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Crystals, Hydrogen Embrittlement and Filtration


Electrodeposited metal is formed by aggregation of crystals. Cast metals have a much larger crystalline structure than do the cold applied electroplated metals. In electroplating, the initial layers of the deposited metal will assume the grain of the base metal. Continued electroplating will cause the deposited metal to assume its normal crystalline shape. The deposit is said to be “crystalline” when the crystal structure of the plate is visible to the naked eye. The deposit is said to be “finely crystalline” where the crystallic structure can only be observed under a microscope. In order to achieve a smooth bright finish, the finely crystalline structure must be achieved. Additive agents improve the brightness of the plate by helping to produce a finely crystalline structure. Nickel brighteners are one such example. usually, electroplated metals have a satin appearance and either additives or buffing must be employed to achieve a bright appearance.


Hydrogen given off at the cathode can cause hydrogen embrittlement of the base metal and the deposit. This can cause the base metal or deposit to become brittle and crack under stress. The embrittlement may be overcome in the plating process by heat treatment, which drives off entrapped hydrogen. This is widely used for hard chromium plating. For decorative plating, embrittlement should not best a problem unless the workpiece is given excessive treatment in the pickling vat. The workpiece should be prepared and treated such that excessive cleaning and pickling are not used. Steels that have been hard chromium plated can be relieved of the entrapped hydrogen by heating to 375 degrees for three hours or more. Under the microscope, chromium will be seen to have a cracked surface which is permeable to the hydrogen and will allow it to escape when heated as described.


Impurities in the plating baths must be removed to prevent spoiling of the final finished surface. The solution is pumped from the tank through a filter of activated carbon or other materials and then pumped back into the tank. Filtration generally involves two processes. Organic impurities are removed by an activated carbon treatment and solid impurities are removed by passing the solution through filters. The pumps and filters used are constructed and coated with corrosion resistant materials, i.e., polypropylene. Some metallic impurities are removed by addition of chemicals that cause the impurities to precipitate out of solution or to be filtered out, and/or by using what is known as a dummying process. Both of these processes will be covered in subsequent sections of this manual. Activated carbon should never be used in the chromic acid vat. Chromic acid is normally not filtered. The best advice is to work with your supplier (see supplier’s list) for your particular application. He will be able to advise you of the correct type of filtration for a given bath.

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