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Surface profile of the substrate, specifically surface activity and its receptivity to accept electroplating deposit spontaneously determines the morphology.


A deposit with good morphology will possess an adherent deposit. There is a myth and inadequate science work related to surface profile and adhesion. A few sectors do well with improving surface activity and a sector is vulnerable. This short paper intends to shine light, dissipate a myth and suggest improvements with supporting information.

 

Cleaning & Activation

It is a normal practice to blast a metal surface to improve cleanliness. This approach predates the 60s, when cleaner science had made minimal progress. Over the years proprietary plating supply houses like Atotech, MacDermid Enthone and Coventya had conducted extensive research and offer a wide array of cleaning products. We released a short paper explaining the importance of cleaning on April 1, 2019.

 

In the absence of an effective cleaning process, blasting the surface is pertinent. It is an important treatment method on applications where we require higher Ra values or unique aesthetic appeal. Rather, if one blasts a surface merely to improve adhesion, then it is time to debunk the myth! Now, I’ll back up the purpose with facts and information.

 

To get an adherent deposit the metal surface must be clean, active and receive nucleation (form a unimolecular layer) within the first 10 or 20 seconds regardless of the current distribution pattern. A spontaneous and uniform deposit formation is important. The critical nucleation time varies between substrates and the deposit element’s electrode potential.


A truly active surface allows effective nucleation.


A poor nucleation layer will disrupt crystal growth and cause re-nucleation of the crystals. This disruption leads to deposit non-coherence and inconsistency in physical characteristics, resulting in premature product failure. Impregnated blasted media is very difficult to remove completely from the surface and in most cases leaves a residue, hinders nucleation or continuity and uniformity of the deposit. An electropolished surface address this concern and enables epitaxial or pseudomorphic growth when and where applicable. This surface possess very low Ra values, are active and free from foreign materials. If it drives you to get the most adherent deposit, electropolished surface is one of the best means to achieve this endeavor.

 

electropolishing electroplating surface profile

 

Surface Profile & Adhesion


A truly active metal surface can form a thick intermetallic layer and develop a single domain deposit morphology (columnar structure) through the process. A single domain columnar structure deposit will possess a distinct grain boundary.


 

This mechanism is not independent of process control. The author of this paper had conducted extensive research over a decade on this matter, and so did a few other scientists from our society during the 80s and till now. A deposit with an intermetallic layer forms the most adherent deposit. In order for a non-electropolished surface to form an intermetallic layer, it must possess an active surface. We know that an electropolished surface possess lower Ra value, but we require more controlled studies to validate the relationship between the surface profile and adhesion. On this subject, good surface profile implies a clean, smooth and active surface.

 

Morphology & Physical Characteristics

Most adherent deposits possess good morphology. A deposit with an intermetallic layer and undisrupted columnar structure will have greater than 20% improvement in physical characteristics such as hardness, tribology, and corrosion resistance properties. 

 

Summary

Blasting is a valuable pretreatment method, but an ambitious applicant must recognize that residue left on the surface affects the deposit characteristics and it is not a certain choice in pursuit of an adherent deposit. Electropolishing is not practical on many applications. Exceptional cleaning and activation are viable and important.

 


Accomplishing an intermetallic layer on all applications is an unreasonable expectation, but a clairvoyance can set that as an aim. This aim is akin to lean’s one-piece flow and six-sigma.


In short, be mindful of the relationship between activation, morphology and physical characteristics.

 

Notes:

Material scientists and electrochemists now and then use different terminologies when referring to the same concept. Some terms used in this paper are no exception.


I used material scientist as a substitute for metallurgist. The global technical community replaced the term metallurgy with physical characteristics in 2010.

 

You are welcome to post a comment or email with questions to adviser@theadvint.com if a concept is abstruse.

 

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This paper is neither about politics nor about the ongoing pandemic. It is about the Hawthorne effect, the obvious but not so obvious effects, and the necessity.

 

As the title suggests the USA economic performance, DOW index gains and President Trump’s drive to stimulate the economy over the past three years is akin to the Hawthorne effect.

 

Electroplating, anodizing, electro-polishing and complex processes such as plating on plastics require leadership drive to advance operations and engineering performance, and sustain on the growth.

 


An exemplary leader sets the expectation, creates necessity, delegates responsibility and confirms accountability without micromanaging the trivial effects.


We can set a clear expectation on variables such as electrochemical variables, process yield, product flow, inventory management, employee and executive management engagement.

