Nickel Plating Handbook

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Unformatted text preview: OM8285_NickelHandbook covers 8/28/02 1:31 PM Page 2 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 3 OM GROUP, INC. OM Group, Inc. is a leading, vertically integrated international producer and marketer of value-added, metal-based specialty chemicals and related materials. OMG is a recognized leader in manufacturing products from base and precious metals and managing metals procurement related to these activities. The Nickel Division produces nickel metal and salts in physical forms and purity suitable for the electroplating industry, as well as nickel for melting and nickel powders. OMG Fidelity supplies electroless nickel solutions for the electronics and engineered coatings industries. Also an extensive range of other metal-based specialty chemicals and processes for the electronics industry, including solder and lead-free plating products, printed circuit fabrication chemistries, solder pastes and high purity electronic grade metal concentrates. The Precious Metals Division develops the platinum group metals of platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, and iridium for use in electroplating, jewellery, fuel cells and automotive catalysts. OMG shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol OMG. The data and recommendations presented in this publication are based on practical experience, research and development work. It is important for the plater to ensure that the information is applicable to the particular project and/or practice under consideration and that appropriate safety precautions are taken when any of the processes described in this publication are employed. ©2002 OMG OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 4 CONTENTS Page 1. Introduction ........................................................................................................5 2. Understanding the Electroplating Process .........................................................6 Basic Process of Electrodeposition.................................................................6 Rate of Deposition.........................................................................................7 Current Efficiency .........................................................................................8 Average Coating Thickness ...........................................................................8 Deposit Thickness Distribution...................................................................10 Current Distribution ...................................................................................10 Throwing Power .........................................................................................11 Internal Stress .............................................................................................11 Levelling and Microthrowing Power............................................................12 3. Chemistry of Nickel Electroplating Solutions ...................................................13 The Watts Nickel Plating Solution ..............................................................13 Function of Ingredients...............................................................................13 The Role of Addition Agents .......................................................................14 Bright Nickel Plating...................................................................................14 Auxiliary Brighteners ..................................................................................15 Anti-Pitting Agents......................................................................................15 Semi-Bright Nickel Solutions ......................................................................15 Sulphamate Nickel Electroplating Solutions................................................15 Other Nickel Electroplating Processes.........................................................16 4. Anodes for Nickel Plating.................................................................................17 Nickel Anode Requirements........................................................................17 Types of Nickel Anode Material...................................................................17 Titanium Anode Baskets .............................................................................18 Anode Bags .................................................................................................20 Practical Tips for Maintenance of Nickel Anode Baskets .............................21 Insoluble Anodes ........................................................................................21 5. Decorative Nickel Plating ................................................................................23 Bright Nickel Plating...................................................................................23 Satin Nickel Plating.....................................................................................23 Nickel-Chromium Coatings for Exterior Service .........................................24 Multi-Layer Nickel ......................................................................................24 Microdiscontinuous Chromium ..................................................................25 Alternative Topcoats....................................................................................27 Specifications for Decorative Nickel-Chromium Plating..............................27 6. Engineering and Functional Nickel Coatings....................................................32 Coating Requirements for Functional Applications .....................................32 Types of Nickel Plating Solutions for Functional Applications ....................32 Electroforming ............................................................................................35 Mandrels .....................................................................................................36 Electroforming Techniques..........................................................................36 3 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 5 CONTENTS (continued) Page 7. Barrel Nickel Plating ......................................................................................38 Design of Plating Barrels ...........................................................................38 Type of Work Suitable for Barrel Plating ...................................................39 Barrel Loading...........................................................................................39 Barrel Nickel Plating Solutions..................................................................39 Voltage Requirements................................................................................40 Plating Rates and Metal Distribution .........................................................40 8. Testing Procedures for Nickel Electrodeposits ..............................................42 Appearance and Surface Quality ...............................................................42 Coating Thickness.....................................................................................42 Destructive Methods .................................................................................43 Non-Destructive Methods .........................................................................44 Adhesion...................................................................................................45 Ductility....................................................................................................46 Corrosion Resistance.................................................................................46 9. Controlling the Electroplating Process ...........................................................48 Monitoring the Operating Conditions.......................................................48 Maintaining the Optimum Solution Composition .....................................50 Control of Impurities ................................................................................54 Purification Procedures .............................................................................55 10. Trouble-Shooting ............................................................................................58 Common Types of Defects in Nickel Plating and Their Causes .................58 Trouble-Shooting Techniques....................................................................60 11. Practical Tips .................................................................................................62 Effective Racking for Electroplating...........................................................62 Care and Maintenance of Plating Racks ....................................................63 Reducing Solution Losses..........................................................................64 Avoiding Adhesion Problems Between the Semi-Bright and Bright Nickel Coatings When Processing Dual-Layer Nickel .................64 How To Avoid Chromium Problems in Decorative Nickel/Chromium Plating ......................................................................65 Preventive Maintenance ............................................................................66 12. Looking After the Environment .......................................................................67 Waste Minimization ..................................................................................67 Recovery Techniques.................................................................................68 13. Health and Safety ...........................................................................................71 4 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 6 Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION The technology of electroplating of nickel has been extensively developed, particularly through the last five decades, to make possible the efficient production of a broad range of industrial coatings for both decorative and functional applications. Electroplated nickel is commercially important with upwards of 80,000 metric tons deposited annually worldwide. This widespread use reflects the useful properties of nickel as a coating and its versatility. A feature of electroplating is that, by modifying the composition of the electrolyte and the operating conditions, the properties and appearance of nickel can be customized to meet specific needs. Electroplated nickel is used extensively to enhance the utility, value and sales appeal of consumer goods and manufactured products. Other nickel coatings are used to improve the physical properties such as wear resistance, heat resistance or corrosion resistance. In many important applications, the nickel coatings serve the dual role of providing a bright decorative coating and imparting improved corrosion resistance or other functional properties. A further important use for electrodeposited nickel is electroforming. Nickel electroforming is the process by which nickel is built up by electrodeposition onto a suitable mandrel and subsequently removed to produce a nickel product which corresponds precisely to the shape and texture of the original substrate. This guide has been prepared to provide practical information on the operation and control of nickel plating processes. The general basics of electroplating are addressed and information is included on the composition of plating solutions, correct control of anodes, trouble-shooting and practical operational tips. Quality aspects and specifications are discussed to ensure that coatings meet the required performance standards. The guide also includes important information on safety and environmental matters. 5 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 7 Chapter 2 UNDERSTANDING THE ELECTROPLATING PROCESS Electroplating is an electrolytic process for depositing a layer of metal upon a substrate to enhance the appearance or properties of the component. Electroplating is a form of electrodeposition. Although a wide range of metals can be electrodeposited, we will restrict our discussion to nickel plating. Basic Process of Electrodeposition The electrodeposition process essentially involves passing an electric current between two electrodes immersed in an electrolyte. The positively charged electrode is known as the anode while the negatively charged electode is the cathode. The electrolyte contains electrically charged particles or ions. When an electrical potential or voltage is applied between the electrodes these ions migrate towards the electrode with the opposite charge – positively charged ions to the cathode and negatively charged ions to the anode. This results in the transfer of electrons, that is a current flow, between the electrodes – thus completing the electrical circuit. The electrical energy is supplied by a DC power source such as a rectifier. The basic electrical circuit is depicted in Figure 1. Figure 1 Basic electrical circuit for electroplating Direction of electron flow A Ammeter V Voltmeter Bus bar connections Shunt DC power source Ni 2+ SO4 2- Ions CI OH Ni 2+ Anions migrate toward anodes Cations migrate toward cathode CI H+ Anode Plating tank Electrolyte Cathode 6 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 8 Generally in electroplating, the anodes are composed of the metal being plated. These are referred to as ‘soluble’ anodes. During electroplating, the positively charged metal ions discharge at the cathode (the component to be plated) depositing metal on the surface. The component being plated therefore receives a coating of metal. The reverse effect occurs at the anode and, with a soluble anode, metal ions are formed through dissolution. For nickel plating, the electrolyte contains soluble nickel salts along with other constituents which will be discussed in the section on ‘Chemistry of Nickel Plating Solutions.’ When dissolved, the nickel salts dissociate into divalent, positively charged nickel ions (Ni++) along with negatively charged ions. When current flows, the positive ions react with two electrons and are converted to metallic nickel at the cathode surface. At the anode, metallic nickel is dissolved to form divalent, positively charged ions which enter the solution. The nickel ions discharged at the cathode are thus replenished by those formed at the anode. Rate of Deposition In his classical work on electrodeposition, Michael Faraday showed that the amount of metal deposited at the cathode and the amount dissolved at the anode are directly proportional to the quantity of electricity passed – in other words to the current and time of electrodeposition. Faraday also related the amount of a particular metal deposited or dissolved to its atomic weight and the number of electrons involved in the electrochemical reaction. The number of electrons involved is designated the valency of the metal. The atomic weight divided by the valency is referred to as the chemical equivalent or equivalent weight of the metal. Faraday showed that the quantity of electricity required to deposit or dissolve 1 gram equivalent of a metal is a constant and has a value of 96,500 coulombs (ampere-seconds) or 26.799 ampere-hours. This is known as Faraday’s Constant. Using these relationships, it can be shown that the weight of nickel deposited at the cathode and the amount dissolved at the anode can be calculated from the following expression: W = 1.095. I.t. Where W is the amount of nickel deposited at the cathode (or dissolved at the anode) in grams, I is the current that flows through the plating tank in amperes and t is the time that the current flows in hours. 7 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 9 This assumes that all of the current is effectively used in the deposition or dissolution of nickel (i.e. the current efficiency is 100% – this will be explained further below). The factor 1.095 in the above calculation is derived from Faraday’s work discussed on previous page. For nickel, the atomic weight is 58.70 and the valency is 2, giving an equivalent weight of 29.35. Therefore, 26.799 ampere-hours will deposit (or dissolve) 29.35 grams of nickel or 1.095 grams per ampere-hour. It will be seen therefore that at 100% current efficiency 1 ampere-hour will deposit (or dissolve) 1.095 grams of nickel. Current Efficiency In practice, secondary electrochemical reactions may occur, which consume a small percentage of the current. Typically, a small amount of current is consumed in the discharge of hydrogen ions from water. The discharged hydrogen forms bubbles of hydrogen gas at the cathode surface. The cathode current efficiency is expressed as the percentage of the current actually depositing nickel at the cathode to the total current applied. Similarly, the anode current efficiency refers to the percentage of current producing nickel ions at the anode. The cathode current efficiency of different nickel solutions may vary from 90% to 97%. The lower values are characteristic of some bright nickel solutions which have been formulated to give maximum levelling and brilliance at low thicknesses. Values of 96% are usually achieved on additive-free nickel solutions. A figure of 95.5% is commonly applied for estimating purposes in the absence of accurate figures. Anode efficiency for nickel dissolution is almost always 100%, providing the pH and chloride levels are maintained within the normal operating ranges. Because the cathode efficiency is generally lower than the anode efficiency, the nickel ion concentration and the pH of the solution will slowly rise during operation. However, in many cases, the rise in nickel concentration may be counterbalanced by solution losses through dragout or leakages. Average Coating Thickness The average coating thickness can be derived by dividing the weight deposited (in grams) by the product of the density of nickel (8.907 g cm-3) and the surface area to be electroplated (in dm2). Then multiplying by 100 to obtain the thickness in micrometers (µm). 