Chrome plating has long been a familiar fixture in electroplating thanks to its bright, high-shine finish, corrosion resistance and hardness, with applications ranging from automotive and aerospace to oil & gas and even decorative purposes.
However, behind the polished surface there are increasing concerns about the health risks involved with chrome plating, with studies showing a significantly increased risk for cancer after exposure to chromium, and the U.S Department for Health and Human Services naming it as a serious health hazard.
The growing concerns around chrome plating and rising pressure and legislation from unions, Health and Safety organisations, and government departments are prompting major manufacturers to adopt alternatives to chrome plating, such as nickel plating.
NiTEC are currently working with some of these major manufacturers to trial nickel plating as a permanent alternative to chrome, benchmarking its suitability in terms of hardness, corrosion resistance and aesthetical finish. With laboratory testing well underway, the future of nickel as a replacement for chrome appears to be a viable and sustainable option.
* Please note, NiTEC do not offer chrome plating as a service and this information is for educational purposes only.
The cost of electroless nickel plating is easily covered considering the long-term savings made through the substantial protection, improved quality and friction/wear reducing properties of the coating.
If you have any questions about our services or capabilities, feel free to speak to us via the contact page.
Nickel plating is already a viable replacement for hard chrome in both industrial and commercial industries, with comparable attributes in reference to process time, cost, durability, corrosion resistance and aesthetics, in addition to a more environmentally friendly process. Nickel plating can be used on a wide variety of substrates, including stainless steel, aluminium alloys and copper, making it one of the most popular alternatives to chrome plating. Replacing chrome is particularly effective in the manufacture of hydraulics, where hardness and corrosion-resistance is key to maintaining performance over prolonged periods, making nickel an ideal replacement for hard chrome.
Though both chrome and nickel can be used to cover uneven surfaces, nickel plating will more quickly create a uniform coating with a more consistent thickness, making nickel a cost-efficient solution as a replacement for hard chrome. In fact, in Galling tests, parts plated with electroless nickel have lasted twice as long as parts plated with hard chrome, thanks to the uniform thickness of nickel providing better dimensional tolerance.
With nickel plating’s excellent corrosion resistance, uniform thickness, and potential hardness of between 800-1100 VHN, it has the potential to be a complete replacement for hard chrome plating. NiTEC is currently investigating chrome compared to nickel, undergoing thorough and precise testing to analyse the statistical differences and similarities between chrome and nickel plating.
Chrome plating has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, skin diseases, liver disease, and respiratory damage. A Department for Health and Human Services (DHHS) study concluded that hexavalent chrome, compared to nickel, poses “several serious hazards”. Because hexavalent chromium is a human carcinogen, there are many health risks involved. These include respiratory damage to the mouth, throat and lungs, sores and ulcers (known as “chrome ulcers”), which take a long time to heal and will sometimes leave a permanent scar behind, and irritation to the eyes, nose and skin - which sometimes results in an itchy red rash.
Exposure to the toxic vapours that are released during the chrome plating process can also greatly increase the risk of lung cancer, even if precautions are taken. Other health risks that have been studied are severe liver defects, with 4 out of 5 workers in the chromate plating industry exposed to chromium trioxide reporting serious liver health issues. With the number of hazards and health risks that have been studied, Health and Safety departments and organisations are urging the industry to find a viable replacement for hard chrome.
A report from the National Institute of Health in 2007 stated that even with the proper safety precautions in place to account for the high concentration of toxic vapours that the chrome plating process creates, long-term exposure - even in small amounts - can massively increase the risk of lung cancer. In fact, the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency) lists hexavalent chromium as a hazardous air pollutant, as well as a priority pollutant under the Clean Water Act and a hazardous constituent under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Trivalent chrome plating, an alternative to the toxic chrome hexavalent plating, has lower overall toxicity - however its corrosion resistance is also far weaker, and processes such as barrel plating are harder to control. It is also less cost-efficient, with the chemicals required for trivalent chrome plating being far more expensive. These hazards have prompted engineers and manufacturers to seek alternatives to chrome plating.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have classified inhaled hexavalent chromium as a known human carcinogen, and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has highlighted that Cr(VI) compounds are known to cause cancer in humans. A study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in 2000 also reported that as well as an increased risk of lung cancer, workers in chromate industries also showed a significantly increased risk for nasal and sinus cancers.
In key epidemiological studies of chromate production workers employed over six years, the percentage of deaths due to respiratory cancer was almost 60%, with a latency period of 30 years.
With the knowledge of the dangers of chrome plating, Health and Safety organisations have encouraged the industry to seek a replacement for hard chrome and find alternatives to chrome plating.
As the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) concluded, “the plating hazards involving nickel are few”. The most common issue is a skin rash, which approximately only 10% of the population may be susceptible to due to a mild allergic reaction, and can be prevented by protective clothing to avoid contact with nickel solutions. Compared to nickel, chrome may also cause a rash, with one in ten people also having an allergy to chrome.
NiTEC are specialists in the electroless nickel plating process, with over 40 years of experience and the largest plating tanks in Europe. Assisting forward-thinking UK companies with a range of safer and more environmentally friendly plating process, NiTEC also hold regular educational workshops to advise on alternative plating options to chrome.
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The electroless nickel plating process is a high quality, cost effective solution for coating metals such as mild or stainless steel.
The simple process of diffused nickel plating is the most effective coating to ensure the highest levels of corrosion resistance.