Electro Plating of Onyx Printed Parts

Mark3D often get asked about coating parts, so we set about finding out the best way to do it.

Electro-plating is available in many different techniques, and each method provides a solution to specific requirement. Some are used for protection against harsh conditions such as salt water or chemicals, some are used for increasing wear resistance of surfaces and some are purely aesthetic, which is the primary requirement in our case.

Our first test was to get some parts plated ‘straight off the printer’ without any further work. These results were OK, and the plating company followed a traditional process of coating the part with a conductive layer, before the final ‘top coat’. In Fig.1 we can see an example. We notice that the brightness of the chrome plating amplifies the variations in surface finish. So, it’s clear that the starting quality of the ‘substrate’ has a major effect on our finish.

Onyx is widely known for giving one of the best surface finishes available on an FFF (FDM) printer. With near perfect ‘Z’ axis walls and improved unidirectional roof fill, the results straight off the Markforged printers are good. This is important to provide us with a good starting point.

Our next test was to get a part chemically etched; this changed the surface finish sufficiently to remove the print lines and give us a better starting point. The results from this technique gave us, what turned out to be, the second best option.

By far the best finish we’ve seen, as we can see below, was achieved with a hand finished part, using rose gold. The finishing process is manual, time consuming and increases the costs dramatically. That said, the results are excellent.

The substrates (initial parts) were sanded to remove any blemishes, given a final run over with low grade wet and dry and then sprayed with a special adhesion promoting lacquer. On top of this the underlying copper layer was added and again checked for blemishes, with finishing if required. The final plating process took place over a very smooth copper layer.

So, it is possible to have beautiful, high quality plated parts if you need them. Applications such as custom bathroom equipment, automotive and aerospace parts as well as other highly visible components for end use, seems to be the top applications – but be warned, it takes time and there’s a cost to that!

Mark3D are happy to provide the names of the companies we used in making these samples upon request: Please call 0121 222 5510.

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