Is your metal finishing business ready? Demand for plating on plastic set to increase over the next five years

Plating on plastic is one of the largest growing markets within the plating industry. Manufacturers are reducing costs by using plastic for a huge variety of parts, from car logos to washing machines. These parts are then plated with a nickel or chrome decorative finish to ensure they look good. And the paying consumer doesn’t seem to mind; by 2024 the plating on plastic market is set to reach $750 million . Here Matt Kreiner, coatings analysis expert at Hitachi-High Tech explains why you should be prepared and how XRF technology should be part of your quality control toolkit.

Huge trend in consumer-facing markets

The demand for plating on plastic is being driven by two major consumer-facing markets: automotive and home appliance.

Within the automotive industry, the increase in plated plastic components is mainly due to two reasons: firstly to reduce the weight of the vehicle to increase fuel efficiency, and secondly to reduce production costs. It’s cheaper to produce complex shapes from plastic and then plate them with nickel and chrome for a good finish. Plastic components are also less prone to corrosion and wear. In car manufacturing, plating on plastic is used for wheel covers, door handles, trims, dashboards, grilles, and many other components. The automotive segment of the plating on plastic market is expected to grow by more than 6.5% (CAGR) between now and 2024.

The global home appliance industry is expected to grow from $174 billion to $203 billion in 2023 . In this industry, plating on plastic is about keeping manufacturing costs down. Nickel and chrome plating is an inexpensive alternative to stainless steel. And, by just changing the finish, manufacturers can offer what looks like a different and exclusive product with no huge design changes. This applies to a huge range of products, from toasters to large fridge-freezers.

Chrome and nickel are the two main decorative finishes; nickel is used beneath the chrome layer, or as a complete finish. The plating technology employed is electroless nickel plating and chrome electroplating. Many plastic materials can be used, and common substrate types include: ABS, polycarbonate, polyethylenes and liquid crystal polymers.

XRF best practice for plating on plastic

With decorative plating, it’s all about quality. A poor quality finish will disappoint the consumer and damage the supplier’s reputation. As a provider of metal finishes on plastic, providing high quality components is essential.

XRF analysis is the perfect thickness measurement technique for decorative finishes as it is non-destructive, accurate and fast. However, with chrome and nickel layers over plastic, some XRF equipment can struggle to identify and measure the different materials. This is because the elements in decorative plating are very close together on the X-ray analysis spectrum. A good way to deal with this is to make sure your XRF equipment has the right type of detector. The detector type you should consider first is a silicon drift detector, or SDD detector. The SDD detector has better resolution than a traditional proportional counter, allowing you to easily see the peaks from the different metal layers. This will make it much easier for you to make sure you have the right plating thickness – essential for ensuring a high quality finish over the lifetime of the component.

Plating on plastic is a real growth opportunity for providers of metal finishes, especially if you’re already supplying the automotive and home appliance manufacturers.

If you’d like to learn more about how XRF analysis can help with your quality control, please contact us for more information. You can also check out our range of XRF analysers suitable for accurate nickel and chrome thickness measurements here.

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Date: 17 June 2019

Author: Hitachi High-Tech Analytical Science

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