If you look around at your surroundings, you will realise a surprising amount of items and surfaces you encounter are plated with nickel. From bicycles and car parts to household appliances and plumbing fixtures, electroless nickel plating is used in applications and industries all over the world.
Though many other metals can be used for plating purposes such as copper, zinc and chrome, one key reason nickel – and electroless nickel plating in particular – is such a popular choice is its strong corrosion protection. In applications where a surface may constantly be subject to corrosion, such as in marine engineering or subsea applications, nickel plating is absolutely essential.
Another reason nickel is a popular choice is its superior wear resistance to other metals. Surfaces that have been plated with electroless nickel are long-lasting, and far less likely to require replacing than surfaces plated with less resistant metals. Nickel is also prized for its high lustrous finish, its deposit uniformity, and the fact that it is relatively cost-efficient to use, particularly if electroless nickel plating is chosen over traditional electroplating.
One other notable advantage of nickel is the deposit thickness made possible by the metal. Because of the method electroless nickel plating uses combined with nickel’s inherent deposit uniformity, it is possible to obtain a thick and even surface – regardless of the object or surface’s shape. Nickel is a “soft” metal, which means that even when plated over irregular surfaces it will deposit uniformly. This can save valuable time and money in many situations.
It’s nickel’s uniform coating that makes electroless nickel plating such an excellent choice for many applications, including the plating of engineering components. It also improves nickel’s already superior corrosion resistance, creating a long-term guarantee of resistance that proves extremely cost- and time-effective.
One metal that is sometimes used in plating which requires a high thickness and strong corrosion resistance is hard chrome, which can provide hardness in the region of 800 to 1100VHN. However, because hard chrome is plated electrolytically, it cannot achieve the same uniformity as electroless nickel coating. With expert heat treatment and unlike hard chrome (which will soften with heat treatment), nickel can achieve a comparable hardness in excess of 1000VHN, making it a viable replacement for hard chrome.
Besides nickel’s hardness, wear resistance and corrosion protection, it has many other advantages, including lower porosity, pit-free deposits, and being far less prone to staining than many other metals. This has made it a very popular choice in a surprising variety of different industries, from practical engineering applications to even decorative applications.
Electroless nickel plating is a good choice for any application requiring corrosion protection, wear resistance, or uniform deposits – but the level of thickness, comparable to hard chrome, that can be achieved by the right application of heat treatment takes it from a good choice to a great one.