 

Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne effect is the improvement detected because of a noticeable observation of the process. In reality, it does not confine the effect to a process, rather it encompasses to an employee performance. In both cases, it is a top-down approach, but ends with a continuous observation from all levels. When a leader sets the expectation, consistently follows up, align the goals with his or her actions, and support their team to succeed, the team would achieve operational excellence in the long term. Observation and commitment to improvement must include all critical key performance indicators (KPI’s).

 

Obvious but not so Obvious

In retrospection, every challenge we overcame and the opportunities for improvement would become obvious to us. But this is late, as by this time we would have non-conformances, cost infliction and customer dissatisfactions. It is prudent to detect the obvious challenges and opportunities in real time. Earlier the opportunities were present, but hidden. We miss as it is not obvious!

 

If I did not communicate, think about the current COVID-19 pandemic. The issue originated in December 2019 and peaked in China during mid-February 2020. If the issue was apparent to global leaders and commoners around January, would the consequences be the same?


Revealing the hidden challenges in real time is the heart of your effort in improving effectiveness.


 

How to expose these challenges? What prevents us from reading between the lines? The answer is not simple. This would be contingent on the leader’s emotional intelligence, knowledge of the subject and availability of visual data and information on real time.

 

Electroplating anodizing process line

 

Yield Shadows Necessity

We can achieve metal finishing processes and business effectiveness by focusing first on necessity. One must focus on the necessity to perform, collaborate, and on satisfaction (employee and customer). Yield will shadow the necessity–big or small; it is for you to choose! Clear responsibility and unambiguous accountability are the means to achieve necessity.

 

An Idea in Brief

Electroplating and other metal finishing processes are complex, as we all know. Market and customers are demanding. Contingencies like the COVID-19 pandemic will subject job shops and captive platers to hardship.


At these and regular times, being conscientious of the process variables, exposing the hidden opportunities on real time, and starting with a focus on necessity are three important steps to achieve effectiveness in the manufacturing operation.


 

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Creating suspense is the best way to improve customer dissatisfaction. Unpredictability is a no lesser means towards employee dissatisfaction. Dependence on a plating troubleshooting guide helps these two effects. 

 
Why this topic?

Many Advint’s short paper readers know I consistently write on various electroplating topics for the last several months. I am also meticulously writing a course book covering all subjects related to plating. While working on these I noticed many books and articles written by consultants and experts in the past concentrated more than required on the troubleshooting guide. My mind questioned the need. And, I was musing rather shouldn’t the emphasis be on the preventative measures and good operating practices! Hence this article.

 

The aim is to change the direction and stress the importance of development concepts. If I do not convince you, build a large, complex, and automated plating line (plating on plastics or on Ti alloys) and come back to this thought!

 

Troubleshooting guides are a treasure:

The author does not aim to belittle the value of a troubleshooting guide. The focus is only on conditions where there was more implicit importance on the troubleshooting guide and less on the use of development and control tools. This is analogous to leaving the head and chasing the tail. The author had used guides (long back, not any more) and cherished the experts (and plating consultants) who wrote them. Those are valuable and must be handy, but we must use as a last option. The focus on development and control will ensure you forget the art of troubleshooting (which is a good thing). Sounds good. But how?

 

Process Development & Control (PDC) Tools:

Advint recommends using the set of 6 Process Development & Control (PDC) tools in sequence and in a cycle.


The tools are:

1) Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

2) Process Checklist

3) Variable Control Charts

4) Measures of Dispersion & Variation

5) Pareto Chart

6) Cause and Effect Analysis

 

The listed tools are part of 7 quality control (QC) tools or statistical process control (SPC) tools. Most 7 QC or SPC tools are neither control nor statistical tools. Both terms are misnomers. A few is development and verification tools.

7 QC tools Electroplating

 

FMEA:

Quality specialists recommend starting a new unit / product or a line with a design FMEA and after a year or two conduct a process FMEA. When a process is in production mode, we recommend implementing process FMEA once a year or once in two years. No less or no more! Conducting proper FMEA’s are valuable, however it is an intense process. On processes such as automotive plastic chrome plating, FMEA is indispensable.

 

Process Checklist:

The purpose of the checklist is not to provide a path-breaking solution or to prevent a major potential production issues, but a few simple and frequent checks will subtly help mitigate oversights. We recommend revising the checklist once in six months or a year. The revision must include deleting redundant checks and including necessary inspections based on the feedback received from other tools and production effectiveness.

 

Variable Control Charts:

When you require a variable to meet only specification limit, we recommend using a run chart, and when you require a variable to meet specification and control limits, use an X-Bar R chart. One must be careful to give more emphasis on control limits when using X-Bar R charts. These charts are only effective when it set up per Dr. Shewhart’s direction and with a control and reaction plan.