8 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 10 Alternatively, the average thickness can be computed directly from the current and time using the following calculation: T = 12.294. I.t. A Where T is the average thickness (µm) and A is the area being electroplated (dm2), I is the current that flows through the plating tank in amperes and t is the time that the current flows in hours. The above calculation is based on 100% cathode current efficiency. The ratio of current to area (I/A) is known as the current density. It will be seen, therefore, that the average thickness depends on the current density and time, whereas the weight of nickel deposited (or dissolved at the anode) depends on the current and time. Usually in nickel plating, the current density will be expressed as amperes / dm2. In practice it will, of course, be convenient to refer to tables to estimate the ampere-hours or the current and time required to obtain a desired average thickness. Refer to Table 1. Table 1 Time to electrodeposit nickel at various current densities Time in minutes to deposit the indicated average thickness of nickel at various current densities. Current Density (A/dm2) 5 µm 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 4 5 6 26 17 13 11 8.5 6.5 5 4.5 10 µm 15 µm 20 µm 51 34 26 22 17 13 10 8.5 77 51 39 32 26 20 15 13 100 68 51 42 34 26 20 17 25 µm 128 85 65 53 43 33 25 22 30 µm 40 µm 50 µm 154 102 78 64 52 40 30 26 200 140 100 84 68 51 41 34 255 170 130 105 85 65 50 43 Based on 95.5% cathode current efficiency 9 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 11 Deposit Thickness Distribution Particularly on shaped components, the deposit thickness will not normally be uniform. The actual thickness at any point on the surface is commonly referred to as the local thickness. A minimum local thickness for the coating is commonly specified to ensure that the desired performance requirements are achieved. It is therefore important to understand the factors which influence the deposit thickness distribution. These factors are the current distribution and the throwing power of the plating solution. Current Distribution The actual thickness at any point on the surface depends primarily on the current density at that point. The current distribution is largely determined by geometric factors such as the shape of the part, the location of the part relative to the anodes and the placement of parts on the plating racks. The current density will be higher on prominences and areas closest to the anodes due to the lower resistance to current flow with the shorter anode-to-cathode distance. Conversely, the current will be lower in recesses and in areas shaded or facing away from the anodes because of the increased resistance to current flow. These variations in current density inevitably mean that prominances will receive a thicker coating than recessed areas. Current distribution is the major factor affecting metal distribution in nickel plating. To some extent these effects can be controlled by appropriate racking of parts, positioning of anodes or by the use of shields or auxiliary anodes. Shields are fabricated from non-conductive materials and placed between the anode and cathode to control the current flow. Auxiliary anodes are placed closer to the cathode to direct the current to the area requiring increased thickness. Both soluble and insoluble anodes may be used. Cathode Figure 2 Thickness variation resulting from non-uniform current distribution Anode Anode 10 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 12 Throwing Power In addition to the geometric factors, metal distribution is affected by cathode polarization, the cathode efficiency – current density relationship and the electrical conductivity of the solution. The complex relationship between these factors and metal distribution is termed the throwing power. Throwing power can be determined experimentally. Solutions exhibiting a positive value will be capable of reducing the variation in thickness between prominent and recessed areas. Conversely solutions with negative values, such as chromium plating solutions, may exhibit a greater thickness variation than would be expected based purely on geometric factors. The throwing power of nickel plating solutions generally falls in the lower end of the positive range. Some bright nickel solutions, however, record small negative values. Generally the current distribution, and consequently the metal distribution, will be primarily determined by geometric factors. However, the throwing power can be somewhat improved by lowering the current density, increasing the electrical conductivity of the solution, increasing the anode-to-cathode distance, and by raising the pH and temperature. A formulation containing a high concentration of sodium sulphate has been shown to have the best throwing power. Internal Stress During electrodeposition, stresses can develop within the deposit due to the effects of the electrocrystallization process or the codeposition of impurities, particularly hydrogen and sulphur. The stress can be either tensile or compressive. With tensile stress the deposit attempts to contract and under extreme conditions this may cause the coating to crack. Compressive stress has the opposite effect, with the deposit tending to expand. Stress becomes an important consideration when thick coatings are produced, particularly in electroforming where the adhesion between the deposit and the mandrel is deliberately kept low to facilitate separation. Stress in electrodeposited nickel can vary over a wide range depending on solution composition and operating conditions. Generally, Watts nickel solutions without additives will exhibit tensile stress in the range 125 to 185 MPa, under typical operating conditions. Lower stress levels can be achieved with sulphamate nickel solutions. Compressively stressed nickel deposits can be produced by the use of sulphurcontaining organic additives such as saccharin or compounds of the type incorporated in carriers of bright nickel solutions. 11 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 13 Levelling and Microthrowing Power Levelling is the ability of an electroplating solution to preferentially fill in defects and scratches on the surface. Semi-bright and bright nickel processes generally have excellent levelling properties. These solutions incorporate organic additives which are adsorbed preferentially at micropeaks. This results in limiting the current flow at the peaks and increasing the current density in microgrooves – thereby promoting levelling. Microthrowing power refers to the ability of an electroplating solution to fill tiny crevices with deposits which follow the contour of a defect without any levelling. Additive-free nickel plating solutions exhibit excellent microthrowing power but little levelling ability. Microthrowing helps to produce sound, low-porosity deposits and, partly for this reason, additive-free nickel solutions are often used for depositing undercoats for subsequent plating with other metals such as gold. Nickel Plate Figure 3 Diagrammatical representation of levelling by nickelplating solutions incorporating levelling agents Substrate Absence of levelling (Watts deposit) Nickel Plate Levelling provided by levelling agents 12 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 14 Chapter 3 CHEMISTRY OF NICKEL ELECTROPLATING SOLUTIONS The Watts Nickel Plating Solution The majority of nickel plating solutions, particularly those used for decorative plating, are based on the ‘Watts’ formulation developed by Professor Oliver P Watts in 1916. . The Watts electrolyte combines nickel sulphate, nickel chloride and boric acid. While the proportions may vary according to the application, a typical formulation together with operating parameters is given in Table 2. Nickel Sulphate (NiSO4.6 H2O) Nickel Chloride (NiCl2.6H2O) Boric Acid (H3BO3 ) Temperature pH Cathode Current Density Deposition Rate 240 - 300 g/l 30 - 90 g/l 30 - 45 g/l 40 - 60 °C 3.5 - 4.5 2 - 7 A/dm2 25 - 85 µm/hr Table 2 Typical formula and operating conditions for Watts nickel electroplating solutions Function of Ingredients The nickel sulphate is the primary source of nickel ions (Ni++) with nickel chloride a contributing source. Nickel chloride has two major functions – it appreciably increases solution conductivity thereby reducing voltage requirements and it is important in obtaining satisfactory dissolution of nickel anodes. Boric acid is a buffer and has the major function of controlling the pH of the solution. As discussed in the previous section, due to the cathode efficiency being less than 100% there is a tendency for the pH to increase as some hydrogen ions (H+) are discharged to liberate hydrogen gas. Regular additions of sulphuric acid are therefore required to adjust the pH. Boric acid limits the effect on the pH resulting from the discharge of hydrogen ions, thereby, simplifying pH control. The mechanism by which boric acid operates is complex, but it is generally understood that it exists in solution as a mixture of borate ions and non-ionized boric acid. When hydrogen is discharged 13 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 15 some boric acid will ionize to replace the hydrogen ions lost and so the pH change is limited. At the same time, borate ions form. When acid is added to adjust the pH, these borate ions combine with hydrogen ions to reform boric acid. Boric acid is therefore only lost through dragout or other solution losses. The Role of Addition Agents Watts nickel plating solutions are commonly used for functional applications as will be discussed in a later section. Deposits from Watts solutions without additives are soft and ductile but dull in appearance. The appearance and properties can however be dramatically changed by the use of addition agents. The addition agents consist of organic and certain metallic compounds selected to brighten and level the deposits. As will be discussed further in the section on decorative plating, addition agents may be used to produce semi-bright, bright or satin nickel coatings. Bright Nickel Plating In bright nickel plating four main classes of addition agents are used: ‘Carriers’ (Confusingly these are sometimes also referred to as Brighteners of the First Class, Secondary Brighteners or Control Agents) These are usually aromatic organic compounds containing sulphur. Examples are benzene sulphonic acid, 1,3,6-naphthalene sulphonic acid (sodium salt), p-toluene sulphonamide, saccharin and allyl sulphonic acid. The major function of carriers is to refine the grain structure and to provide some increased lustre compared with additive-free solutions. Many carriers, for example saccharin, also have significant stress reducing properties. Carriers introduce sulphur into the deposit and the effect of this incorporated sulphur is discussed under decorative plating. Consumption of carriers is largely by dragout as they are not consumed rapidly by electrolysis. ‘Brighteners’ (Also referred to as Brighteners of the Second Class, Primary Brighteners, Levelling Agents) In combination with carriers, brighteners produce brilliant deposits with good ductility and levelling properties over a broad current density range. There are a wide range of brighteners used (generally supplied as proprietary mixtures). Compounds include formaldehyde chloral hydrate, o-sulpho benzaldehyde, allyl sulphonic acid, 2-butynd-1,4-diol, thiourea, coumarin and many others. Brighteners are generally present in very low concentrations and are consumed by electrolysis. They therefore need to be replenished on a regular basis in order to maintain the desired brightness. 14 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 16 Auxiliary Brighteners These are sometimes incorporated to augment the luster attainable with carriers and brighteners or to produce the brightness and levelling with thinner deposits. Compounds employed include sodium allyl sulphonate, 1,4-butyne 2-diol, and sulphobetaines such as pyridinum propyl sulphonate. Metals such as zinc, cobalt and cadmium also act as auxiliary brighteners, but are not commonly used today. Anti-Pitting Agents (Wetting Agents) Bubbles of hydrogen gas which are formed at the cathode may cause pitting if they cling to the surface. The role of anti-pitting agents is to lower the surface tension of the solution and to facilitate release of these bubbles. Anionic surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulphate are normally used. Semi-Bright Nickel Plating Solutions As semi-bright nickel is used in situations where resistance to corrosion is important, the deposits must be free from incorporated sulphur. Consequently additives which contribute sulphur to the coatings must be avoided. Levelling agents include coumarin, 2-butyne-1,4-diol and other acetylenics. Coumarin was widely used in the past but, as it produced undesirable reduction products which had to be removed by carbon treatments, it has now been largely superseded by alternative additives. The use of these additives yield smooth, ductile deposits which exhibit excellent levelling. The grain structure of semi-bright nickel deposits is usually columnar compared with the banded (laminar) structure of bright nickels. Sulphamate Nickel Electroplating Solutions Nickel sulphamate solutions are chiefly used for the deposition of functional coatings or for electroforming. For such applications the low stress which can be achieved without the use of addition agents, the high deposition rates and desirable deposit properties offset their higher cost. Typical composition and operating conditions are shown in Table 3. Table 3 Typical composition and operating conditions for nickel sulphamate electroplating solutions Nickel Sulphamate [Ni(NH2SO3)2.4H2O)] Nickel Chloride (NiCl2.6H2O) Boric Acid (H3BO3) Temperature pH Cathode Current Density Deposition Rate 300 - 450 g/l 0 - 30 g/l 30 g/l 40 - 60 °C 3.5 - 4.5 2 - 15 A/dm2 25 - 180 µm/hr 15 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 17 Chloride has a pronounced effect on stress and also influences anode behavior. A low chloride concentration is desirable to achieve a low stress level. It is possible to operate with zero chloride if sulphur activated nickel anodes are used under appropriate operating conditions. However, a low concentration of nickel chloride is generally recommended to provide some insurance of satisfactory anode performance. If the anode efficiency falls (as evidenced by a brown film on the nickel anodes) some breakdown of the sulphamate ion may occur. This can lead to disastrous effects on the deposit properties including undesirable tensile stress and brightness. Another potential problem is hydrolysis of nickel sulphamate which produces sulphate and ammonium ions. These greatly increase the tensile stress of the deposit. To avoid hydrolysis of the nickel sulphamate it is important to maintain the temperature below 65°C and the pH above 3.0. One of the advantages of sulphamate solutions is the higher solubility of nickel sulphamate compared with nickel sulphate. It is therefore possible to use higher nickel concentrations and to operate at very high current densities. Other Nickel Electroplating Processes Several other formulations can be used for specific applications. These include fluoborate, hard nickel, all-chloride, all-sulphate, high sulphate and black nickel plating solutions. With the exception of black nickel, which is employed in decorative applications, these processes are generally only used in functional applications and are discussed in the section on Engineering and Functional Nickel. 16 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 18 Chapter 4 ANODES FOR NICKEL PLATING Nickel Anode Requirements The major functions of nickel anodes in electroplating are to: • Conduct the electric current to the electrolyte. • Replace the nickel ions discharged at the cathode. • Distribute current as uniformly as possible over the cathode surface. To achieve these requirements, the anodes should be of a suitable size and positioned to optimize uniform distribution of current. In a good installation, the anodes will be closely spaced along the anode bar and located opposite the plating racks. To avoid excessive current flow to the bottom of the plating racks, it is desirable to use anodes slightly shorter than the racks. Similarly, it is often helpful to position the anodes away from the edges of the plating racks (particularly the end rack in the tank), to reduce the current flow to the edge of the rack. Good electrical contact with the anode bar must be maintained at all times. Anodes consisting of nickel metal are preferred in order to replenish the nickel ions and to simplify solution control. However, there are some occasions where insoluble anodes have to be employed. (See later section of this chapter.) Types of Nickel Anode Material Several types of anode material are available. Fabricated bar anodes, such as cast carbon and depolarized anodes, have largely been superseded by titanium baskets containing primary nickel. Indeed, oval or bar anodes are now generally only used where titanium baskets are not suitable, such as in corrosive solutions (example Woods nickel) or for small scale plating cells. Nickel rod is occasionally used for fabricating auxiliary anodes and Nickel 200 has been found useful for such applications. Primary nickel is supplied in various forms including cut squares measuring 25mm x 25mm, and rounds. Pieces of this size are preferred to avoid bridging within the basket. Bridging can lead to uneven current distribution and possible localized anode polarization. The lower packing density of thin (7-12mm thick) nickel squares has the advantage of reducing nickel inventory (work-in-progress), when compared to other suitable small forms. 