Software Simulates Electroplating

Finite-element analysis can improve coating uniformity
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Achieving a uniform finish on complex electroplated components can sometimes be a trial-and-error process that generates a lot of waste as the plating technician struggles to find the right processing conditions.

But plating simulation software can minimize the struggle, speed process development, and reduce scrap, according to London-based company HNKTech.

The company says its finite-element analysis software for plating simulation produces accurate coating uniformity in electroplating with no specialized training required.

The package, a customized user interface (CUI), provides a user-friendly interface that allows users with only limited training to build a FEA model of their parts. Configurations are customized to the component, enabling users to change the size of the plating jig and electrode distances easily via the CUI while the results are generated.

Based on input variables including part geometric profile, material properties, and boundary conditions, the software creates a density model that simulates the electroplating process based on these variables. The model then displays the predicted plating thickness and uniformity by mapping the current density field to determine the amount of plating material deposited on various areas of the component.

To use the package, engineers enter part geometry data using either the software’s 3-D modeling capability or by importing the file in IGES, STEP, or DXF formats. The components are then modeled, and users input processing conditions such as voltage and conductivity. The mesh common to all FEA applications is then applied, creating the elements to be analyzed. Finite-element analysis of the component and input conditions results in creation of a density model of the deposited material.

Engineers can use the software to review the density model and make changes to input variables including the positioning of the jig, voltage, time and temperature. The simulation is re-run until users are satisfied with the thickness and uniformity predicted. Variables from the simulation are then implemented on the plating line. According to HNKTech, studies have shown that the variation in thickness and uniformity between what is predicted and what is actually achieved in plating is to the value of 95% accuracy.

HNKTech’s Alistair Russell says the package has been tested with success in several electroplating applications. “Improving electroplating quality not only drives down operating costs such as trial-and-error and machine polishing, but also reduces plating time requirements,” Russell says.

According to Russell, application successes have included increased landing gear component efficiency in the aerospace industry and precision plating of automotive bearings and pistons. “Design companies have also taken up the technology, because it allows them to accurately analyze the effect that different coating thicknesses have on the functioning of their design concepts,” he adds.

HNKTech says FEA technology is also applicable for simulation of other finishing processes, including plasma spray and physical vapor deposition. The company also performs plating FEA on a consulting basis, providing details on how to set up the jig and its various components to create highly accurate plating uniformity from the initial process.