 

Measures of Dispersion & Variation:

Examples of measures of dispersion and variation are sample and population standard deviations, range, and process sigma or standard normal distribution. Sustained observations and effective reactions to these measures are influential. We can do most of these measurements on input variables such as analyses data.

 

Pareto Chart:

Use Pareto’s the 80/20 concept and Juran’s “the vital few and the trivial many” thinking to your benefit on plating or conversion coating applications. Periodically, we recommend isolating top 1 or 2 defect variables and conducting a cause-and-effect analysis. Review period can be monthly or quarterly based on production or quality standards. Refer to our previous post for additional information on Pareto chart.

 

Cause and Effect Analysis:

You can run fishbone or 5 Why’s analysis on Pareto classifications in the same frequency. Other than Pareto classifications, we also recommend running 5 Why’s on other deviations promptly. Here, promptly means = 2 business days. The examples of deviations include quality, customer service, environment, safety, breakdown maintenances (electrical, mechanical, and chemical), etc. You must subject any deviations which you do not feel right to the cause-and-effect analysis.

 

                      There are other beneficial quantitative techniques and total quality management tools, including 7 quality control (QC) tools available, which we did not mention in this paper. On plating, anodizing, and conversion coatings applications we recommend applicators to use the six PDC tools implemented in sequence and continuously cycle for the best results.


Use of some of these tools are not as simple as it appears, as there are tricks and there are several variables intricately involved. Advint is with you on your quality quest.


Refer to other short papers on this site or contact adviser@theadvint.com for questions or further insights.

 

End Point:

Employee satisfaction is a prerequisite for customer satisfaction. Eliminating suspense and confirming the processes are predictable using 6 PDC tools will increase satisfaction. Always keep the plating troubleshooting guide handy, but dependence or frequent use is detrimental. Prevention is better than disposition. Good operating practices and focus on the development efforts can ensure you forget the art of troubleshooting. So influential are these tools.

 

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Electroless Ni-P and Ni-B process management had improved significantly within the last two decades. In this paper I’ll write about the science of autocatalytic plating as practiced now and the criterions for advancement at a higher level.


The purpose is to offer reader’s deeper information to achieve consistent deposit physical characteristics and the functional properties of electroless nickel plating.


We will go over the functions of a reducing agent, stabilizer (or catalytic inhibitor), and complexing agent related to thermodynamic property of an electrolyte and mixed potential theory.

 

electroless nickel

 

Temperature (energy), electrolyte flow (current density), solution volume, and the concentrations balance determine the effectiveness of the deposition mechanism and consistency of the deposit in the long term. Gibbs free energy and its relationship with volume, temperature, and energy influence the required concentrations and ratios of a reducing agent, stabilizer, and the complexing agent. An understanding of Gibbs ∆G value with the stability, instability and absolute stability of the electrolyte is imperative. Per mixed potential theory, the deposition reaction is a combination of cathodic and anodic partial reactions taking place at separate electrodes. Redox potentials of sodium hypophosphite, dimethyl amine borane (DMAB), and sodium borohydride play a significant role in a reduction step and the concentrations of stabilizers and complexing agents.

 

To confirm sustained deposit characteristics, electrolysis mechanism and control or management of by products release are important. Geometrical properties such as

  • tank and pump design,
  • electrolyte volume, flow rate and pattern,
  • process control of temperature, pH, metal ion concentration, reducing agent, stabilizer, and complexing agent

will ensure stability.

 

When Gibbs free energy and partial electrode reactions (anodic and cathodic) are within the optimum range plating rate, deposit composition (Ni and P or B weight percentages), and formation of uniform eutectic compounds of Ni-P or Ni-B will be effective and consistent.  Corrosion and tribology properties depend on the consistency of the deposit composition and phase formation. Out of range ∆G value can lead to unstable or absolute stability of the electrolyte. This will lead to either electrolyte decomposition or very low plating rate. The concentrations of a reducing agent, stabilizer, and the complexing agent determine the stability of the electrolyte. Plating rate depends on electrolyte temperature and pH.

 

Summary:

 

Other than simple control and changes done to temperature and chemical constituents, due diligence on the following variables considering the aforementioned concepts will advance the attained deposit characteristics:

  1. Optimize tank design, flow pattern and temperature stratification
  2. Aim for consistent deposit composition
  3. Observe deposit phase formation and aim for consistency if it is economically viable.

One can improve the bath life and the effectiveness of any deposit by giving more attention to the fundamental concepts and conscientiousness on the input variables. 