17 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 19 Primary nickel is also available as strip of various sizes (e.g. 150mm x 450mm, 600 or 900mm). These are suspended from the anode rod by a titanium hook bolted through a hole drilled in the strip. The disadvantage of using fabricated bar or nickel strip, is that the anode area decreases as it dissolves from the bottom upwards, due to the high anodic current at the tip. This causes variable current distribution over the cathode, resulting in excessive deposit thickness at the top of the work piece or rack, and a thinner deposit at the bottom. Further, when the anode has reduced to a spear shape, anode polarization at the tip can lead to low anode efficiency with consequent excessive consumption of nickel salts and addition agents (e.g. brighteners and levelling agents). Primary nickel for plating is generally produced electrolytically and has high purity of 99.95 % Ni + Co. Apart from the pure grade, an activated grade is also available, which contains a small amount of sulphur to lower the anodic potential. However, the resultant insoluble black residue of nickel sulphide may pose a problem for platers as a possible source of roughness, if anode bags are not maintained in perfect condition. For most nickel plating operations, either the pure or activated grades will perform satisfactorily. However, activated nickel must be used in chloride-free sulphamate nickel plating solutions. As noted in Chapter 3 under the discussion on sulphamate nickel, the use of non-activated anodes in this situation can lead to excessive build up of a by-product from the sulphamate ion. Titanium Anode Baskets Anode baskets for nickel plating are universally fabricated from titanium. Titanium has excellent properties of lightness and strength and is available in a wide range of sheet, mesh and rods. Typical basket designs are shown in Figure 4. The thickness of the basket should be large enough to allow the nickel pieces to settle freely without bridging. A thickness of 37-50mm is satisfactory. As titanium has poor electrical conductivity, it is important the basket be appropriately designed to carry the desired current. Hooks must be fabricated from bar (not sheet) to maintain pressure contact with the anode rod and to ensure sufficient current carrying capacity and strength. Similarly, it is essential to have side members in sheet or bar section running the whole length of the basket. The tray at the bottom of the basket is designed to hold the final small pieces of nickel and nickel fines, maintain electrical contact and thus enable complete dissolution. Baskets can be made in special shapes to meet specific needs. These include curved baskets for use as conforming anodes and round baskets for electroforming of record stampers. 18 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 20 Figure 4 Typical titanium baskets Titanium is an ideal choice for anode baskets as it conducts the electrical current to the nickel metal without acting as an anode itself. This is due to a protective oxide film formed on the titanium surface during electrolysis. Titanium baskets will have a long service life in all nickel plating solutions other than Woods nickel, providing nickel is maintained in pressure contact with the titanium. Then the nickel will take current preferentially and corrosion of the titanium will be avoided. However, under certain conditions, the protective film can break down. This breakdown only occurs when the applied potential or voltage exceeds the breakdown potential of the titanium in the solution concerned. This circumstance can arise if the nickel in the basket becomes partially or completely passive or when there is insufficient nickel in the basket. Passivity can be caused by voids in the nickel through bridging or clogged anode bags. These problems can be avoided by ensuring that: • The baskets are kept full of nickel pieces at all times. • Nickel is packed correctly into the baskets without bridging. • A large number of electrical contact points between the nickel and the titanium basket are provided by using only small nickel pieces (e.g. 25mm x 25mm squares, rounds or spheres). Larger squares (e.g. 50mm x 50mm, and 100mm x 100mm), and full size nickel strip, should never be used in titanium anode baskets. • Anode bags are cleaned or replaced when needed. 19 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 21 The great advantage of titanium baskets is the maintenance of a large and unchanging anode area. This ensures that: • The current distribution over the cathode is not affected by changes in the anode area, as with bar or strip anodes. • Optimum anode efficiency is maintained. Anode Bags Nickel anodes and baskets must be fitted with bags to prevent nickel fines or nickel sulphide residues entering the plating solution. Polypropylene is widely used for anode bags because of its durability. However, other fabrics including cotton and other synthetics are used successfully. Care should be taken to avoid tearing or damage to the bags. This is a common problem when using bar anodes or primary nickel strip, where sharp tips from partially corroded anodes may tear the bags. It is much less of a problem with baskets, providing the bags fit correctly. Double bagging is generally desirable. The inner bag should fit closely to the sides of the basket and be laced on larger baskets. This ensures the nickel pieces and fines are retained within the basket to maintain continuous electrical contact for anodic dissolution. The outer bag should be slightly more slack so that slight movement of the bag under solution agitation will assist in promoting solution flow around the anode. Clogging of anode bags is particularly troublesome when plating tubular steel and similar components which introduce large quantities of iron. This problem can be reduced by using iron control additives in the plating solution. Figure 5 Nickel anode material 20 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:26 PM Page 22 Practical Tips for Maintenance of Nickel Anode Baskets • Anode baskets filled with small nickel pieces should be left untouched for extended periods to allow the continuous process of dissolution to proceed under stable conditions. • Ensure good electrical contact between the anode rod and the basket hooks at all times. • Keep the basket full of nickel pieces. Do not let the nickel level drop more than 50mm below the solution level. • Use only small pieces of nickel (25mm x 25mm squares, round or spherical shapes). The packing density of these small pieces is perfectly adequate when loaded under natural conditions. It is unnecessary to ram them down, a practice that causes physical damage to the baskets. • Anode bags should only be removed from the baskets when they become so clogged (e.g. with precipitated ferric hydroxide) that free movement of solution through them has become severely restricted. • When using pure nickel pieces, the fines should not be washed out of the baskets. This is a waste of metal which would undergo subsequent anodic dissolution. However, in the case of sulphur-activated nickel, many platers report a rise in tank voltage as the nickel sulphide residue builds up. Washing out this residue restores the original conditions, but causes a waste of plating solution in the process. • Anode bags should be tied to the titanium hooks of the basket – not to an unprotected copper anode rod. Otherwise, moistening of the ties could lead to contamination by anodic dissolution of copper ions into the solution. • Use close-fitting anode bags that will keep all pieces of nickel and fines within the titanium basket. This is important, to maintain electrical contact and to ensure continuous, complete dissolution. Insoluble Anodes Insoluble anodes are used for specific purposes where nickel anodes would be not be practical. Applications include anodes for the internal plating of tubes, and as auxiliary anodes for plating into deep recesses. A further situation where insoluble anodes might be selected is when there is limited spacing between the components being plated (e.g. some electronic applications). Insoluble anodes are commonly fabricated from platinized titanium, although other inert conductive materials such as graphite can be used. 21 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 23 When insoluble anodes are used, the pH of the solution in the vicinity of the anodes will fall due to the liberation of hydrogen ions from the oxidation of water at the anode surface. At the same time, oxygen and/or chlorine will be released. These can oxidize some organic additives in the solution. Chlorine can also lead to health concerns. These effects become significant when more than 20% of the total bath current passes through insoluble anodes. Figure 6 Auxiliary anodes – example showing location of auxiliary anode to increase thickness deposited into recessed area of work Auxiliary anode Anode Anode Article being plated (cathode) 22 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 24 Chapter 5 DECORATIVE NICKEL PLATING Nickel plating is extensively used in a range of decorative applications. These include components for the automotive, cycle and marine industries, household appliances, door furniture, hardware items, jewellery and a wide variety of consumer items. The principle purpose of decorative plating is to enhance the appearance and decorative appeal of the articles, however the coatings may also be required to meet stringent performance criteria. The criteria may include adhesion, ductility, corrosion resistance, etc. depending on the application and service conditions. In the majority of cases the nickel is top-coated with chromium or with alternative final finishes (e.g. gold, brass, etc.). Copper plating is often applied as an undercoat. Copper is essential when plating zinc diecast alloys to avoid diffusion of the nickel. In other cases copper may be specified to provide a ductile underlay, additional levelling or to assist in achieving a satisfactory bond on certain difficult-to-plate metals (e.g. lead containing alloys). Bright Nickel Plating Nickel is most commonly applied as a bright coating. Highly lustrous coatings are achieved through the use of suitable addition agents in the plating solutions. Additionally, modern bright nickel plating solutions exhibit excellent ‘levelling’ properties (i.e. they have the ability to hide polishing lines and other surface imperfections). Bright nickel solutions are based on the ‘Watts’ formulation (refer to chapter on Chemistry) with the addition of brightening and levelling additives, stress control agents and wetting agents. Commonly, the additives are supplied as proprietary products. These may also incorporate supplementary brighteners or additives to suppress the effects of impurities. Satin Nickel Plating Satin nickel processes produce attractive satin or semi-lustrous finishes. These effects are produced through the use of selected soluble organic additives in the plating solution or by additions of finely divided insoluble particles. Another process involves the use of emulsified liquid additives to produce the desired texture in the plate. Satin nickel finds widespread use on door furniture and other hardware items. 23 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 25 Nickel-Chromium Coatings for Exterior Service Decorative, single coatings of bright and satin nickel with topcoats of chromium generally perform poorly under exterior service conditions. Bright nickel (and most satin nickel) solutions co-deposit a small percentage of sulphur in the deposit, the sulphur originating from the ‘carriers’ or stress control agents. The incorporated sulphur increases the electrochemical reactivity of the nickel and thereby reduces the corrosion resistance of the coatings. Indeed, when bright nickel was first introduced, many failures due to premature corrosion were reported. Problems particularly occurred on automotive components in areas where salt was used as an anti-freeze on roads. Poor performance was also noted in other external service applications. To overcome these problems new techniques have been developed which provide excellent corrosion resistance and satisfactory service performance. Two approaches have been adopted. The first involves modifying the nickel by applying multi-layer nickel coatings. The second approach is to modify the chromium topcoat by using microdiscontinuous chromium processes. Multi-Layer Nickel These coatings generally consist of a relatively thick coating of semi-bright nickel (60-75% of the total nickel thickness) followed by a thinner bright nickel coating. These are commonly referred to as dual-layer or duplex nickel. Semi-bright nickel differs from bright nickel in that it has no codeposited sulphur and has a columnar rather than a laminar grain structure. This sulphur-free nickel has a lower electrochemical reactivity than the bright nickel. A variation involves applying a thin intermediate layer of high-sulphur nickel between the semi-bright and bright layers – referred to as triple-layer nickel. Figure 7 Dual-layer nickel Bright Nickel (contains sulfur) Semi-Bright Nickel (sulfur-free) Substrate 24 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 26 To understand how these coatings provide increased corrosion resistance, it is necessary to briefly examine the mechanism of corrosion. Under the effects of moisture and atmospheric contaminants, corrosion initiates in cracks or pores in the chromium topcoat. As the chromium is electrochemically more noble than the nickel, corrosive attack takes place in the bright nickel with the formation of pits. As corrosion continues, the pitting becomes deeper and eventually reaches the substrate, resulting in rusting or other base metal corrosion. At the same time the thin chromium layer may become partly dislodged through undercutting. Because bright nickel is relatively electrochemically active, the rate of attack can be quite rapid under corrosive conditions. With dual-layer nickel the bottom layer of semi-bright nickel is electrochemically noble compared with the bright nickel. Therefore corrosion will take place preferentially in the bright nickel layer. The result is that, when the attack reaches the interface, corrosion will tend to spread laterally in the top layer rather than penetrate into the semi-bright coating. Microscopic examination shows typically flat bottomed pits in the bright nickel. This effectively retards the pitting attack because, before the pit can penetrate further, a considerable portion of the bright nickel layer must be removed. Dual-layer nickel coatings show a marked improvement in corrosion performance compared with single layer coatings. They are therefore specified for severe service conditions. As noted above, triple-layer nickel is sometimes substituted for dual nickel. However, providing there is a sufficient difference in electrochemical potentials between the semi-bright and the bright nickel deposits, the use of an intermediate high-sulphur layer offers no advantage and merely complicates process control. It should be noted that international standard ISO 1456 (refer to summary below), does not permit any reduction in total nickel thickness when triple-nickel is substituted for dual-nickel. As the additives in the semi-bright nickel solutions are selected to be compatible with the bright nickel, work is generally transferred directly between the solutions without rinsing. Microdiscontinuous Chromium As noted above, corrosion of the nickel begins at a crack or pore in the chromium. Conventional electrodeposited chromium exhibits random cracks and has relatively few discontinuities. Any crack or pore is therefore surrounded by a large area of chromium which sets up a corrosion cell drawing current from a relatively small area of exposed nickel. This leads to quite rapid pit penetration through the nickel. 25 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 27 Chromium can be deposited in a crack-free condition and at one stage this was held out as being the answer to preventing corrosive attack. Unfortunately such coatings were found to later develop cracks or pores during service and consequently provided no long-term protection. It was later established that improved results could be achieved by providing a large number of discontinuities in the chromium coating thus increasing the area of exposed nickel. This effectively increases the base metal protection by spreading the corrosion currents over a multitude of sites, thus reducing the size and depth of individual pits. Figure 8 Nature of corrosion pitting on: (a) single-layer nickel plus chromium (b) dual-layer nickel plus chromium, and (c) microdiscontinuous chromium over nickel Corrosion of Nickel/Chromium Coatings Bright nickel plus regular chromium Crack pore Chromium Bright Ni Substrate Bright Ni Substrate Corrosion pit Corrosion of Nickel/Chromium Coatings Dual layer nickel plus regular chromium Bright Ni Semi-bright Ni Substrate Chromium Corrosion of Nickel/Chromium Coatings Bright nickel plus microdiscontinuous chromium Microdiscontinuous chromium Bright Ni Substrate Microdiscontinuous chromium is the term applied to both microcracked and microporous chromium processes. Microcracked chromium can be achieved by modifying the formulation and/or the operating parameters of the chromium plating solution or by using a highly-stressed nickel strike under the chromium, which induces microcracking in the chromium coating. 