Episode3:The roles played by “plating”

Plating in our day-to-day lives

Nowadays, so many types of plating are used in so many situations...

In Episode 1 and Episode 2, I talked about how plating plays an important role in countless places all around us, and how this ancient technique used since time out of mind has now become a key technology that plays an important role in the world of today. Indeed, in the modern lifestyle, it would be a challenge to try to spend even a single day without coming into contact with at least one object on which plating technology has been used.

The special characteristics of plating, including beauty, safety and functionality, play important roles in all kinds of situations—some obvious, some rather less obvious. Let’s look at the roles served by plating.

Decorative plating: A beautiful, smooth finish

Plating is beautiful, but what other purposes is it used for?

Generally speaking, the first images that come to mind in connection with “plating” are to do with decorative applications.

In recent times, plating has become widely used for accessories, furnishings and the interiors and exteriors of motor vehicles. As the word “decorative” suggests, one objective of plating such items is to give them visual appearance and a higher-quality feel. However, making objects lighter in weight is another major objective behind plating.

In motor vehicles, for example, plating is used for items like emblems, bumpers, front grilles and instrument panel frames used in vehicle interiors; making such objects entirely from metal would result in heavier vehicles, with a negative impact on both fuel consumption and driving performance (needless to say, manufacturing costs would be higher too). It is a similar story with personal accessories. Wearing heavy necklaces and earrings for any length of time is likely to feel pretty tiring for the wearer.

In other words, decorative plating is not done solely for the visual appearance and texture it creates.

Anticorrosion: Strengthening objects against rust

Ensuring safety and reliability of the “objects”

Rust develops when oxygen (O) and chlorine (Cl) in air, water and seawater bond with metal. What actually happens when metal rusts?

First and foremost, rusting makes the metal look less attractive; however, that is not the only issue. Rusting also has a major effect on the safety and reliability of the object in question. For example, when rust develops on a screw that is being used to keep something in place, the screw may cease to function properly, and this can lead to failures and accidents.

When the metal of one component rusts, the component becomes brittle and may not retain its original shape, which can have a negative impact on other components as well. Ensuring that metal items do not rust is an essential measure for maintaining the original function of objects.

Preventing iron from rusting

The metal we use most of all in industry and in our everyday lives—and the metal which is inextricably bound up with the topic of rust—is iron.

In the realm of nature, iron is found bound up with oxygen; for iron, therefore, rusting is quite simply the most natural thing in the world. When iron and oxygen atoms combine, they form a stable bond that creates a strong compound, while the bonds found within the iron itself become weaker. Hence, iron that has rusted becomes extremely brittle.

So, to ensure that iron retains its original strength and flexibility, we need to protect the surface of the iron from exposure to oxygen. This is where “plating” comes into its own.

Functionality: A wide variety of roles

Creating an entirely new aspect that makes use of the many functions of plating

The special characteristics of plating provide a wide variety of functions. These functions allow plating to play a key role in numerous domains in the modern world. We will now examine these characteristics one by one, taking a look at the role that is played by each characteristic, and some typical situations in which the characteristic in question is used.

<Electromagnetism> Used in almost all electrical products

This is one of the commonest functions for plating technology in recent years. Plating enables an item to make use of the electrical and magnetic properties of metals. Plating is used in this way in most products that use electricity, although the plating itself is often not visible from the outside.

KeywordsTypical examples of how plating is used
Electrical properties: Used in electric wiring and connecting parts.
  • Electrical conductivity
  • Electrical resistance
  • Electric wiring
  • Printed circuit boards (wiring, connection)
  • Electronic components
  • Connectors
  • Semiconductors
Magnetic properties: Magnetic properties can be imparted to an object by covering it with a metal film; alternatively, a metal film can be used to block the effects of magnetism.
  • Magnetic properties
  • Non-magnetism
  • Storage media
  • Computer/smartphone chassis (cases)

<Mechanical properties> Boosting the performance of mechanical components

Plating is also widely used in the components that are used in machines and other devices. Carrying out plating processes can impart new functions to the component itself or improve its performance.

KeywordsTypical examples of how plating is used
Micro-level properties: Used to control the surface formation at the micro level
  • Smoothness
  • Evenness
  • Dimensional precision
  • Mechanical components (gears, screws, shafts, etc.)
Hardness properties: Used to harden surfaces
  • High hardness
  • Abrasion resistance
  • Mechanical components
Lubricant properties: Plating is used to reduce resistance/friction and to give water-resistant properties to surfaces
  • Lubrication
  • Water-repellant properties
  • Mold release
  • Adherence
  • Abrasion
  • Wear parts
  • Molds
Heat-resistant properties: Plating is used to make objects resistant to high temperatures
  • Heat resistance
  • Heat conduction
  • Engine components
  • Cooking appliances
  • Heating appliances

<Other metallic properties> Adding new characteristics such as antimicrobial properties and durability

Plating is used to add new functions to products by making use of properties found in metals.

KeywordsTypical examples of how plating is used
Antimicrobial properties: Using the antimicrobial action of metal
  • Antimicrobial properties
  • Sterilization
  • Eating utensils
  • Doorknobs (door handles)
Durability: Used to ensure that products can stand up to usage under adverse conditions
  • Weather resistance
  • Chemical resistance
  • Salt water resistance
  • Laboratory instruments
  • Plants
  • Exterior construction
Optical properties: Used for purposes related to optical reflection
  • Optical reflection
  • Optical absorption
  • Reflectors
  • Optical products (cameras, telescopes, measuring instruments)

The many faces of plating in the world of today—in industry and our everyday lives

In this section, we have looked at some aspects of the many situations where plating is used today. Next time you come into contact with a household appliance or electronic product, I hope you will take the opportunity to stop and think about whether plating technology is used somewhere in it.

In particular, I hope that this section has helped you to understand the reasons why plating is known as a “manufacturing key technology,” in terms of the functions it provides. The contents introduced in the next section will delve still deeper into these functional aspects. I look forward to telling you about this.