Uses of Electroplating

The term 'Electroplating' refers to the process of coating a metal with another metal by the process of hydrolysis. Hydrolysis is a chemical reaction in which a molecule of water breaks one or more chemical bonds. Metals are electroplated mostly for decorative purposes or for preventing the corrosion of metals. In electroplating, an electric current is used for reducing the dissolved metal cations (positively charged ions) at the cathode (negatively charged electrode) to have a lean coherent metal coating on the electrode. The process is quite often applied in the electrical oxidation of anions (negatively charges ions) on a solid substrate, for instance - in the formation of silver chloride (AgCl₃) on the silver wire to form silver chloride electrodes. 

Electroplating is primarily used to modify or enhance the surface features of an object for the prevention of corrosion or abrasion. However, the process can also be extensively used to make objects by electroforming or building their thickness.

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Working Concept of Electroplating

For having a better understanding of the process of electroplating, let us consider the example of a gold coating. In this particular scenario, we will enhance the appearance of metallic jewellery by electrodepositing a layer of gold on it. We will begin by connecting the gold plating to the anode, which is the positively charged electrode, and the jewellery to the cathode, which is the negatively charged electrode. Next, we have to immerse both of them in a highly developed electrolytic solution. During this phase, we will supply a DC voltage (direct current) to the anode, so that the gold atoms are oxidized and further get dissolved into the solution. The dissolved ions are then reduced at the cathode and consequently plated on the jewellery. Several factors influence the process of electroplating, namely, the voltage level of the DC, the chemical composition and temperature of the solution, the distance between the anode and the cathode, and the current length of time.

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Applications and Uses of Electroplating

One of the prime uses of electroplating is to coat the surface of an object with a thin layer of metal by using the electrochemical process. Besides, electroplating has a plethora of other applications in many industries. A few practical applications and uses of this process are as follows:


1. Aesthetics

It is a matter of fact that yes - some metals are way more expensive, rare, and valuable than the others, like silver and gold being the most obvious examples. Through the process of electroplating, an extremely thin layer of gold or silver can be used to coat a less valuable metal so that the final product has all the beauty and lustre at a minimal cost. Electroplating, being one of the widely implemented applications today, is extensively used for designing jewellery and other ornaments. Moreover, thin layers of chromium are also used on automobiles and appliances to give them an attractive and shiny appearance.


2. Commercial Applications

Electroplating is also used on car parts to give a smooth appearance and texture with the help of a thin layer of chromium. As the car owner's request, electroplating can also be done on various other appliances as well.


3. Prevention of Corrosion

As some metals are more prone to natural processes such as corrosion (conversion of a metal into a chemically stabilized form like oxide, hydroxide, or sulfide), electroplating protects their surface by covering them with a thin layer of metal, which shall be corrosion resistant. Copper, chromium, and nickel, which are the non-corrosive metals, are spread over corrosive metals like iron and steel to prevent corrosion.

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4. Conduction of Electricity

Metals like silver and gold are indeed excellent conductors of electricity; however, they are prohibitively expensive. Through the techniques of electroplating, little amounts of these highly conductive and precious metals can be incorporated into the integrated circuits and electrical components like computers, cell phones, amongst many others, to help in the conduction of electricity.


5. Reduces Friction

Electroplating can reduce the built-up friction of some materials such as the electrical connectors to a great extent by introducing a certain kind of metal plating on them. For instance - nickel plating improves performance and reduces friction and wear and tear.


6. Protection from Radiation

Electroplating also helps to protect the materials from various other natural phenomena, including radiation and abrasion, simply by imparting the desired features or characteristics to the surface of the metals, which in general, lack them.