26 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 28 Microporous chromium is achieved by depositing the chromium over a thin bright nickel deposit containing insoluble, extremely fine, nonmetallic particles dispersed throughout the solution. The resulting chromium deposit is completely microporous when plated over this special nickel layer. Alternative Topcoats Although chromium is the most widely used topcoat for decorative nickel, a number of other finishes are finding increasing applications. These include gold, brass, copper and other metallic coatings. These are generally applied as thin ‘flash’ deposits and then protected by organic coatings or lacquers. Lacquer overlays may not be required over gold (particularly hard gold) if the coatings are of sufficient thickness to provide the necessary service performance. The organic topcoats may be conventional air dry lacquers, clear baked enamels or electrophoretic lacquers. The latter are increasingly being used because of their uniform coatings, reduction of drip problems and their environmental advantages. A further approach is to tint the organic coating to simulate metallic finishes or to provide unusual decorative effects. Colors can be achieved either by incorporating dyes or pigments into the organic coating or by using post-dyeing techniques. Electrophoretic lacquers are being widely used to apply these types of finishes over bright or satin nickel. Specifications for Decorative Nickel-Chromium Plating A number of international, national and commercial standards cover the specific requirements for decorative nickel plus chromium coatings to achieve acceptable performance under different service conditions. These standards classify the various coating systems according to their resistance to corrosion and recommend the appropriate coatings and thicknesses for different service conditions. Figure 9 Decorative nickel plated parts 27 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 29 The standards specify the test methods to be applied, covering thickness measurement, accelerated corrosion tests, ductility and adhesion. Requirements for heat treatment are also included in most standards. Examples of classifications and recommended coatings from ISO Standard 1456 are given in Tables 4a - 4d. It will be noted that single-layer bright nickel is not permitted for coatings on steel, zinc and aluminium in applications involving very severe corrosion service conditions. Double or triple-layer nickel coatings are almost universally used for these applications in order to provide the required resistance to corrosion. Although ISO 1456 does permit the use of polished dull or semi-bright nickel as an alternative, these are rarely used because of the cost of polishing. Single-layer bright nickel may be applied to copper alloys (or over heavy copper undercoats) providing the chromium layer is of the microporous or microcracked type. Table 4a Nickel plus chromium on iron or steel* Service Condition Number 4 Classification Number Fe/Ni40d Cr r Fe/Ni30d Cr mc or mp Fe/Ni40p Cr r Fe/Ni30p Cr mc or mp Fe/Ni30d Cr r Fe/Ni25d Cr mc or mp Fe/Ni30p Cr r Fe/Ni25p Cr mc or mp Fe/Ni40b Cr r Fe/Ni30b Cr mc or mp Fe/Ni20b Cr r Fe/Ni10b Cr r Fe/Ni5b Cr r 3 2 *Adapted from ISO 1456 Refer to page 31 for explanation of symbols. 1 0 s nickel may be substituted for b nickel, and mc or mp chromium may be substituted for r chromium for service conditions 3, 2, 1 and 0. d nickel may be substituted for b nickel for service conditions 2 and 1. 28 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 30 Table 4b Nickel plus chromium on copper or copper alloys* Service Condition Number 4 Classification Number Cu/Ni30d Cr r Cu/Ni25d Cr mc or mp Cu/Ni30p Cr r Cu/Ni25p Cr mc or mp Cu/Ni30b Cr mc or mp Cu/Ni25d Cr r Cu/Ni10b Cr r Cu/Ni5b Cr r Cu/Ni3b Cr r 3 2 *Adapted from ISO 1456 Refer to page 31 for explanation of symbols. 1 0 s nickel may be substituted for b nickel and mc or mp chromium substituted for r chromium for service conditions 3, 2, 1 and 0. p and d nickel may be substituted for b nickel for service conditions 3 and 2. 29 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 31 Table 4c Nickel plus chromium on zinc alloys* Service Condition Number 4 Classification Number Zn/Cu Ni35d Cr r Zn/Cu Ni25d Cr mc or mp Zn/Cu Ni35p Cr r Zn/Cu Ni25p Cr mc or mp Zn/Cu Ni35b Cr mc or mp Zn/Cu Ni25d Cr r Zn/Cu Ni20d Cr mc or mp Zn/Cu Ni25p Cr r Zn/Cu Ni20p Cr mc or mp Zn/Cu Ni35b Cr r Zn/Cu Ni25 Cr mc or mp Zn/Cu Ni15b Cr r Zn/Cu Ni8b Cr r 3 *Adapted from ISO 1456 Refer to page 31 for explanation of symbols. 2 0 and 1 s nickel may be substituted for b nickel, and mc or mp chromium may be substituted for r chromium for service conditions 3, 2 and 1. p and d nickel may be substituted for b nickel for service condition 2. When nickel plating over zinc alloys (as in Table 4c), the nickel must be applied over an undercoat of copper, or brass containing at least 50% copper, deposited from a cyanide bath, and having a minimum thickness of 8 µm. For parts of complex shape, it may be necessary to increase the minimum thickness on significant areas to 10 to 12 µm to achieve adequate coverage on low current areas outside the significant area. Table 4d Nickel plus chromium on aluminium or aluminium alloys* Service Condition Number 4 3 Classification Number Al/Ni50d Cr r Al/Ni35d Cr mc or mp Al/Ni30d Cr r Al/Ni25d Cr mc or mp Al/Ni35p Cr r Al/Ni30p Cr mc or mp Al/Ni20b Cr r Al/Ni10b Cr r *Adapted from ISO 1456 Refer to page 31 for explanation of symbols. 2 0 and 1 The use of a copper undercoat is permissible and may be desirable on certain alloys or for specific applications. The specified nickel thickness must not be reduced if copper is used. p, d or s nickel may be substituted for b nickel and mc or mp chromium substituted for r chromium for service conditions numbers 2 and 1. 30 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 32 Service Condition Number The service condition number characterizes the severity of the corrosion environment in accordance with the following scale: 4 3 2 1 0 Exceptionally Severe. Service outdoors in exceptional service conditions. (e.g. include marine and some automotive applications) Severe. Service conditions outdoors in typical temperate conditions. (e.g. cycle parts, some automotive parts, perambula parts) Moderate. Service conditions indoors and in places where condensation may occur. (e.g. bathroom fittings) Mild. Service conditions in warm dry atmospheres. (e.g. office furniture, cabinet hardware, engineering tools) Exceptionally Mild. Purely cosmetic applications. Classification Number The classification number specifies the details of the coating in an abbreviated fashion. For example: Fe/Ni40d Cr r indicates that the coating is applied to iron or steel (Fe), and the coating consists of 40 µm of double layer or triple-layer nickel (d) plus regular chromium (r). The designations for the types of nickel and chromium are shown in Table 4e. Table 4e Classification of types of nickel and chromium Type of Nickel b electrodeposited bright nickel d Double or triple-layer nickel p Dull or semi-bright nickel mechanically polished s Dull, satin or semi-bright nickel which have not been polished *Adapted from ISO 1456. r Type of Chromium regular or conventional chromium mp microporous chromium mc microcracked chromium 31 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 33 Chapter 6 ENGINEERING AND FUNCTIONAL NICKEL COATINGS This section covers the use of electroplated nickel coatings to modify or improve corrosion resistance, hardness, wear or magnetic and other properties. Coating Requirements for Functional Applications The corrosion resistance will depend on the thickness of the coating and on other factors, including the condition of the surface prior to plating. The minimum thickness requirements may vary from 5 µm, where the nickel is used as an undercoat prior to gold or other coatings, to 125 µm or more, for applications involving long-term protection or severe corrosive conditions. Applications include processing equipment, drying cylinders or rolls, hydraulic rams and automotive cylinder liners. In many cases the nickel is applied to provide both corrosion and wear resistance. Nickel is also used to salvage worn components and in such cases the thickness will be determined by the extent of the repair required. Types of Nickel Plating Solutions for Functional Applications Watts Nickel: Largely because of its relatively low cost and flexibility, the Watts nickel solution is widely used for functional applications. Typical compositions for Watts nickel are given in Chapter 3, Table 2. The properties of the coating are affected by the operating conditions. Generally, conditions that increase the hardness, will also increase the tensile strength and decrease the ductility (elongation). Conditions which increase the hardness and tensile strength and decrease the ductility are: • an increase in pH above 5.0 • a decrease in temperature • an increase in the chloride content It will be seen that close control of the operating parameters is vital, where these properties are important for the performance of the coating. 32 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 34 Sulphamate Nickel: Nickel sulphamate solutions also find applications for functional coatings, particularly in electroforming which is discussed below. Typical compositions for sulphamate nickel solutions are given in Chapter 3, Table 3. A major advantage of sulphamate nickel solutions is the low internal stress of the deposit. However, the chloride content should be kept low to achieve minimum stress, without the use of stress reducing additives. Other Nickel Plating Solutions: A number of alternative formulations have been developed for specific applications, although they are not widely used. These include: Fluoroborate which may be operated at very high current densities. Mechanical properties are similar to the Watts nickels. Disadvantages are high cost and highly corrosive solutions. All-Chloride: This is an alternative process where high current densities are required. These solutions are also much more corrosive than Watts solutions and therefore equipment must be carefully selected. Deposits are fine grained and generally harder than Watts nickel coatings. All-Sulphate: The major use for these solutions is in applications involving the use of insoluble anodes (e.g. in the internal plating of pipes and fittings). The absence of chlorides eliminates the problem of toxic chlorine gas being liberated at the anode. Lead or graphite anodes are commonly employed. It is necessary to replenish the nickel ions and to control the pH through regular additions of nickel carbonate. High Sulphate: The major feature of these solutions is their good throwing power. They have found limited use as a strike bath over zincate pre-treated aluminium. Hard Nickel: This solution provides harder deposits and superior abrasion resistance without the use of organic additives. The higher hardness is achieved through the inclusion of ammonium ions. Close control of pH, temperature and current density is necessary for consistent performance. 33 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 35 Black Nickel: Apart from some limited use on optical equipment or for solar collectors, black nickel has chiefly been applied for decorative purposes. The coatings produced are only thin. Therefore black nickel is usually applied over satin or bright nickel and coated with a lacquer or other organic finish. Typical compositions for these alternative nickel plating solutions are given in Table 5. Table 5 Other nickel plating solutions – composition and operating conditions Current Density A/dm2 3-30 Type Fluoroborate Composition g/l Nickel fluoroborate, 225-300 Nickel chloride, 0-15 Boric acid, 15-30 Nickel chloride, 225-300 Boric acid, 30-35 Nickel sulphate, 225-410 Boric acid, 30-45 Nickel sulphate, 75-100 Sodium sulphate, 75-100 Ammonium chloride, 15-35 Boric acid, 15 Nickel sulphate, 180 Ammonium chloride, 25 Boric acid, 30 Nickel sulphate, 100 Ammonium chloride, 15 Zinc sulphate, 22 Sodium thiocyanate, 15 pH 2.5-4.0 Temp. ˚C 38-70 All-chloride All-sulphate High sulphate 1.0-4.0 1.5-4.0 5.3-5.8 50-70 38-70 20-32 2.5-10 1-10 0.5-2.5 Hard nickel 5.6-5.9 43-60 2-10 Black nickel 5.5-6.0 26-32 0.2 34 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 36 Electroforming Electroforming is the process by which articles are manufactured by building up metal by electrodeposition onto a suitable mandrel, which is subsequently removed. Electroforming has a number of features which make it a viable production process for specific applications. These include: • accurate reproduction of fine surface detail (e.g. the electroforming of stampers for the production of compact discs) • duplication of surface textures (e.g. dies to reproduce wood grain or leather patterns) • high degree of dimensional accuracy (e.g. precision components) • ability to electroform shapes that are difficult and costly to produce by any other method of fabrication (e.g. rotary printing screens) Because of its excellent mechanical properties, fine grain structure and good corrosion resistance, nickel is the most widely used metal for electroforming. These properties make it particularly useful for the electroforming of dies and moulds for casting and moulding. Figure 10 Electroformed nickel mould for reinforced plastic automotive body component Photo courtesy of EMF Corporation Other important applications for nickel electroforming include tools, radar wave guides, spray masks and a wide range of components which would be difficult or more costly to fabricate by other means. Additionally, nickel electroforming is used in the production of foils and mesh products. This is a specialized procedure involving continuous deposition onto a rotating drum. 35 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 37 Because a wide range of articles can be produced by electroforming, the techniques will vary considerably according to the specific application. However, a general description of the electroforming process may be helpful. Mandrels Mandrels may be either permanent or expendable. Permanent mandrels are typically made from nickel, stainless steel, copper or brass. It is necessary to control the adhesion of the electrodeposited metal at a low level, to facilitate separation of the electroform. Nickel and stainless steel tend to be naturally passive but, the surfaces are usually chemically treated to ensure easy removal of the electroform. Expendable mandrels include low melting point alloys (typically tin-zinc eutectic), or waxes, (which are melted at the completion of the electrodeposition process) or alternatively aluminium alloys (which are subsequently dissolved in sodium hydroxide). Nonmetallic mandrels must first be made conductive. A number of techniques may be used including silver reduction, application of fine silver powder or graphite, electroless deposition and metal sputtering. Electroforming Techniques The electrodeposition stage requires close control. While it is desirable to operate at high plating rates, it is important to consider metal distribution, nodular build-up and internal stress. Low stress is particularly important in electroforming as it is essential to prevent premature separation of the metal from the mandrel or warping of the electroform after removal. Low stress can be achieved by adding stress-reducing additives to Watts or sulphamate nickel solutions. However a low tensile stress can also be maintained without the use of organic additives, using sulphamate baths with low chloride levels. It is important to carefully maintain the solutions and to continuously treat for impurities. Nodular build-up or treeing at edges may be troublesome. Fitting of shields is often helpful. In other cases the mandrel may be extended so that the treeing occurs on parts of the electroform that can be machined off at a later stage. In some cases it may be necessary to machine off the trees part way through the electroforming operation and then return to the bath for further build-up. In such cases it is essential to re-activate the nickel to insure good nickel-nickel adhesion. 