Though the examples cited in this paper are for electroless Ni, the recommendations apply to all electroless processes including Cu, Ag, Pd, Au, etc.

 

Readers - You are welcome to post questions, comments or thoughts. 

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Many plating teams use quality control (QC) tools like process checklist, cause-and-effect analysis, Pareto chart, and failure modes and effects analysis. These tools are simple and powerful.

The purpose of using these tools is to minimize potential quality non-conformances. But, do all users attain alike results and are they able to meet the aim on most occasions? 

 

If not, why?

 

The benefit and actual result apply to the other 3 QC tools too! But, for the sake of simplicity let us discuss the four tools listed in the beginning. There are quite a few ways to optimize and implement these tools.

 

7 QC tools PDC plating

 

Below I had recommended the few simple and valuable practices for the specific tools.

 

Process Checklist:

When developing and practicing the checklist prioritizing the four features given below are significant:

 

Frequency—Relate productivity and the frequency of conducting the process checklist for optimum results.

 

Variables—Ensure the team observes important variables. The detection or measurement time of a variable must take ≤ 3 minutes. Decide the importance of a variable based on its influence of the output quality.

 

Time—Limit the time required to complete a checklist to ≤ 15 minutes.

 

Reaction Plan—Instil a mechanism to notice deviations, document, and react promptly with corrective actions. We do not require a formal correction action, but identify the cause of the effect, find a solution, and act.

The owner of the checklist must know the relationship between the reaction plan of the checklist and the preventative maintenance.

 

Cause-and-Effect-Analysis:

The effectiveness of the analysis depends on the facilitator and the team members. We must restrict the team members to ≤5. All participants must have either operations or subject knowledge of the effect(s). The facilitator must limit the duration of analysis and encourage pointed answers to the why’s.  

 

Ironically, the most common issue with this tool is working on the effects and not getting to the root cause. Though this is easily said than done, if this symptom occurs, get back to the drawing board and reflect on the team and their understanding of the tool, its limitations, and the subject.

 

Last, it is easy to come up with corrective actions, but the efforts are in vain if we do not fully implement the actions. Occasionally review previous cause-and-effect analyses and ensure the problem did not reoccur.

 

Pareto Chart:

Clarity and consistency of defects classification and the number of classes (≤ 12) observed in a Pareto chart are two crucial aspects one needs to pay attention to. Properly set up the tool, periodically use the 80 - 20 rule, and work to reduce the size of the bars. Simultaneously, work on Pareto chart and cause-and-effect analysis to achieve the best results.

 

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA):

Both design and process FMEA are influential when used timely. Allot enough time and meticulously work on all potential modes. On this blog, I will resist listing all the important features of FMEA but highlight the most important routine to follow. And, that is to identify potential failure modes in full and act on the corrective actions to minimize risks. It is a tedious process but valuable.

 

Conclusion:


This blog drives a simple point – using a tool might meet a procedural or an auditing guideline, but only effective use will confirm optimum results.


An effective method is open for discussion and an individual’s discretion, but a sustained focus on the end goal is imperative. And, the goal is to ensure the non-conformances do not repeat in the long term.

 

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Succinct articulation of information on high volume, automatic and complex plating operations are essential as there are many moving parts. A great communicator is a good human and leader, who possesses cognitive empathy for their readers or followers and colleagues. He or she will also know the importance of the receiver’s absorption of the message.

 

There are three types of communications within a plating operation:

  1. Operating procedures
  2. Written informal operating instructions (i.e. emails and uncontrolled document displays)
  3. Verbal delivery of information

Lengthy, convoluted, and incomplete procedures defeat the purpose of its creation and existence. One should not consider writing instructions as a piece of an article to show the skills of the author, rather must shift the emphasis on the readers.


electroplating lab

 

Here are a few factors influencing communication:

  • The knowledge delta between the author and the readers on a particular subject.
  • Output consistency demand and reader(s) turnover.
  • Verbose communication:
    • Eases error and rework and enhances dissatisfaction.
    • Encourages a selective reading and favorable interpretation of the message.

 

Before we look at the qualities of good communication, let us reminisce what two stalwarts of our times had said on this subject.

 

Nobel Laurette Herbert Simon once said, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. 

 

Albert Einstein related the concise expression of thought to one’s understanding of the particular subject. He said, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

 

From the readers’ perspective, focus’ is an important habit, and one shall acquaint themselves on the (focusing) ability of mercurial John Maynard Keynes.

 

Now, dive deeper and answer the below questions:

  1. Is concise expression alone enough?
  2. Don’t people forget?
  3. What is important to the author, and the reader is it always aligned?
  4. Don’t our priorities change?
  5. Doesn’t information retention power differ between people?

