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Q. We’re use plating baths supplied by a major vendor. The brighteners and additives supplied by the vendor are expensive. Where can I find less expensive brighteners/additives for use in the plating bath? And are they patented? A.I.


A. I get many similar questions, particularly now, when the cost of plating chemistry is increasing very rapidly. I wrote the following in one of my columns back in 1997:

“There are a number of factors you must take into account when using a particular vendor’s plating bath: 1) Is the plating bath performing the way you want it to? 2) Is the plating relatively easy to control? 3) Are you getting the sales and technical support you require to maintain the plating bath and your production using the bath?

If you answer yes to these three questions, then I think the cost of the plating bath components is well worth it. If your answer is no to one or more of the above questions, then you might want to consider a new vendor. For a particular plating bath, look in the PRODUCTS FINISHING DIRECTORY AND TECHNOLOGY GUIDE under Plating Finishes or at www.pfonline.com. There are many vendors out there that sell plating bath chemicals, and you may be able to find one that can supply you with a less expensive bath. In the process of evaluating vendors, keep the above three questions in mind.

Another aspect of this issue is just how many dollars will you save by using a less expensive brightener. For example if you are paying $50/gal for a particular brightener and one gallon of this brightener allows you to plate 2000 sq ft of surface, the cost per square foot of plated surface is $0.025. If you can purchase a direct replacement for this brightener at $25/gal, the cost per square foot of plated surface is $0.0125. Your savings would be $0.0125 per square foot. Is this savings enough to go out and find a new vendor? You have to answer that question!”

I should add that nothing has really changed since I wrote the above except that the price of the materials has increased, there are fewer chemical vendors competing for your business and, in many cases, the level of technical support offered by vendors has decreased.

Regarding your second question on patents: Some brighteners and plating bath additives are patented, but most are proprietary in nature. If the additives are patented it is illegal to copy them.

If you are thinking of formulating your own additives, yes, this can be done. You can look in the old plating literature and get some ideas as to what was used in the “old days,” but I do not believe this is the best way to go. You can spend a lot of time and effort and not get material that works as well as your vendor-supplied additives. 

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