36 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 38 Agitation, air and/or mechanical, is important to minimize high current density burning or pitting. The choice of electroforming solution can also influence the degree of treeing. Certain addition agents similar to levelling agents can suppress the treeing tendency. Also, high chloride solutions are superior to Watts solutions in this respect. For most applications, the electroformed shell will require some further processing, following electrodeposition and separation. This may involve trimming, machining or, particularly in the case of dies, backing up by a suitable material. Electrodeposited copper can be electroplated as a back-up material but this is time consuming. Another possibility is to cast on a low melting point alloy, but this will limit the operating temperature of the mould or die. The most satisfactory procedure is to back-up by metal spraying with copper, aluminium or aluminium-silicon. Precautions must be taken to avoid overheating of the electroform and to ensure good bonding. Some dies and moulds will require cooling channels to be incorporated during the back-up operation in addition to the usual final machining steps. Figure 11 Principle of electroforming showing electroform separated from the mandrel Cathode contact Mandrel Electroform after separation from mandrel 37 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 39 Chapter 7 BARREL NICKEL PLATING Both dull and bright nickel plating of small parts are commonly carried out using barrel plating techniques. In barrel plating the articles are tumbled in a revolving non-conducting container fitted with appropriate electrical contacts. The major advantage of barrel plating is that it eliminates the need for jigging or racking of the work. However, as discussed below, there are limitations on the size and type of work that can be successfully barrel plated. Design of Plating Barrels The most common type of production plating barrel is a round or hexagonal cylinder operated in a horizontal position and partly or fully immersed in the plating solution. The barrel cylinder is perforated with holes or slots to allow passage of current and solution circulation. It is fitted with doors for loading and unloading, and is fabricated from polypropylene or other suitable plastics. Cathode contact is usually provided by flexible danglers or, less commonly, studs at the ends of the barrel cylinder. Conventional anodes are positioned outside the barrel. Figure 12 Immersed type plating barrel Plating solution Anode Cathode contacts Articles This type of immersed barrel is commonly transported through the various stages of the pre-treatment and plating cycle. Alternatively the barrel may be operated for the plating stage alone with the pre and post operations carried out in baskets. 38 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 40 Another design is the open-ended oblique plating barrel. In its simplest form the plating solution is contained in the barrel, cathode contact is via studs and the anode is fitted through the open end. This type of barrel is generally only used for very small-scale production. A further type of open-ended oblique barrel is perforated and operated within a plating tank using conventional anodes. A mechanism allows for the barrels to be partially immersed for plating and then tipped into the discharge position. As it is not necessary to remove doors with this design they are sometimes used in fully automated systems. Type of Work Suitable for Barrel Plating Components must be of a type that will tumble freely without nesting, locking together or becoming tangled. Flat parts which can stick together or onto the barrel surface may also cause problems which can sometimes be alleviated by mixing with other work. Care should also be taken with components which can ‘peck’ or damage themselves. Articles should not be too heavy (certainly not more than 500g), to avoid impingment problems or damage to the barrel. Otherwise, a wide variety of articles can be successfully barrel plated with their size largely being dictated by the barrel dimensions. Barrel Loading For efficient operation the work load should be not more than 50% of the volume of the barrel. This is important to ensure that it is effectively mixed during the tumbling action and so all parts receive their full share of the current. Two other aspects must be considered. First, the weight must be within the manufacturer’s specification for the barrel. Second, the surface area of the load is important. It is not always realized that the surface area of a kilogram of parts can vary enormously, depending on the gauge or thickness of the metal from which the articles are fabricated. For most barrel nickel plating operations the desirable current density range is 0.3 to 1.0 A/dm2. Barrel Nickel Plating Solutions For applications where full brightness is not required, dull nickel solutions based on the Watts formulation or the high chloride type are used. A degree of burnishing takes place particularly with longer plating cycles. The Watts solutions are sometimes modified by substituting ammonium chloride for the nickel chloride or by adding magnesium or sodium sulphate. Examples are given in Table 6. 39 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 41 Bright nickel plating solutions are widely used for decorative applications. These are similar to those used for rack plating. However, it is generally desirable to maintain the ‘carrier’ at a high level and to control the brightening and levelling additives as low as practicable. This reduces the tendency for the nickel to become passive during plating, which can result in an effect called ‘tinselling.’ This relates to the potential problem in barrel plating for the nickel plate to exfoliate or flake-off if the nickel is brittle or highly stressed. Voltage Requirements Because of the resistance to current flow through the perforations in immersed barrels, considerably higher voltages are needed compared with rack plating. The voltage required will depend on the solution composition, temperature, design of barrel, anode area, and nature and size of the work load. Generally the required voltage will be in the range of 12-20 volts. Plating Rates and Metal Distribution The restrictions on current flow dictated by the barrel design, and the consequent low current densities, means that barrel nickel plating rates are relatively low. For example a 760mm x 350mm immersed barrel with a 500 dm2 load will typically draw only 200 amperes at 15 volts – equating to 0.4 A/dm2. This will give an average plating rate of around 4.8 µm per hour. Table 6 Typical dull nickel barrel plating solutions 1. Nickel sulphate Ammonium chloride Boric acid pH Temperature Nickel sulphate Nickel chloride Boric acid Magnesium sulphate 150 g/l 30 g/l 30 g/l 5.0 - 5.6 room 250 g/l 50 g/l 40 g/l 180 g/l 50 g/l 5.2 - 5.8 40 - 55 ˚C 2. or Sodium sulphate pH Temperature 40 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 42 However, due to the nature of barrel plating, there will be a variation in thickness from part to part. The degree of scatter likely to be experienced is shown in Figure 13. This also indicates the percentage of the whole batch falling within different thickness ranges. If the plating specification nominates a minimum average thickness it will be necessary to increase the plating time to allow for this variation. The plating of fasteners requires particularly close control of thickness to avoid excessive buildup which could affect clearances. Number of items Figure 13 Probable frequency distribution in a barrel load plated to a batch thickness of 5 µm 68.3% 95.4% 99.7% 3.68 4.32 4.95 5.59 6.22 6.86 7.49 Thickness in micrometers (µm) 41 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 43 Chapter 8 TESTING PROCEDURES FOR NICKEL ELECTRODEPOSITS Appearance and Surface Quality The normal procedure for establishing acceptable appearance standards is to prepare samples before production begins. Agreement should be obtained on critical areas where appearance and other surface conditions must be met. Inspection should include examination of the coatings for roughness, pitting, burning, poor coverage and dark or streaked deposits as well as overall appearance. For decorative plating the acceptance standards will include brightness, levelling, absence of haze and uniformity. However, for functional plating, brightness is not usually required and may possibly indicate a problem with the deposit. Uniform matte or satin deposits are typical of engineering coatings. Where off-standard appearance is experienced, it is helpful to carefully record the areas of the work and the proportion of parts affected. This information greatly assists in identifying the cause of the problem. For example, it will be important to know whether pitting or roughness is occurring on upper or lower horizontal surfaces or perhaps only on particular positions on the plating racks. Refer also to Chapter 10 on Trouble-Shooting. Coating Thickness Thickness has a major influence on the performance of the plated coating, particularly in respect of corrosion resistance and wear resistance. The coating thickness may be specified as local thickness or average thickness. The specification may define the significant areas where the local thickness requirement must be met. Average thickness measurements are generally specified on small parts, particularly on barrel plated work. Thickness testing methods fall into two categories – destructive and non-destructive. 42 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 44 Destructive Methods These include: • microscopic examination of cross-sections • dissolution methods – strip and weigh and analytical • coulometric method Figure 14 Coulometric thickness testing equipment Couloscope® CMS – Photo courtesy of Fischer Technology, Inc. The microscopic method involves sectioning the plated part, mounting, polishing and etching, using standard metallographic techniques and then measuring the coating thickness with the aid of an optical microscope. This method is time consuming, but capable of great accuracy and is often specified as a referee method in cases of dispute. It also enables readings to be taken of individual layers in composite coatings. Dissolution methods are applicable for average thicknesses and are generally confined to examination of small parts. Thickness is computed from weight loss using a stripping solution that does not attack the substrate, or by determining the amount of nickel dissolved using standard analytical procedures. Coulometric methods involve using equipment that isolates a small defined area, applies current to anodically dissolve the coating and measuring the current and time before penetration to the substrate. A change in voltage is used to indicate penetration. Commercially available instruments provide a direct readout of the thickness. This type of equipment is commonly used on nickel and nickel-chromium coatings. Unlike most non-destructive instruments they will measure nickel over most substrates. A modification on the standard coulometric method is the STEP test – Simultaneous Thickness and Electrochemical Potential. This test enables the electrochemical potential difference between the nickel layers to be determined. This has significance with regard to corrosion performance. For dual-layer nickel the potential difference between the semi-bright and bright nickel layers generally falls between 100 and 200mv, with the semi-bright more electrochemically noble than the bright nickel. The STEP test is described in ASTM Standard B 764. 43 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 45 Non-Destructive Methods Where applicable, non-destructive tests have the advantage of generally being quicker, as well as avoiding the destruction of the parts. There are a number of non-destructive thickness testing procedures available. The ones most applicable to nickel coatings are based on: • Magnetic attractive force • Magnetic induction • Eddy current • X-ray spectrometry • Back-scatter of beta particles Table 7 Non-destructive thickness tests suitable for electroplated nickel coatings Test Magnetic X-Ray Back-scatter ISO 2361 3497 3543 It should be noted that variations in the physical properties can cause inconsistencies in the results obtained with many non-destructive methods. For this reason it may be necessary to prepare calibration standards using the same nickel solution and on the same substrate. This is the case with instruments based on magnetic methods. Eddy current instruments are less affected by differences in the type of nickel, but it is desirable to calibrate on the same or similar substrate. These instruments induce eddy currents in the surface layer by the use of high frequency current. The current depends on the conductivity of the "skin," which is largely determined by the thickness of the coating. Non-destructive thickness testing measurement by X-ray fluorescence XRF is a most valuable tool – although expensive. , Instruments based on the back-scatter of beta particles are only suitable for measuring nickel coatings on certain substrates (refer Table 8). However they are also widely used for measuring gold deposits over nickel. Reference may also be made to international standard ISO 3882 which reviews methods of thickness measurement. 44 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 46 Table 8 Thickness test methods suitable for routine testing of nickel plate over various substrates Substrate Aluminium Copper and copper alloys Magnesium Nickel/cobalt Non-metals Silver Steels Titanium Zinc and zinc alloys B C E M = = = = Backscatter of beta particles Coulometric Eddy current Magnetic Test Method BCM CM BM CM BCM BM CM BM M Adhesion Nickel electrodeposits are generally strongly bonded to the substrate. Indeed, except when the adhesion is abnormally poor, failure will occur almost invariably in either the substrate or in the coating. However, it is clearly essential to monitor adhesion in production operations. Despite the importance of adhesion testing, there are no quantitative methods which are suitable for regular quality control purposes. Adhesion is therefore generally evaluated by bending, twisting, filing or burnishing, in an attempt to detach the coating from the substrate. The file test is frequently employed for shop testing. In this test a coarse file is applied to the cut edge, in a manner to raise the coating. On parts where such mechanical tests are not possible, thermal shock tests may be used. In the thermal shock test the plated parts are heated in an oven then quenched in water, thus promoting a rapid contraction of the metal which will detach any poorly adhered coatings. The temperature specified depends on the substrate – 300°C for steel and 150°C for zinc alloy. Thermal shock tests are also usefully applied to nickel plated aluminium and for plating on plastics. ISO 1456 specifies testing procedures for a file test and a thermal shock test. ISO 2819 reviews methods available for testing adhesion. 45 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 47 Ductility Ductility is the term commonly used to describe the ability of a plated coating to undergo deformation without cracking. It is closely associated with the elongation value (expressed as a percentage). The elongation of deposits from additive-free nickel plating is up to 30% under optimum conditions, but will be affected by the chloride content, operating conditions and effects of impurities. Semi-bright nickel coatings also exhibit good elongation values (typically over 8%) whilst generally bright nickel produces lower values. Sulphamate nickel solutions provide the highest elongation values. For quality control purposes, simple tests are used to check on the ductility of nickel deposits, particularly on bright nickel, which may become brittle due to impurities or an imbalance of brighteners. One such test involves plating a soft brass sheet on one side only with 25 µm nickel, then cutting from this a test strip 150mm x 10mm. The test strip is then bent through 180°, with the plated surface outermost, around a mandrel. The coating is then examined for cracking. A 11.5mm diameter mandrel is often specified. In this case the plated coating should have an elongation of at least 8%, if no cracks extend completely over the convex surface. Corrosion Resistance Resistance to corrosion is critically important for many applications including decorative coatings, particularly nickel-chromium coatings, which are subjected to outdoor exposure. Outdoor exposure tests have played an important role in evaluating different coatings and plating systems. These have included static tests in various environments and also service trials with plated parts attached to vehicles or ships. However, accelerated corrosion tests are widely used for quality control purposes and for the preliminary evaluation of new plating systems. The main accelerated corrosion tests for nickel-chromium coatings accepted internationally are: Copper Accelerated Acetic Acid Salt Spray Test (CASS) This is a modification of the neutral salt spray test which is used to evaluate zinc and other coatings. The plated parts are subjected to a salt spray inside a fog chamber, under closely controlled conditions. In the CASS test the test solution is modified by the addition of copper and acetic acid, to appreciably increase the rate of attack on nickel. The CASS solution consists of 50 g/l sodium chloride, 0.2 g/l cupric chloride and is acidified to pH 3.2 using acetic acid. The solution is operated at 50°C. The design of the test cabinet has a pronounced effect on the results and therefore must comply with the standard specifications. 