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The part plated is the cathode, and the anode is made of the metal plated on the part. Both are submerged in an electrolyte, with a rectifier to supply direct current to the anode, oxidizing the metal molecules in solution, which allows them to dissolve into the solution. At the cathode, the dissolved metal ions in the electrolyte solution are reduced, such that they "plate out" onto the cathode. The rate at which the anode is dissolved is equal to the rate at which the cathode is plated, when current is flowing through the circuit. In this manner, the ions in the electrolyte bath are continuously replenished by the anode.

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Glossary of Electroplating Terms
Home » Glossary of Electroplating Terms

Active Anode
Anode material that has been soaked in an weak acid (Sulfamic 25 g/l, Sulfuric 10% bv, or HCl 5% bv), to remove oxides from the surface, and activate the base metal for electroplating.

Chemicals such as wetting agents, leveling agents, brighteners, and grain refiners. Wetting agents are not electrochemically active. They are adsorbed on the surface of the substrate, and slow down the diffusion of the chemicals in the bath to the surface of the substrate. Brighteners, leveling agents, and most grain refiners, are electrochemically active. Current causes them to change and some of the additive gets incorporated into the deposit, while the rest stays in solution. The portion that stays in solution is called the breakdown product. Carbon treatment is required at some point, to remove the breakdown products, as stress will go out of control otherwise.

Mechanical parallelism between anode and cathode.

Ampere Hours (Amp-Hours, AH)
An ampere-hour or amp-hour (symbol AH) is a unit of electric charge. One ampere-hour is equal to 3600 coulombs (ampere-seconds), the electric charge transferred by a steady current of one ampere for one hour. Most electroplating cycles are timed on amp-hours. To put it another way, Amp-Hours is the integration of current over time. For example: if a electrolating cell is running at 50 amps, then the Amp-Hours accumulated after 60 minutes is calculated as follows: 50 Amps * 1 Hour = 50 Amp-Hours

A negatively charged ion that migrates to a positive anode.

The electrode at which oxidation or corrosion of some component occurs (opposite of cathode). Electrons flow away from the anode in the external circuit. In the elctroplating process, anodes may also provide the raw material which keeps the electrolyte in balance by corroding charged metal ions into the solution. This is called an "active anode". (see passive anode) If the anode is used in this manner, the material of the anode must be the same as the plating material. For example, in the Nickel Sulfamate plating process, the anodes are composed of pure nickel. Some sulfer may also be incorporated in the anodes to promote good corrossion and chemical balance.

Aspect Ratio
The aspect ratio of a shape is the ratio of its longer dimension to its shorter dimension.

A spacer used in a plating bath between the anode and cathode, to direct the flow of metallic ions. Used to tighten the variation across a plated part.

The Baume scale is a pair of hydrometer scales (developed by Antoine Baume in 1768) to measure density of various liquids. One scale measures the density of liquids heavier than water and the other, liquids lighter than water. At 20C, the relationship between specific gravity (s.g.) and degrees Baume is: For liquids heavier than water: s.g. = 145 / (145 - degrees Baume).

Boric Acid
Buffers the hydrogen ion concentration (pH) in the electrolyte. If Boric was not present, the electrolyte would very quickly reach a pH of 6.0 and higher, which would precipitate nickel hydroxide, and be codeposited along with hydrogen, resulting in a green nodulation or burned deposit.

Bright Deposition
Mirror of metal deposited, Ra= 0.6 and less

Organic compounds that modify the metal deposit to achieve a desired appearance. Brighteners typically include a carrier additive, which adds sulfur to the deposit, provides better ductility, and gives a more uniform grain structure.

Carbon Filter
Filters specifically designed for the removal of organic materials. Organic matter (or organic material) is matter that has come from a once-living organism. In an electroplating solution, organic materials come from human movement within the environment, and additives used for anti-pitting, hardness, and enhancing corrosion. Carbon filtration is a age-old process to remove these materials, without destroying the electrolyte.

Cathode Head
Mounting fixture where the part plated is mounted to and grown from.

An ion having a positive charge, and moving towards a negative electrode.

Chemical Etching
Etching, also known as chemical milling, is the process of using acids, bases or other chemicals to dissolve unwanted materials such as metals or semiconductor materials. This process has been used on a wide variety of metals with depths of metal removal as large as 12mm (0.5 in). Selective attacks by the chemical reagent on different areas of the work piece surfaces, is controlled by removable layers of material called masking, or by partial immersion in the reagent.

