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Electroplating Goes Beyond Making FDM and PolyJet Parts Shine

- December 20, 2017

Electroplating Goes Beyond Making FDM and PolyJet Parts Shine

Whether it is on a classic car, a bathroom fixture or kitchen appliance, electroplated parts are a common feature on a lot of parts we use every day.

Electroplating deposits a thin layer of metal on the surface of a part for decorative or functional purposes. And electroplating is not just for traditionally manufactured parts. 3D printed parts made using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and PolyJet can also be electroplated in a variety of alloys such as chromium, nickel, copper, silver and gold.

Electroplating offers a number of benefits for additive manufactured parts, including:

Increased Strength: During Stratasys material tests, FDM thermoplastics were plated with a combination of nickel and copper. Tensile strength increased 10–12 times and flexural strength showed an increase of 21-24 times when compared with non-electroplated parts.

Improved Heat Deflection: Electroplated parts can withstand hot conditions for applications that require high heat deflection and strength, such as automotive and aerospace.

Better Chemical Resistance: Electroplating a part with a metal provides a protective barrier against chemicals that might cause corrosion or damage a part’s material properties.

Aesthetic Value: In addition to the functional benefits of electroplating, it gives parts a shiny appearance without the cost of producing an actual metal part.

In order to take full advantage of electroplating your 3D printed parts, there are a few things to take into consideration when designing them:

Ensure a Smooth Finish: In order for the metal to properly adhere to the part’s surface, it must be extremely smooth. Our project engineers will work with you to optimize FDM build orientation and minimize layer lines, which need to be sanded and vapor smoothed before electroplating.

Adjust the Part Design: You will need to offset the additional thickness that comes with electroplating in the CAD model. If certain tolerances are required, wall thicknesses should also be adjusted accordingly as sanding and vapor smoothing will remove material. It is also important to emphasize critical dimensions to the service bureau, such as hole or boss diameters to ensure dimensions are maintained.

Pay Attention to Small Details: Small areas in a part’s geometry, such as undercuts and overhangs, can be hard to sand and smooth, which makes it more difficult to get the plating to adhere.

Choose the Right Material: FDM materials that have been tested for electroplating include ABS-M30, ABS and ABSplus. For PolyJet parts, electroplating can be done with rigid and ABS-like materials, including Digital ABS and the Vero family of materials.

The added strength and aesthetics of electroplated parts lend themselves well to functional prototyping and end use applications. And electroplating is just one of a number of finishing services we offer at Stratasys Direct Manufacturing to help you perfect your part.

Additive parts should be post-processed to ensure the plating surface can accommodate the electroplating process. For full-details please contact an engineer.