46 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 48 Acetic Acid Salt Spray Test This is similar to the CASS test but, as the test solution does not contain copper, it is much milder. The solution contains 50 g/l sodium chloride and is acidified with acetic acid to pH 3.2. Operating temperature is 35°C. This test is preferred for thinner coatings, where it will give more reproducible results than the more aggressive CASS test. Corrodkote Test The Corrodkote test is different to the above tests in that the corrosive medium is applied as a slurry. It was developed in an attempt to simulate the corrosive attack that is produced by road mud containing corrosive salts – typical of conditions where salt is applied to roads for de-icing. The slurry or paste contains cupric nitrate, ferric chloride and ammonium chloride mixed with kaolin. This slurry is brushed onto the plated parts and allowed to dry. The parts are then placed in a cabinet under controlled temperature and humidity. Corrosion may be indicated by colored stains on the paste, or by examination of the plated surface for pitting and/or blisters after removal of the paste. Refer to Table 9 for standard specifications covering accelerated corrosion test procedures. Table 9 Standard specifications covering accelerated corrosion tests Test CASS Acetic Acid Corrodkote ISO 377 376 454 ASTM B-3 B-2 B-3 47 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 49 Chapter 9 CONTROLLING THE ELECTROPLATING PROCESS Monitoring the Operating Conditions Current Density Current density management is important for two main reasons. Firstly, the current density controls the rate of deposition. Secondly, the current density must be controlled within the correct operating range in order to obtain sound deposits having uniform appearance and free from burning or treeing. For optimum productivity it will be desirable to operate with the maximum surface area of work consistent with the desired current density and the available current. In practice, the size, shape or weight of the work may limit the surface area that can be loaded. In such cases, the current may need to be reduced to achieve the desired current density. The control of current density is particularly critical where work is being plated to a specified thickness and where the equipment operates on a fixed time cycle. As it is sometimes difficult to establish the surface area of the work, and consequently to compute the required current, it is common practice to control the process by voltage rather than current. This may be reasonable where the work consists of components of similar characteristics and where other operating parameters are unchanged. It should however be recognized that the current density is the controlling factor. The use of electronic controls can assist in controlling the current density. These include automatic current density devices on rectifiers and computer-aided controls. The latter compute and adjust the current for each load, based on the parts loaded. Temperature Changes in temperature can affect the performance of nickel plating and other process solutions. Specifically, temperature can influence the brightness range, throwing power, ductility, hardness, internal stress and burning characteristics. The use of automatic temperature controls is highly recommended, together with regular monitoring to ensure the temperature is maintained within the optimum operating range. 48 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 50 pH pH is a measure of the hydrogen ion concentration, or more simply the acidity, of a solution. In the case of nickel solutions the pH has an important influence on bath performance. The pH can affect the bright plating range, cathode efficiency, effects of impurities, throwing power, stress as well as the physical properties of the deposit. Despite the use of boric acid as a buffer, the pH continually changes. Under normal operating conditions the pH tends to rise and this must be counteracted by the addition of dilute sulphuric or hydrochloric acid. If the pH falls this will indicate either drag-in of an acid (e.g. from an acid dip) abnormal anode behavior or the use of insoluble anodes. The pH can be increased by stirring in a slurry of nickel carbonate or, less preferably, sodium hydroxide. The pH is easily determined using a pH meter or calorimetrically using indicators or pH papers. pH meters provide the most accurate measurements, but should be properly maintained and regularly calibrated. Generally, the pH of nickel solutions should be maintained within ± 0.3 units of the optimum. As the pH changes rapidly, checks should be made at least once per shift. Agitation Agitation is important to dislodge bubbles of hydrogen or air from the cathode surface, which might otherwise cause pitting. Agitation also overcomes stratification and assists in maintaining a uniform temperature throughout the solution. The agitation may be provided mechanically – as in cathode movement, or by air agitation. It is essential to monitor air agitation to ensure the effect is uniformly distributed over the work. Problems can occur due to blocking of the air holes in the submerged pipes with calcium salts or crystallized boric acid. Occasionally, problems can arise through accidental movement of the agitation lines. Filtration Continuous filtration is needed to maintain the plating solutions free of insoluble particles. These may be introduced through solid particles adhering to the work, drag-in, additions of impure chemicals, corrosion of dropped components, airborne particles, faulty anode bags, etc. Clearly, it is important to eliminate as many of the sources of insoluble particles as possible. Nevertheless the filtration must be properly maintained and controlled. The flow rate and/or pressure readings can provide guidance on the performance of the filters and the need for cleaning or replacement of the filter media. 49 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 51 The required rate of filtration partly depends on the input of contamination and also on other factors such as the thickness of nickel being plated and the type of work. For example, components with significant upward facing areas will be more susceptible to roughness than other items. Air agitated baths generally require more filtration than non-agitated or cathode agitated solutions. As a guide, most air agitated baths should be filtered at a rate that will turn the solution volume over at least once per hour and preferably 2-3 times times per hour. It is also desirable to regularly take a sample of the solution and check for solid particles. Clarity can be checked visually or by passing the sample through a filter paper and examining for particles. The operation and servicing of the filters depends to some extent on the design of the equipment. Some filters utilize replaceable cartridges or filter pads which can be obtained in a range of micron ratings. For most purposes filter media designed to remove 5 to 15 micron particles are satisfactory. In other cases such as cloth type units, it is essential to use a suitable filter aid to achieve satisfactory filtration. Filter aids are based either on diatomaceous earth or fibrous materials such as cellulose. The use of both types is often used to form a filter bed that will adhere to the filter cloths. Maintaining the Optimum Solution Composition Chemical Analysis Analytical control of the main components of nickel plating solutions is important to assist in maintaining the solution within the optimum operating range. Analysis of nickel, chloride and boric acid can be carried out using relatively simple titration methods, although modern instrumental methods are also available. Any change in the concentration of these major constituents is generally very slow and therefore they need only to be checked infrequently. Analysis for organic additives is more complex and generally requires the use of UV spectrophotometers or one or two other laboratory instruments. The concentration of carriers and stress reducing additives can be measured using these types of laboratory facilities. However it is more difficult to effectively control brighteners by analysis. While most suppliers can provide analytical procedures for such additives, the results have only limited value for production control. This is because their concentration in a production solution can change very rapidly. Also, the effect of brighteners is affected by other factors such as agitation rate, pH, purity of solution, etc. For these reasons the concentration of brighteners is usually controlled by observation of the 50 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 52 brightness of the plated articles or by controlled plating tests – refer notes following. Where required, the level of non-pitters (wetting agents) can be controlled through surface tension measurements. Analytical control can also be applied for metallic impurities. These are commonly analyzed using atomic absorption spectrophotometers. Organic impurities pose greater difficulties for the analyst although some recent developments in instrumental analysis have been used to a limited extent. Plating tests, discussed below, can provide useful information on the effects of impurities. Care must be exercised in taking samples for analysis. The only acceptable sample is one that is truly representative of the bulk of the solution. Misleading results may be obtained if samples are not drawn correctly. The solution should be at the normal operating level and well mixed before the sample is taken, particularly in non-agitated baths where considerable stratification can occur. In the rare situations where it is not practicable to stir the solution, samples may be taken using a sampling tube. Plating Tests As the performance of plating solutions can be influenced by many factors, analytical results alone may not adequately indicate the condition of the solution. It is therefore very useful to periodically carry out performance tests on production baths. Such tests enable the operator to evaluate the plate appearance, brightness range in the case of bright baths, ductility and various defects including roughness, burning, treeing, pitting, low current density, darkness, etc. It is also possible, using appropriate procedures to evaluate throwing power or covering power. The essential requirement of any plating test is to standardize conditions so that results will be reproducible. Simple beaker or small tank tests can be useful providing operating conditions are standardized, including type of test piece, temperature, agitation, size and type of anode, and the anode-cathode spacing. Methods of preparing the test piece should also be closely controlled. Bent panels of various types which incorporate high and low current density areas are often used with these beaker tests. Small scale plating tests enable the operator to test possible changes and to evaluate their effect before committing to action on the production bath. For example, the effectiveness of a projected activated carbon treatment could be quickly tested. A particularly valuable test is the Hull Cell which is illustrated in Figure 15. The Hull Cell is designed so that the current density varies from one end of the panel to the other. A single test panel can therefore demonstrate the bath performance over a wide 51 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 53 range of current densities. This makes it particularly useful for checking the bright range of bright nickel baths. At the same time the panel can be examined for low current density darkness, brittleness or other defects. As the current density range on the Hull Cell panel is often broader than that on the production components, the test may give early warning of potential problems, for example, the effects of impurities or a brightener imbalance. Measurements of throwing power are also possible using the Hull Cell. Figure 15 Hull Cell Photo courtesy of Kocour Company Typically the Hull Cell is plated at 2 amperes for 10 minutes, but this can be altered to check particular aspects. Polished brass panels are commonly used but lightly abraded steel or brass panels can be useful to evaluate levelling. Making Additions The nickel and chloride concentrations are replenished by adding the appropriate nickel salts. Table 10 lists conversion factors for nickel sulphate and nickel chloride. Boric acid will also require periodic additions based on analysis results. It is preferable to pre-dissolve all solids in a separate mixing tank and to filter this solution into the main plating tank to avoid roughness problems. If this is not possible, additions can be made directly into the plating tank in small increments when the bath is not loaded. The solution will then require thorough stirring and 52 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 54 Table 10 Nickel content of nickel salts Nickel sulphate Nickel chloride Nickel sulphamate Nickel carbonate NiSO4.6H2O NiCl2.6H2O Ni(NH2SO3)2 NiCO3 Contains 22.3% nickel Contains 24.7% nickel Contains 23.2% nickel Contains about 46% nickel filtering before recommencing production. Liquid additions can be added directly to the plating tank, but should be distributed as evenly as possible – avoiding contact with the articles being plated. Sulphuric acid (for pH adjustment) should be diluted before addition to assist in dispersion and to prevent possible oxidation of organic addition agents. Replenishing Brighteners and Addition Agents Carriers and similar organic additives are chiefly consumed through drag-out and consequently their concentrations do not change rapidly. They can therefore be replenished periodically (typically weekly or monthly, depending on production), based on analysis or on a regular schedule which has been established by experience. In contrast, the concentrations of brighteners and levelling additives can fall quite rapidly during plating. Continuous replenishment by drip feeding or by means of dosing pumps is recommended for high production installations. For lower production rates, additions should be made once or twice a shift. Dosing pumps may also be linked to ampere-hour meters. This will ensure effective control, providing the overall mix of the work being plated remains the same or similar. It should be understood that brightener consumption is partly controlled by the surface area of work being plated and will vary according to the current density and type of work. The consumption per ampere-hour will generally increase at lower current densities. Therefore, replenishment based on ampere-hours may need to be adjusted if the type of work or current density changes. 53 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 55 Control of Impurities Impurities introduced into nickel plating solutions can affect both the physical properties and the appearance of the coatings. Effective control of impurities is therefore a vital part of quality management. Measures to prevent or minimize the entry of impurities should be the first priority. While this is largely a case of good housekeeping, a knowledge of the types of impurities, their effects and sources will assist in developing an effective control program. Types of Impurities Insoluble Impurities: Insolubles may cause roughness – particularly on shelf areas. These may derive from a number of sources including airborne dust, abrasives, anode fines (introduced through torn or faulty anode bags) and impure chemicals. They may also result from precipitation of metallic impurities. For example, iron if oxidized to the ferric state (as will usually occur in air agitated baths) may precipitate as ferric hydroxide at pH values above 4.5. Metallic Impurities: Metallic impurities are frequently introduced through corrosive attack on unplated areas of the work or from articles accidentally allowed to fall to the bottom of the plating tank and not promptly removed. Metallics can also be introduced through drag-in from preceding processes (particularly if rack coatings are not properly maintained or if the rinsing is inadequate) or from impure chemical additions. Typical effects of common metallic impurities are summarized below. Iron: Soluble iron may cause hazes or pitting and a reduction in ductility. As mentioned above, iron may also precipitate as ferric hydroxide, causing fine roughness. Aluminium and silicon: May cause high current density haze or very fine roughness, often described as stardust or salt and pepper. Calcium: Calcium, which may build up through the use of hard water, causes needle-like roughness due to precipitation of calcium sulphate when the calcium content exceeds the saturation point of 0.5 g/l at 60°C. Copper, cadmium, lead, tin and zinc: These metals tend to preferentially deposit in low current density areas, causing haze and dark or black deposits. Chromium: When introduced as hexavalent chromium (often through carry-over of chromic acid by damaged rack coatings), chromium will cause high current density gassing, dark streaks or prevent deposition at low current density. However, hexavalent chromium may be reduced to the trivalent state by reacting with organic additives. The reduced chromium produces similar effects to iron, aluminium and silicon. Manganese: May cause a reduction in levelling of bright deposits. 