Contamination (Heavy Metals)
Metals within a plating solution, which are other then what the solution was designed to deposit onto a cathode. The origins of these foreign metals can be from many sources. Normally LCD (Low Current Density) dummy plating will remove these metals, as they can cause stress, hardness, and ductility issues within the plated part.

The dissolution of a metal acting as an anode.

Current Density
Amperage of the electroplating current divided by the surface area of the part.

DC Plating
Electrodeposition using a DC rectifier supplying current with 5% ripple or less.

Deposition Rate
Amount of metal deposited per time.

Drag Out
Solution material that is removed with the part plated, and subsequently rinsed off.

Dummy Plating
Lower current density plating, to remove metallic contamination, and lower uncontrollable tensile stress. Dummy plating (between 1.0 - 2.0 volts), is also somewhat effective at breaking down organic contaminations.

The part plated is the cathode, and the anode is made of the metal plated on the part. Both are submerged in an electrolyte, with a rectifier to supply direct current to the anode, oxidizing the metal molecules in solution, which allows them to dissolve into the solution. At the cathode, the dissolved metal ions in the electrolyte solution are reduced, such that they "plate out" onto the cathode. The rate at which the anode is dissolved is equal to the rate at which the cathode is plated, when current is flowing through the circuit. In this manner, the ions in the electrolyte bath are continuously replenished by the anode.

Upon an existing substrate, creating a new substrate, a mirror image of the original substrate.

Electroless Nickel Plating (EN)
An auto-catalytic chemical technique used to deposit a layer of nickel-phosphorus or nickel-boron alloy on a solid work piece, such as metals or plastic. The alloys with different percentages of phosphorus, ranging from 2-5 (low phosphorus) to up to 11-14 (high phosphorus) are possible. The metallurgical properties of these alloys depend on the percentage of phosphorus.

Involves the passage of an electric current through an ionic substance that is either molten or dissolved in a suitable solvent, resulting in chemical reactions at the electrodes.

Electrolytic Cell
An electrolytic cell decomposes chemical compounds by means of electrical energy, in a process called electrolysis; the Greek word lysis means to break up.

Upon an existing substrate, creating an adherent metallic deposit, which becomes a permanent part of the original article.

Also referred to as electrochemical polishing, is an electrochemical process that removes material from a metallic work piece. It is used to polish, passivate and deburr metal parts. It is often described as the reverse of electroplating.

Also called electroextraction, is the electrodeposition of metals from their ores that have been put in solution or liquefied. In electrowinning, a current is passed from an inert anode through a liquid leach solution containing the metal, so that the metal is extracted as it is deposited in an electroplating process onto the cathode.

Separation of solids from liquids, by bypassing the liquid through a permeable medium.

The movement of a liquid through a pipe. Within an electroplating system, flow is measured by a flow sensor through the mechanical action of a paddle wheel, which translates the mechanical action into a user-readable rate of flow (liters per minute).

Frequency (PRP)
During the electrodeposition cycle, using a PRP rectifier, frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. A period, on the other hand, is a duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so a period is the reciprocal of the frequency.

Direct current electricity, when produced chemically (Luigi Galvani 1737-1798). In 1780 galvanic's was another word for "animal electricity." Prior to Galvani's death, the term was synonymous with the processes of electrodeposition.

In an electroplated part, holes completely through the part will sometimes appear. These holes are usually caused by a contaminate on the surface of the master.

Inorganic Contamination
Inorganic compounds are considered to be of a mineral, not biological, origin. The precise classification of inorganic vs. organic compounds is not that important today. Primarily because the majority of compounds today are synthetic, and not of natural origin.

To chemically alter the deposit of a plated material, such that it covers up imperfections in the base metal. Leveling additives tend to deposit higher levels of Sulfur, and are used to level-off rough spots in the topography of the mandrel.

LIGA is a German acronym for ?Lithographie, Galvanoformung, Abformung," in English: Lithography, Electroplating, and Molding. A process in microtechnology that was developed in the early 1980s by a team under the leadership of Erwin Willy Becker and Wolfgang Ehrfeld at the institute for Nuclear Process Engineering at the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center. LIGA was one of the first major techniques to allow on-demand manufacturing of high-aspect-ratio structures (structures that are much taller than wide) with lateral precision below one micrometer.