Here I propose a few characteristics of good communication and leave it in your able hands:

  • Enhance empathy for the reader or the follower.
  • Avoid halo effect - don’t assume and allow individual interpretation of information
  • Ensure the information is orderly, complete and easy to understand.
  • Be unambiguous about your openness to a timely revision of the procedure(s).
  • Ensure the receiver understand and agree with the message.
  • Customize information suitable to the receivers.
  • Revise, revise, revise….

 

After these steps, make communications accessible (visible and visual) and periodically (and proactively) reiterate the information.

 

Finally, in a plating operation, the operating procedures must be complete, concise, and continuously revised to reflect the present requirements. Understanding the influence and effect of empathy and focus is imperative.

 

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Formulating cleaners such as alkaline soak cleaner and electro cleaner are imperative, though not as significant and lucrative as formulating plating baths containing primary and secondary brightener systems.


Unlike quite a few decades ago, current cleaner formulations contain methodically investigated inorganic and organic ingredients which are effective and comply with the environmental regulations. 


Different sectors and industries use solvent, alkaline soak and electro cleaners uniquely. Does the industrial practice catch up with scientific advancement? Good formulations are available! Did the market seize the opportunity? 

This blog highlights the value of a good cleaner, identify a simple step in choosing a cleaner, and list a few potential ingredients and their properties. 

A carefully chosen cleaner can remove organic residues from the substrate thoroughly. Decrease the cleaning time and (or) improve cleanliness. Cut cost by increasing the cleaner life and minimize environmental impact.

 

Go over a material safety data sheet (MSDS) to select a cleaner, however, a proprietary chemical supplier could throw a curve ball. Section 2 of an MSDS must contain hazardous ingredient listed with Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) registry number and the concentration. The reader can find specific CAS related information on this link. 

 

formulating electroplating cleaners

 

Before considering the inorganic and organic ingredients, process owner must know their processes and supply chain well. Knowing and considering the substrate(s) and their corrosion properties in most cases are explicit. Sometimes information is hidden and implicit on aspects such as oils, lubricants, and kinds of paraffin used. Application time, heat treatment (if applicable) and their intricate factors on some instances might not be clear. Source and purity of water, properties such as temporary and permanent hardness are vital for the makeup of cleaner solution and rinsing.

Alkalinity, buffer, water softening, chelation, and surface tension are a few important solution properties to observe. The process owner should assess the presence and concentrations of sodium hydroxide, carbonate, phosphate, silicate, amines, and surfactants and relate to the application (s). A surfactant can be anionic, non-ionic and (or) amphoteric. It changes the surface tension and wettability of the solution.

 

Briefly put, irrespective of reasons and justifications, focussing on cleaners and improving the cleaning performance is worth the effort and not a hard nut to crack using the listed suggestions. 

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Offering timely quality at a fair price is the best way to serve customers. Isn’t this always true? Properly designing a plating process is one of the best paths to achieve this goal! 

 

If you are designing a plating or conversion coating process line, you need to make the most of the opportunity. Time and time again, we had seen limitations in our process, capacity, and capability hindering our ability to serve customers effectively on key performance indicators (KPI) such as process capability, capacity utilization, and cost per unit.

 


Key Point:

A well-designed plating process line in most cases would only require ~ 20% changes to its features in the operations phase in the long term. 


In reality, the required changes in the operations phase are seldom lesser than 20%. And, these changes are expensive, time-consuming, and in most cases the problem and the positive benefits are unknown.

 

chrome plated

 

If you are designing or redesigning a plating process line now, seize the moment. Give your best - communicate, collaborate, and think long term (5–20 years). To ensure good process design begin by improving your understanding of customers and employees. At a bird's-eye view consider aspects such as chemistry, engineering, technology, quality tools, and human factors. 

Whether your supply chain is following predictive or responsive product flow, knowing products, variants, sizes, demand and demand frequency, and types of substrates will help determine plating process layout, sequence, tank capacity, rack design, rectifier capacity and ripple factor, and the process flow. In a plating bath, the anion type used, the effectiveness of formulation, and bath stability is a few among several important variables. You should identify potential errors–human and technology-related failures and effects and prudent corrective actions must be well thought-out. NASA’s failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is one among several tools available within lean and total quality management (TQM) concepts. Breakdown and preventative maintenance, inventory management, and process control must follow instantly after completion of the design phase and the beginning of manufacturing phase, which we will discuss more in one of the later blog posts.

 

The listed variables influence quality at the design phase though there are more variables and specifics within the variables. 

 

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