54 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 56 Organic Impurities: Organic impurities may result from contamination of the solution with oils or greases. These can enter through dripping from overhead equipment or carried over on the work due to poor cleaning. Other common sources are buffing compounds, lubricants/sizing from anode bags and unsuitable tank linings or hoses, etc. Additionally, organics can originate from oxidation or breakdown of organic additives. It might be noted that some earlier levelling agents (for example coumarin) produced undesirable reduction products which adversely affected the deposit properties. However this is usually not a problem with modern systems. Oils, greases, waxes being dispersed as droplets or surface oil slicks, can cause pitting. Organics (soluble) may produce hazes or cloudiness in bright deposits or degrade mechanical properties of the coatings. Dissolved Air or Gases: Dissolved air or carbon dioxide can cause a type of pitting characterized by a teardrop pattern. The usual source of dissolved air is entrapment in the filter system due to faulty pumps or valves or to the suction hose being too close to the air agitation pipes. Carbon dioxide can be introduced from additions of nickel carbonate to raise the pH. In both cases the gases can be purged by heating above the operating temperature for several hours, preferably with the air agitation operating. Purification Procedures Even when solution contamination is minimized through good operating practices, most nickel solutions will require either continuous or periodic batch treatments to remove impurities. Continuous filtration will generally remove suspended matter, but batch filtration into a separate tank may be necessary from time to time. During such pump-out the bottom of the plating tank and any submerged fittings should be thoroughly cleaned. Generally, anode bags would be serviced at the same time. Removal of Metallic Impurities The two most common purification procedures for removing metallic impurities are low current density electrolysis or "plating out" and high pH treatments. "Plating out" consists of plating onto sheets or scrap at current densities appreciably below the normal operating range. It will be noted from the earlier discussion that a number of common metallic impurities, including copper, zinc, lead and tin, produce dark deposits at lower current densities. This effect is due to the higher proportion 55 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 57 of contaminant being codeposited with the nickel at these low current densities. By plating at current densities around 0.2 to 0.5 A/dm2 it is therefore possible to remove the impurities with a minimum loss of nickel. The plating out sheets are often corrugated (say 75mm corrugations) to provide a large surface area together with a range of low current densities. Although the removal of impurities is most efficient on an ampere-hour basis at these low current densities, the overall current is restricted by the area of sheets that can be accommodated. If the level of contamination is particularly high it may therefore be necessary to employ somewhat higher currents and sacrifice more nickel to achieve faster removal of the impurity. To be effective it is essential to provide adequate solution movement over the plate-out sheets. Continuous plating out is beneficial in plants subject to high rates of contamination as for example, where large volumes of zinc diecast components are being plated. This is achieved by continuously circulating the solution through a plate-out cell attached to the plating tank. High pH Treatments: Iron, aluminium and silicon can be precipitated as their hydroxides, at a pH of 5.0 to 5.5 and subsequently removed by filtration. The procedure involves transferring the solution to a treatment tank, heating to 66°C and stirring in a slurry of nickel carbonate until the required pH is achieved. The solution should then be allowed to settle for 8 to 16 hours before filtering back into the plating tank. Iron is most effectively removed if it is in the ferric state. Hydrogen peroxide may be added, if desired, to oxidize any ferrous iron. Peroxide can also assist in destroying organics but its use should be first approved by the brightener supplier. However in air agitated baths the oxygen in the air is usually sufficient to oxidize the iron. The precipitated hydroxides often absorb or occlude other contaminants which makes a high pH treatment particularly effective as a general purification procedure. Other Methods for Controlling Metallic Impurities: As an alternative to removal, it is possible in some cases, to complex or sequester the unwanted metals. Various organic products based on citrates, gluconates or benzene sulphinates are available as proprietary products which will assist in overcoming the effects of metals such as iron and zinc. Sodium fluoroborate has also been used to control the effects of iron. Another approach is to apply an insoluble powder, nickel dithiocarbamate, to the filter. This material is claimed to remove some common metallic contaminants through an ion-exchange mechanism. 56 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 58 Removal of Organic Impurities A wide range of organics can be removed by using activated carbon (charcoal). Since the organics are absorbed onto the surface of the carbon, best results will be achieved with finely powdered grades which offer the largest surface area. Only grades specifically recommended for electroplating should be used. For batch treatments the solution should be transferred to a separate treatment tank and the activated carbon stirred in. The quantity required is best determined by a laboratory test, but is typically 4 to 8 g/l. The temperature is normally raised to around 66°C. The solution should be agitated for one hour and then allowed to settle for 8 to 16 hours before being filtered back into the plating tank. Care should be taken to ensure that the fine particles of carbon are fully retained on the filter, as any entering the plating solution will cause roughness. It is usually helpful to draw off from just below the surface, to avoid disturbing the settled carbon. Not all organics are readily absorbed by activated carbon. In some cases the organic impurities can be converted to a form more easily removed by carbon through first oxidizing with hydrogen peroxide or potassium permanganate. Before using either of these oxidation procedures advice should be sought from the brightener supplier as these can react with the additives. Permanganate is now rarely used with bright nickel solutions. In difficult cases it is usually preferable to avoid permanganate and, if necessary, carry out two carbon treatments which can sometimes be more effective than one heavy treatment. Activated carbon will also remove some addition agents, which must be replenished before plating is recommenced. The loss will vary considerably with the type of addition agents. Some modern brighteners are not appreciably removed by carbon absorption. Non-pitting agents are generally rapidly absorbed. With many bright nickel processes it is useful to circulate the solution continuously over a bed of activated carbon on the filter. Provided the carbon is renewed regularly at fairly frequent intervals, this continuous treatment will maintain the solution in good condition with respect to organic impurities. Filter cartridges containing activated carbon may also be used for continuous purification where this type of filtration equipment is installed. However, the cost may be higher. 57 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 59 Chapter 10 TROUBLE-SHOOTING As with any electroplating operation, nickel plating processes may experience problems from time to time. The difficulty may directly involve the nickel plating bath or may be caused by the pre- or post-treatment stages, racking, electrical problems or equipment faults. It is essential that the plating supervisor develops skills in isolating the fault and taking appropriate corrective action. This section covers the identification of defects and guidance on trouble-shooting techniques. Common Types of Defects in Nickel Plating and Their Causes Roughness Roughness occurs when suspended particles co-deposit with the nickel. It will tend to be most pronounced on upward facing horizontal surfaces or "shelf " areas of the work. The suspended matter may be introduced from various sources including airborne dusts, undissolved chemicals (particularly boric acid), abrasive particles adhering to the work as a result of poor cleaning, impure chemicals or from anode fines (from torn or unsatisfactory anode bags). Additionally, suspended matter may form in the nickel solution through precipitation due to drag-in of incompatible solutions or introduction of metallic impurities which can form insoluble hydroxides (for example iron), or by crystallization (for example calcium sulphate). Another potential source is oxidation of organic additives by chlorine liberated at insoluble anodes. Pitting Pitting is generally caused by either oil-like globules or gas bubbles (air or hydrogen) adhering to the surface during deposition. In the former case, the contaminant may be dispersed in the plating solution or alternatively be present on the work surface due to problems in the pre-treatment cycle. Adherent hydrogen bubbles can result from too low a pH, solution imbalance, contamination or low concentration of non-pitting additives (wetting agents). Dissolved air introduced through the filter system can also cause pitting. Pits in the nickel deposit may also be the result of pitting or porosity in the substrate or in underlying electrodeposits. 58 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 60 Occasionally pits will be formed by insoluble particles initially adhering to the work surface and subsequently washing off as the plating proceeds. Star Dust (Also referred to as ‘Salt and Pepper’) These terms refer to extremely fine forms of roughness. ‘Star Dust’ is commonly caused by contamination of the nickel solution with aluminium or silicon. The problem has also been associated with impurities in the rinse water. Burning Burning may occur on edges and extremities of the work (high current density areas) if the applied current is too high for the size and type of load. Burning on the bottom parts of a rack may occur if the full current load is applied as the rack is lowered into the plating tank This can be prevented by applying a reduced voltage to the rack during immersion or by re-positioning anodes away from the entry point. Burning may be aggravated by low temperatures or solution imbalance. Poor Adhesion / Blistering Lack of adhesion may be indicated by blistering, or by peeling when the plated component is subjected to mechanical deformation, heating or through failure to pass standard adhesion tests. In some cases the problem may only manifest itself after chromium plating. This is due to the forces induced by the highly stressed chromium deposit. Adhesion problems are nearly always caused by deficiencies in the pre-treatment operations, such as incomplete removal of greases, oils, dirt or oxides. Other pre-treatment problems include the formation of metal soaps from polishing compounds, silicic acid films from acids reacting with silicated cleaning solutions and immersion copper deposits from contaminated acid dips or pickling solutions. It should be noted that adhesion failures do not necessarily occur between the substrate and the nickel plate. With composite coatings failure may be between the substrate and undercoat or between an undercoat and the nickel. Possible adhesion problems between nickel layers is discussed in Chapter 11. 59 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 61 Lack of Brightness / Poor Levelling / Dark Streaking / Uneven Appearance Appearance problems apply particularly to bright or decorative plating but, even for purely functional applications, non-uniform color or texture may be a cause for rejection. Further, the abnormality may be an indication of solution imbalance, incorrect operating parameters or solution contamination. Refer also to Chapters covering "Decorative Plating" and "Testing Procedures for Nickel Electrodeposits." Brittleness Poor ductility or brittleness can occur due to solution imbalance (particularly high chloride levels), effects of impurities or, in the case of bright baths, excess brighteners. Trouble-Shooting Techniques Before discussing specific techniques it is worth noting that experience is by far the most valuable tool a trouble-shooter can possess. It is therefore vital to become fully familiar with every aspect of the operation when the line is working smoothly. By ‘walking the line’ and taking note of instrument settings, agitation rates, filter operation, solution levels, appearance of work at each stage, etc., you can readily build experience. Having an intimate knowledge of the plating line will expedite solutions to future problems, by highlighting any changes from normal operation. When a problem does arise, a great deal of time and frustration can be saved by applying a systematic approach to the investigation. The essential steps in trouble-shooting are: Define Exactly What the Fault Is To give a few simple examples: • Is • Is the speckled effect a problem of roughness or pitting? the work being rejected due to a general lack of brightness, inadequate levelling, presence of a haze or bloom, or perhaps due to dull patches which might indicate a pre-treatment problem? in the case of an adhesion problem, is the nickel coating peeling from the substrate or from a copper undercoat? • Or, 60 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:27 PM Page 62 Investigate the Frequency and Distribution of the Defect What percentage of the work exhibits the defect? If less than 100%, look for any pattern of distribution. For example are the defects found – only on some specific components, on all types of work, only on certain batches of work, at certain times during the day, on every load, on every second (third, etc.) load, on certain positions on a rack, on particular parts of the component, or on some other specific pattern? This type of investigation can provide valuable clues as to the source of the difficulty. Just one example will suffice. Assume you are investigating a roughness problem in a plating line that has two cells for copper plating and three cells for nickel plating. You note that all types of work are affected but only on every second flight bar. This would immediately suggest that the roughness is originating in one of the two copper cells rather than in the nickel. The roughness might not have been easily seen at the copper stage due to the lower level of brightness. Check Out Possible Factors • Process solutions operating outside their specific ranges of concentration or operating parameters. of process solutions or rinses. problems – torn anode bags, poor contacts, low nickel level in baskets, solution level over top of baskets. recent changes in nature of work or operating procedures. problems – racks, barrels, electrical contacts, ancillary equipment. • Contamination • Anode • Any • Equipment Isolate the Cause Use the information gathered to establish possible causes and, when necessary, run trials. Take corrective action Take the appropriate action to overcome the problem and to prevent it from recurring. 61 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:28 PM Page 63 Chapter 11 PRACTICAL TIPS Effective Racking for Electroplating Although components are sometimes wired for electroplating (suspended on copper wires), this method has several drawbacks. It is difficult to ensure that the components are correctly positioned in relation to the anodes, it is wasteful of nickel and the wires may tend to swing due to the agitation. Additionally, wire marks are often a problem. If wiring is selected, it is much preferred to attach the wires across a support frame. This allows the total cathode area (and hence, the current density) to be accurately controlled and also eliminates the problem of swinging. Figure 16 Plating rack specifically designed for automotive wheels Photo courtesy of Associated Rack Corporation 62 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:28 PM Page 64 The preferred approach is to employ suitably designed plating racks. There are a number of essential aspects to consider in the design of plating racks. • The rack must be capable of carrying the maximum current without overheating. For nickel/chromium plating the chromium plating stage will require considerably more current than the nickel and this must be taken into account when designing the rack. • The contacts with the cathode rod or flight bar must be designed to provide good electrical contact. V-type contacts are generally preferred. • The rack tips or prongs must be designed to provide positive suspension of the components and good electrical contact. Special consideration is required when designing the tips for plating on plastics to avoid burn off of the thin metallized film. • Wherever possible the rack tips should be positioned in recessed areas of the work to avoid nodular build up on the tips. • Consideration should also be given to avoiding contact marks on significant surfaces of the work. • The rack tips are commonly fabricated from stainless steel to facilitate stripping. • Rack coatings (typically plastisols) should be continuous and free of pores with only the contact points exposed. Care and Maintenance of Plating Racks It is vital that plating racks are maintained in good condition if they are to perform satisfactorily. Appropriate storage of racks is important to avoid accidental damage – racks should be hung from rails rather than placed on the floor. Racks should be inspected regularly. Damaged coatings can cause considerable problems including entrapment and carry-over of process solutions and/or metal build up on the racks. Rack tips may become loose, leading to poor or intermittent contact. Any such damage should be attended to without delay. Excessive buildup of metal on the rack tips or prongs must be prevented by regular stripping. Mechanical removal should be avoided because of the likely damage to the racks. Nickel can be stripped either by chemical immersion using nitric acid-based strippers or anodically in proprietary electrolytic rack strippers. These anodic strippers are particularly effective if applied after each process cycle. It should be emphasized that proper attention to rack stripping is an essential part of process control. 