Matt Deposition
Matt of metal deposited, Ra= 1 and Above

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) (also written as micro-electro-mechanical, or MicroElectroMechanical) is the technology of the very small, and merges at the nano-scale into nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) and nanotechnology. MEMS are also referred to as micromachines (in Japan), or Micro Systems Technology - MST (in Europe). MEMS are separate and distinct from the hypothetical vision of Molecular nanotechnology or Molecular Electronics. MEMS are made up of components between 1 to 100 micrometers in size (i.e. 0.001 to 0.1 mm) and MEMS devices generally range in size from 20 micrometers (20 millionths of a meter) to a millimeter.

A secondary screen-filtering source, between the anode and cathode, to prevent anode sludge from flowing to the cathode forming nodules.

Metal Concentration (Solution)
Analyzed through a titration process. The amount of metal present in a electroplating solution that is available to deposit on the cathode.

Metal Ion
The Free metal available within a plating solution.

Organic Contamination
An organic compound is any member of a large class of chemical compounds whose molecules contain carbon. Most organic compounds are traditionally viewed as being of biological origin.

Passive Anode
The state of the metal surface of an anode, characterized by low corrosion rates, even though it is within a solution that is a strong oxidizer. Correction of this problem is immediately necessary, as the pH will be out of control and rising, and the concentration of the electrolyte will diminish rapidly as well.

Porous material, to allow solution flow, yet small enough in size, to catch particulate material. pH pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of a solution. It is defined as the cologarithm of the activity of dissolved hydrogen ions (H+). Pure water is said to be neutral, as the pH at 25C is close to 7.0. Solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic, and solutions with a pH greater than 7, are said to be basic or alkaline. Note: In chemistry, a decimal cologarithm is indicated by the letter p. For example, pH = -log10 {H+}.

Photovoltaic (PV)
The field of technology related to the application of solar cells for energy. Solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. Theory: Photons from sunlight knock electrons into a higher state of energy, creating electricity. Photovoltaic is a term which means 'the unbiased operating mode of a Photodiode, in which current through the device is entirely due to the transduced light energy.

During the plating cycle, hydrogen bubbles will form on the cathode. If the flow by the cathode face is not strong enough, or if the surfactant level is too low, the metal that is plating will deposit around the gas bubble, creating a pit.

Plating Speed
Length of time for a plating cycle to complete the process of growing a part. Speed is dependant on current set, and amp-hours.

Roughness is a measure of the texture of a surface. It is quantified by the vertical deviations of a real surface from its ideal form. If these deviations are large, the surface is rough; if they are small the surface is smooth. Roughness plays an important role in determining how a real object will interact with its environment. Rough surfaces usually wear more quickly and have higher friction coefficients than smooth surfaces. Roughness is often a good predictor of the performance of a mechanical component, since irregularities in the surface may form nucleation sites for cracks or corrosion.

RPP Plating (PRP, Reverse Pulse Plating)
Electrodeposition using a DC rectifier supplying current for a predetermined amount of time, and then reversing that current for a shorter time period, to lay down a finer grain structure, and reduce the porosity of the deposit.

Semi-Bright Deposition
Mirror of metal deposited, Ra= 0.6 and Above to Ra=1

Stag Factor (S/F)
The concentration of wetting agent in a bath is determined through measurement of the surface tension (dynes/cm) with the use of a tensiometer or stalagometer drop test. This measurement is then performed on DI water, and a comparison is made. S/F = Drops of solution / Drops of DI Water.

Sulfamic Acid
Chemical used to lower the pH in a Nickel Sulfamate solution, which tends to gradually rise over time, if left alone.

Surfactants are wetting agents that lower the surface tension of a liquid. The term 'surfactant' is a blend of "surface acting agent." Surfactants are usually organic compounds that are amphiphilic, meaning they contain both hydrophobic groups, and hydrophilic groups.

Target Amp-Hours
Amount of Amp-Hours required to reach the desired plating thickness. Example: Nickel plates 12.29 microns/hour, at 1 Amp/Dm2.

A common laboratory method of quantitative chemical analysis that is used to determine the unknown concentration of a known reactant. Because volume measurements play a key role in titration, it is also known as volumetric analysis.

Wave Form (Current)
Waveform means the shape and form of a signal such as a wave moving in a solid, liquid or gaseous medium. An instrument called an oscilloscope can be used to pictorially represent the wave, as a repeating image on a CRT or LCD screen.

Wetting Agent (Surfactant)
Wetting agents are organic surfactants added to the bath to help prevent hydrogen gas bubbles from clinging to the cathode. If not removed from the electroform, solution metals will deposit around the gas bubbles, creating pits.

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