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National Center for Manufacturing Sciences

Quality Insider

Electroplating Breakthrough With No-Mask Conforming Anodes

Revolutionizes the time-consuming, inefficient, and toxic process

Published: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - 04:30

We don’t often pause to consider electroplating, but the fact is, today’s world would be impossible without it. Cadmium, zinc, gold, silver, platinum, titanium, and chrome are some of the metals often used in the process. Despite its ubiquitous role in manufacturing, the process and technology for metal electroplating has remained largely unchanged for the past 100 years.

The basic electroplating process consists of taking a base part and carefully masking off any areas needing protection from the plating process, using tape and wax. Then the part is inserted into a metal-containing solution, and electricity is applied around a metallic anode. Hours or days later, the part is plated. Although safety and environmental hazards have been slightly reduced, electroplating remains:

• Time-consuming. Masking takes hours and requires the best platers in a shop.
• Inefficient. As much as 90 percent of the electrical power used to plate is wasted
• Dangerous. Plating baths can be incredibly toxic, and so can the maskant that is used.


There has to be a better way.


Working in tandem with the Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD), Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) West, the Applied Technology Council, and CAI Resources Inc., the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) managed a research and development project to address electroplating’s cost and environmental issues with a single, powerful solution. Called a “no-mask conforming anode,” it eliminates the masking step altogether. For each part to be plated, custom-made, acid-proof PVC masking is incorporated into the anode itself, which is configured to the specific part shape. This increases speed and uniformity of the metal deposit. Areas that won’t be plated remain protected and do not electrically communicate with the plating bath. Parts can even be plated outside a tank, with plating fluid pumped through at high speed to realize an optimal metal coat with almost no danger of hydrogen embrittlement. This reduces energy and toxic chemical use by eliminating the typical, in-tank processing facility.

During this three-phase project, the team designed and implemented several no-mask anodes for hard chromium- and nickel-plated parts. These were selected based on their volume, long plating cycles, labor-intensive masking and machining, and relatively high reject or rework rates. Additionally, one part, the CH-47 Chinook rotor blade tip, was selected because no repair process existed at all; damaged parts were discarded and replaced at a cost of $258,000 annually.

By the end of the project, the new tooling had been incorporated into the each of the facility’s electroplating operations, as well as to facilities in Warner Robbins, Anniston, and Cherry Point. 

Pilots for these no-mask anodes were conducted at CCAD and FRC Southwest, and the results were nothing short of astonishing:

• 95-percent reduction in preplating part preparation
• 45-percent reduction in plating time
• 78-percent reduction in scrap or reject parts
• 50-percent increase in plating tank capacity, improving overall throughput
• $990,000 in immediate savings from the two most recent pilot parts tested


As impressive as these achievements are, one final item must not be forgotten: the technology completely eliminates the mountains of used maskant, which had to be disposed of as hazardous waste so toxic that even brief exposure could lead to serious injury or environmental catastrophe. The overall reduction in hazardous waste is enormous.

The team estimates that if no-mask conforming anodes were deployed across the Department of Defense, a savings of more than $50 million could result during the next three years alone, with an overall process time improvement of 35 percent to 50 percent. This all translates into improved readiness for U.S. military personnel. As a direct result of this Commercial Technologies for Maintenance Activities (CTMA) project, Anniston Army Depot, Cherry Point, Warner Robins Air Logistics Center (ALC), and FRC East have been provided with production-ready tooling, which has generated an additional $7.28 million in savings to date.

Visit www.ncms.org/NoMaskShowcase/Player.html to view two videos on this exciting manufacturing breakthrough.


About The Author

National Center for Manufacturing Sciences’s picture

National Center for Manufacturing Sciences

The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) is the largest collaborative research and development consortium in North America. It is dedicated to driving innovation in commercial, defense, and robotics manufacturing. NCMS has 25 years of experience in the formation and management of complex, multipartner collaborative R&D programs, and is backed by corporate members representing virtually every manufacturing sector.