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The Evolution and Importance of Electroplating


Although the patent for electroplating was issued in 1840, the process dates back to 1805, when Italian chemist Luigi Brugnatelli invented electroplating. Electroplating is the process by which a conductive object is coated with a layer of a different material to transfer properties of the new material to the surface of the object. It relies on electrical currents to coat the object with positive cat-ions, transferred from the positively charged anode, with the anode’s material depositing a coating on the cathode.

Discoveries Surrounding Electroplating

Several key inventions were in place before the discovery of electroplating, which played an essential role in how the electroplating process came about. In 1800, Alessandro Volta invented the voltaic pile, the first electric battery. The use of metal to transmit electricity is key in electrodeposition—it is unlikely that electroplating would have been discovered without Volta’s earlier work already in place. Brugnatelli’s early attempts at electroplating evolved until he successfully plated a thin layer of gold onto silver in 1805. It wasn’t until similar research surfaced almost forty years later, that things began to change: in 1839 in Russia and Britain, processes that highly resembled Brugnatelli’s earlier work were used to electroplate copper printing plates. The Elkingtons adapted their processes to plate silverware and manufactured decorative metal, experiencing widespread commercial success.

Recent Electroplating Trends

The process remained relatively unchanged until the 1940s when a surge in the electronics industry led to the replacement of traditional cyanide solutions with safer acid baths, at least on the commercial level. The 1970s saw the development of safer water disposal regulations and continual hardware upgrades, which streamlined the process by enabling faster and more efficient electroplating. Today, new chemical developments make it possible to electroplate a wide range of materials, including platinum and osmium. The electronics and telecommunication industries continue to rely on electroplating for products such as connectors and circuit boards.

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