-galling characteristics, unlike
electrolytic nickel.
• Deposits have good wetability for oils
• In general low phosphorus and especially electroless nickel boron are considered
solderable. Mid and high phosphorus EN's are far worse for solderability
• Deposits are much harder with as-plated microhardness of 450 - 600 VPN which
can be increased to 1000-1100 VHN by a suitable heat-treatment

The versatility of electroless nickel plating is demonstrated by the wide range of coatings
possible. The following are important types of coatings industrially available (reference):

• Low Phosphorous (Hard)

A unique bath providing an as-plated deposit hardness of up to 60 Rockwell This bath

provides a deposit nearly as hard as Hard Chrome, with the advantage of a uniform
thickness inside complex configurations, as well as outside. The deposit is so uniform
that grinding after plating is eliminated. Low Phosphorous Electroless Nickel offers
excellent resistance to alkaline corrosive environments.

• Medium Phosphorous (Bright High Speed)

This is a workhorse electroless nickel. It has proven itself over the years. Steel parts
plated with Medium Phosphorous electroless nickel will in many cases perform like
stainless steel. Electroless nickel will not build up on edges or ends, and it plates inside
and out giving uniform total coverage. With heat treatment, medium phosphorous
electroless nickel can be hardened from 45 Rockwell C to as high as 68 Rockwell C.

• High Phosphorous

This finish provides maximum corrosion resistance. High Phosphorous electroless nickel
is standard in industries that require resistance to strongly acidic corrosive environments
like oil drilling and coal mining. High Phosphorous electroless nickel has a low degree of
solderability. It will remain solderable for only a brief period of time after plating. This
makes it a desirable finish for electronics parts such as connector housings and
semiconductor packaging.

• Electroless Nickel/Teflon Composite

Teflon adds to the already slick surface of the electroless nickel, yielding a very low
friction surface. This product is a relatively new one. It consists of microscopic beads of
Teflon co-deposited up to 20% with the electroless nickel. This finish can be the solution
to sticking, galling or drag problems with moving parts, or heated seal surfaces. In some
cases, liquid lubricants can be eliminated with the use of Nickel/Teflon チ plating.

• Electroless Nickel on Zinc Die Cast

Electroless nickel can be applied directly to zinc die cast without a copper layer. This has
many applications where corrosion resistance and resistance to chipping and flaking is

The selection of a specific grade of EN-plating is done in accordance with the nature of
application, where a high hardness and low coefficient of friction is desired, low
phosphorous EN is preferred (1-3%P). For general applications where a bright finish is
required and the operating conditions are not very corrosive, medium phosphorous (6-8%
P) EN is used e.g.. Computer printer rollers, machine components, plastic molding dies
etc. When the conditions of use for an EN plated components are severely corrosive, a
high phosphorous EN (12-13% P) is usually selected. The high phosphorous EN is
amorphous in nature and is compressively stressed unlike the low and medium
phosphorous EN which are Crystalline and tensile stressed. Proper process sequence and
maintaining the correct operating parameters helps ensure a virtually non porous deposit
of high phosphorous ENP which finds wide application in areas such as valve
components, aerospace industry, oil & gas and chemical industries etc.
Physical Properties

• Surface Hardness: As plated 48-50 RC. After Heat Treatment (400°C, 1 hr) 62-
63 RC
• Melting Point :- 890°C
• Density :- 7.85-7.95 gm/cm qb.
• Coefficient of friction :- EN Vs STEEL 0.3
• Coefficient of Thermal Expansion :- 0.13 microns /°c

Specifications and Testing

ASTM specifications are generally followed in evaluating EN plated components some

of the relevant tests are as follows

1. Hardness: The Hardness may be determined on a Microhardness Tester using a

100 gm load as per ASST. B-578
2. Thickness: The microscopic examination of the cross section of an article is
tested in accordance with ASTM B-478. The ENplating thickness will vary from
5-125 microns depending upon the service conditions.
3. Corrosion Resistance: A 5% neutral salt spray test is carried out as per ASTM
B-117 to determine the corrosion resistance of plated items. This is most
important test in evaluating EN plated samples. The Corrosive conditions to
which EN Plated components are exposed, can be classified as mild, moderate
and severe. The bath used for EN Plating, varies accordingly to obtain alloy
compositions varying from low to high phosphorous content. Generally a high
corrosion resistance requires a high phosphorous content (10-12% ) and the
relevant test to evaluate the performance of plated samples is the 5% Neutral salt
spray test in accordance with ASTM B-117. With a proper operating procedure,
high phosphorous deposits will show no rust spots, even after 1000 hrs of salt
spray exposure for a plating thickness of 40-50 microns.
4. Adhesion: Several tests such as Bend test, Quench test, Ring shear test etc. Are
carried our to determine the adhesion of EN-plating to the base metal in
accordance with ASTM-B-571.

Areas of Application

Due to its unique properties of excellent corrosion resistance, combined with a high wear
resistance and uniformity of coating, EN finds extensive applications in a number of
fields. Some of the prominent areas of application are:

1. Oil & Gas: Valve components, such as Balls, Gates, Plugs etc. And other
components such as pumps, pipe fittings, packers, barrels etc.
2. Chemical Processing: Heat Exchangers, Filter Units, pump housing and
impellers, mixing blades etc.
3. Plastics: Molds and dies for injecting and low and blow molding of plastics
components, extruders, machine parts rollers etc.
4. Textile: Printing cylinders, machine parts, spinneret's, threaded guides etc.
5. Automotive: Shock Absorbers, heat sinks, gears, cylinders, brake pistons etc.
6. Aviation & Aerospace: Satellite and rocket components, rams pistons, valve
components etc.
7. Food & pharmaceutical: Capsule machinery dies, chocolates molds, food
processing machinery components etc.