63 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:28 PM Page 65 Reducing Solution Losses For both economic and environmental reasons, it makes sense to reduce solution losses. Losses can result from various causes including: • Leakage from defective valves, pumps or other equipment. • Spillage due to careless handling, unsupported hoses, overflowing of tanks, etc. • Filter cleaning and servicing – where applicable, the use of suitable drip trays below the filters can be helpful in recovering solutions that have drained from the filters during filter maintenance. • Carry over of process solutions. This can be a major source of solution losses but carry over losses can be reduced in various ways: - First, ensure that parts are racked to allow free drainage, avoiding retention of solutions in cup-shaped or similar areas of the work. - Next, increase the drain time if possible. - In the case of barrel plating, use cylinders with the largest acceptable size of holes and/or, where possible, rotate the cylinder during the lift transfer. • Purification procedures. Many purification procedures for nickel plating involve pumping to a treatment tank for high pH or carbon treatment followed by settling and finally filtering back into the plating tank. Unless care is taken, significant solution losses can occur during these operations. In particular, nickel solution can be retained in the sludge. Good practice involves drawing off the clear solution without disturbing the settled solids. Depending on the equipment available, various techniques can be used including gradually lowering the suction hose as the level falls to disturb the sludge as little as possible. Even so, the remaining sludge will contain valuable plating solution. One way to recover much of this solution is to transfer the sludge to a suitable drum where it can be allowed to settle further, thus permitting more solution to be drawn off. If available, the solids can also be removed by centrifuging or filtering. Avoiding Adhesion Problems Between the Semi-Bright and Bright Nickel Coatings When Processing Dual-Layer Nickel Under normal operating conditions the adhesion between the semi-bright and bright nickel coatings will be excellent. However the problem can occur if the semi-bright nickel deposit is allowed to become passive. Passivity can result if the nickel is exposed to the air or immersed in a rinse bath for extended periods. Passivity can also be caused by part of the nickel coating becoming anodic (even for a second or so) due to some "bi-polar" effect. 64 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:28 PM Page 66 For example (particularly in conveyor type plants), the work rack can be affected by bi-polar conditions as it exits the semi-bright tank or as it enters the bright nickel tank (i.e. when contact has been broken). Several approaches may be made to eliminate this bi-polar effect (e.g. use a "live" exit and/or entry or re-position the anodes to avoid the possibility of current flowing between the rack and anode before the rack is fully immersed and contact has been effected). How to Avoid Chromium Problems in Decorative Nickel / Chromium Plating "Chrome Blows" and "Misplates" A common problem with chromium plating is poor coverage of the chromium, particularly around holes (although it may also be experienced in recesses and rough areas). This is generally due to the formation of hydrogen gas pockets and the upward sweep or "blow" of the gas from these areas. The problem can be overcome by suspending the articles in such a manner that gas pockets are avoided. It is often also necessary to plug all holes and seams. The chromium coverage into difficult areas can sometimes be improved by briefly "striking" the work at a higher voltage, before reducing to the normal voltage for the balance of the plating time. "Whitewashing" and "False Burns" These terms refer to irregular white patches or streaks which are sometimes experienced when plating bright chromium over nickel. The problem is caused by passivity in the nickel. The passivity can result from various conditions, but is most frequently the result of a portion of the nickel surface becoming anodic even for an extremely short period. This can occur if the component or rack becomes bi-polar. A typical situation, in a conveyor type automatic machine, is where a section of the rack load becomes briefly bi-polar, either as the work exits the nickel or enters the chromium bath. The false burn may appear on the lower trailing corner of the rack, when the bi-polarity occurs during exit from the nickel and on the lower leading corner of the rack if the bi-polarity is happening on entry to the chromium. Where this is the problem, live leads on exit and/or entry should be fitted. Passivity can also arise due to excessive dwell time in the chromium solution before current is applied. Not surprisingly, any condition which makes the nickel more prone to passivity can contribute to the problem, for example high brightener concentration or high pH. 65 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:28 PM Page 67 Preventive Maintenance As in any production operation, close attention to the maintenance of equipment and process solutions will pay dividends in avoiding future problems. In electroplating, particular care should be given to the condition of all electrical connections including V-blocks, bus-bar connectors and anode contacts. Plating racks and jigs also require regular inspection and maintenance. Instruments and other control equipment should be regularly checked. Splashing or spray from chemical tanks can lead to corrosion, so regular cleaning to remove dried-on salts is essential. All spillages should be cleaned up immediately. Most items of equipment will require routine maintenance including barrels, pumps, filters, air blowers, valves, exhaust fans, exhaust ducts, fume scrubbers, heating equipment, effluent treatment probes, conveyor systems, etc. Tank linings should be inspected and repairs arranged when necessary. On the chemical side, it is important to implement a regular maintenance schedule covering all process solutions. This would include routine additions, replacement of cleaners and other pre-treatment solutions and regular purification procedures. 66 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:28 PM Page 68 Chapter 12 LOOKING AFTER THE ENVIRONMENT Throughout the world there is a growing recognition of the serious effects of pollutants on the environment and the need for industry to take a responsible role in controlling the discharge of hazardous and toxic wastes. Indeed there is now considerable public, political and regulatory attention being applied to ensure that industry reduces the level of pollutants released to the environment. In most countries there are stringent regulations specifying the permissible concentrations of metals and other toxic materials discharged to the atmosphere, rivers, streams and public owned treatment works or sewerage systems. Regulations also cover wastes sent for landfill and, in many countries, the discharger is deemed responsible for the waste from cradle to grave. The electroplating industry is often considered chemically intensive and therefore must commit considerable resources to waste management and pollution control in order to meet its environmental responsibilities. It is becoming increasingly important for waste management to encompass waste minimization and recovery techniques as well as the treatment and disposal of wastes. Waste Minimization In electroplating plants, waste products are chiefly generated through chemical leakages, floor spills, disposal of spent or contaminated solutions and by drag-over of process solutions. In the previous chapter we discussed how solution losses and drag-over could be reduced. Attention to these aspects can significantly lower the amount of toxic wastes being produced. The disposal of spent or contaminated process solutions, particularly cleaners and other pre-treatment solutions, can also represent a significant waste load. Attention should therefore be directed towards extending the life of these solutions. For example, the buildup of contaminants can be reduced by simple means such as the skimming of cleaners to remove oils and the immediate removal of dropped articles from acid dips. Chemical control and good housekeeping can also contribute to minimizing the need to dispose of process solutions. 67 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:28 PM Page 69 Recovery Techniques Concentrate Return Methods One approach for recovering nickel in an electroplating operation is to concentrate the rinse water and to return the concentrated solution back into the plating tank. The use of multiple counterflow rinses significantly reduces the required flow of water and means that the first rinse following the plating bath is relatively concentrated. This may be fed back into the plating tank to replace evaporation losses. However, as the rate of evaporation from nickel solutions is not particularly high, some additional form of concentration is generally needed. The most interesting techniques for electroplating include evaporation, reverse osmosis and electrodialysis. Figure 17 Multi-station counterflow rinse tank Direction of work flow Water in Water out Before discussing these techniques it is important to note that any concentration process inevitably returns impurities and brightener reduction products to the plating solution as well as the nickel salts. This may necessitate additional purification procedures which, in some cases, may result in some losses of nickel or generate additional waste. 68 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:28 PM Page 70 The return of concentrates can also lead to a build-up of nickel in the solution. This is the result of the anode efficiency being 100% while the cathode efficiency is somewhat lower. In the normal course of events, the gain in nickel concentration may be offset by dragout. The return of concentrate causes the nickel content to rise. Another potential problem is a build up of sodium in the nickel solution. This can occur where the carriers or stress control additives are based on sodium compounds such as sodium saccharin. These limitations need to be considered when implementing a recovery system based on the return of concentrates. Of the concentration techniques available, evaporation is perhaps the simplest and has been applied widely in electroplating operations, particularly to chromium plating. Energy costs need to be considered. Reverse osmosis has also been available for many years. The main limitation is it cannot produce highly concentrated streams and there may be insufficient loss through normal evaporation, to accommodate the direct return of the concentrate. Electrodialysis has low energy consumption and can produce concentrated streams. Against this is a relatively high maintenance cost. An interesting feature of this technology is that it may be applied for the continuous removal of impurities from bright nickel solutions by circulating the nickel solution slowly through the unit. Non-return Methods There are also recovery techniques which do not involve the return of concentrates. These non-return methods obviate any concern as to the accumulation of impurities or primary metal in the bath. Essentially these techniques involve recovering metal from the rinse waters without return to the plating bath. The outflow from counterflow rinses is directed to a recovery unit and finally discharged to the waste treatment plant after the valuable metal has been removed. The recovery method is generally based on electrowinning or electrolytic metal recovery. In order to produce a saleable product, the recovered metal should be in the form of a solid slab or sheet. Equipment capable of recovering metal in this form generally utilizes some form of rotating cathode or other means of achieving high agitation rates. Waste Treatment The conventional treatment of nickel-containing rinse waters, consists of pH adjustment to 9.3 - 10.0 to precipitate the nickel as nickel hydroxide. This is followed by flocculation, clarification and the production of a wet sludge. Some form of sludge dewatering is generally employed to facilitate handling and to reduce shipment and disposal costs. 69 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:28 PM Page 71 Close monitoring of the pH is essential to obtain satisfactory flocculation and to meet the acceptance limits for discharge of the treated effluent. The presence of complexing or chelating agents can inhibit the removal of nickel from the waste stream. These can originate from pre-treatment solutions and to meet the stringent discharge requirements for nickel it may be necessary to segregate the nickel rinse waters or to modify the formulation of cleaners to remove the effects of these complexants. Nickel plating facilities often incorporate cyanide-based solutions such as copper plating, and chromium plating solutions which contain hexavalent chromium. Rinse waters from such solutions must be segregated and treated separately before being mixed with the nickel waste stream. Cyanides must be oxidized, usually by chlorination, and hexavalent chromium reduced to trivalent using sulphur dioxide or metabisulphites. The disposal of spent or contaminated solutions can be expensive and troublesome. A common approach is to slowly feed the concentrated solution into the effluent stream. Care should however be exercised to ensure that this does not affect the flocculation process. The design of waste treatment plants is critical to their ability to consistently meet the regulated discharge limits. Equally important is the need to provide ongoing maintenance and monitoring of the operation. Disposal of Sludges and Solid Wastes Increasingly stringent regulations covering the disposal of waste products to landfill, are being enforced by local authorities. Generally, metal-bearing sludges including nickel, are treated as regulated wastes and their disposal is strictly controlled. Concern is based on the possibility of leaching toxic metals into the landfill. Recent investigations have shown that nickel sludges can be stabilized against leaching by using a dual-alkali treatment in which liquid magnesium hydroxide is used in conjunction with liquid sodium hydroxide. In some cases, nickel-bearing sludges can be recycled. To be accepted for recycling, sludges must meet certain requirements, including nickel and moisture content and impurity level. The economics obviously will depend on volumes and transport costs. 70 OM8285_NickelHandbook 8/28/02 1:28 PM Page 72 Chapter 13 HEALTH AND SAFETY Nickel and the nickel salts used in electroplating are not highly toxic and exposure to small amounts does not present serious health risks. Nevertheless, operators should take precautions by wearing gloves and eye protection and washing hands before eating. Prolonged exposure to nickel solutions frequently causes skin irritation or dermatitis. People who have become skin sensitized should take particular care to avoid contact with nickel and its compounds by always wearing work gloves and immediately washing one’s hands in the event of accidental contact. For some individuals, contact dermatitis can be caused through the wearing of jewellery which contains nickel. For this reason, nickel plating or nickel undercoats under gold plate should not be used on jewellery items normally worn next to the skin. It should also be noted that a number of hazardous or corrosive chemicals are used in the pre-treatment and other operations associated with nickel plating. These must be handled and stored in accordance with regulations and good operating practice. 71 OM8285_NickelHandbook covers 8/28/02 1:31 PM Page 3 72 OM8285_NickelHandbook covers 8/28/02 1:31 PM Page 4 ABOUT THE AUTHORS Ian Rose is a graduate in Industrial Chemistry and has spent all his career in the electroplating and metal finishing industries, both in the U.K. and Australia. He worked in electroforming R&D at EMI in London, followed by successive roles as Technical Manager with three major plating supply houses – W. Canning, then Harshaw and finally Enthone-OMI. In these positions he was responsible for all technical matters related to customer service, process control, plus the design and specification of plating installations. He has been closely involved with major facilities in the automotive, appliance and printed circuit industries. Ian has authored a number of technical papers presented at national and international metal finishing conferences, as well as being Technical Chairman for two Interfinish Congresses. He is an Honorary Member of the Australasian Institute of Metal Finishing (AIMF) and serves in the capacity of Training Officer for the Institute. Clive Whittington is a graduate metallurgist, a Chartered Professional Engineer and a Fellow of the Institute of Metal Finishing. His career spans the nickel and aluminium industries. He worked with M&T Products (now Atotech) in Australia, and then Inco throughout Asia, serving nickel plating installations in the automotive and other industries including electroforming. Subsequently, he worked with Alcoa and was based in Hong Kong for many years. He is now in a sales and technical development role with OMG Nickel. Clive authored two papers on the analysis of metallic impurities in nickel plating solutions and their effects on the process. He is an Honorary Member of the Australasian Institute of Metal Finishing (AIMF) and has served many years in senior office bearer positions. Clive is also on the Council of the International Union for Surface Finishing (IUSF). OM8285_NickelHandbook covers 8/28/02 1:31 PM Page 1 Sales Office OMG Finland Oy • Ahventie 4B • P Box 46 • FIN 02171 • Espoo, Finland .O. Phone: +358 2 53 711 • Fax: +358 2 5371 2520 nickel.sales @ ...
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This note was uploaded on 03/17/2010 for the course ME ME78212 taught by Professor Prof.sulis during the Spring '10 term at Institut Teknologi Bandung.

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