ENILEX NI-500, a chemical nickel plating process that does not use nitrogen compounds

As an R&D-oriented company, the JCU Group develops products that meet the needs of society. The development of environmentally-, cost-, and health-conscious products is one of our basic strategies, and we will continue to aggressively introduce environmentally friendly products in the market. In this special feature, we would like to provide an overview of the chemical nickel plating process we have developed which enables users to reduce their environmental impact, and deliver a message from the developer.

Development Background

Most decorative parts with a metallic appearance used in automobiles, faucets, etc. are produced in a Plating-On-Plastics (POP ) method, where plastic materials such as ABS resin are plated to give them a metallic luster appearance. The POP process uses chemical nickel plating to form a nickel film on plastic materials as a base for electrolytic metal plating which makes them conductive. Conventional chemical nickel plating processes used for POP contain high concentrations of ammonia to stabilize the plating solution. However, ammonia and other nitrogen compounds have a large environmental impact, contaminating soil and water quality, as well as making wastewater treatment difficult. In fact, strict effluent regulations for ammonia have been introduced in China and other countries, and more recently, the countries have also imposed regulations on compounds containing nitrogen. It was against this background that JCU developed ENILEX NI-500, a chemical nickel plating process that contains no nitrogen compounds.

Process Features

The most significant feature of ENILEX NI-500 as mentioned above is that it uses no nitrogen compounds. Because conventional processes use large amounts of ammonia, amine compounds and other nitrogen compounds, their drawback has been that wastewater treatment was difficult. However, ENILEX NI-500 is not affected by effluent regulations because it uses neither ammonia nor any other nitrogen-containing compound. Another drawback of conventional processes was that ammonia’s strong odor made them difficult to work on. The plating solution used in the ENILEX NI-500 process is nearly odorless and can make a significant contribution to improving the work environment In addition, lead compounds were also used at times in conventional chemical nickel plating processes to improve performance. Lead has long been considered a hazardous substance and is subject to regulations such as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive ( RoHS) in Europe. ENILEX NI-500 does not use lead compounds either, giving it a smaller environmental impact than conventional chemical nickel plating. As such, it is a process that can make positive contributions to the realization of sustainable societies.

Process Performance

ENILEX NI-500 delivers performance equivalent to that of conventional chemical nickel plating processes that use nitrogen compounds, and can form a uniform nickel film over the entire surface of plastic materials that are widely used in POP. In POP, chemical nickel plating is followed by the electrolytic plating of various metals such as copper, nickel, and chromium. Processes similar to that used in conventional processes can be used in ENILEX NI-500 to give the material a uniform metallic luster appearance. Additionally, if stability is compromised in a chemical nickel plating process, metallic nickel can be deposited as impurities in the solution. The ENILEX NI-500 plating solution is as stable as conventional processes, stable enough to be used in the field. As such, ENILEX NI-500 has the great advantage of being free of nitrogen compounds, yet delivering the same performance as conventional processes.

In Closing

A nitrogen compound-free chemical nickel plating process for POP is almost unheard of in the industry. This is partly due to the fact that it is difficult to obtain sufficient performance without using nitrogen compounds, especially ammonia, in chemical nickel plating. ENILEX NI-500 achieves the same plating performance as conventional processes with the use of unique additive components that we have developed, and this proprietary technology is patent pending. The ENILEX NI-500 has been tested successfully on a pilot line at a near-mass-production scale, and we will continue to make further efforts to expand its sales.

Message from the developers

It was a great challenge to develop a method of chemical nickel plating that uses no nitrogen compounds or lead or any other regulated substance. Conventional chemical nickel plating relied on environmentally hazardous substances such as nitrogen compounds and lead to maintain the stability and performance of the plating solution. Since it had been difficult to maintain performance without these substances, a very significant challenge in our development was how to construct additive components so that the process would be able to deliver performance that would withstand the rigors of practical use. Many trials and errors were required to solve this problem without the use of environmentally harmful substances and to make a practical process that would be superior in terms of both plating performance and cost. A characteristic of ENILEX NI-500 is that it uses components with less environmental impact compared to conventional chemical nickel processes. In recent years, the SDGs and other factors have directed particular attention to environmental considerations, and this process can make a significant contribution to these efforts. In addition, they can be handled in the same way as conventional processes, so there is no compromise to productivity. We expect ENILEX NI-500 to become the new standard for chemical nickel plating going forward.

Kosuke Wakata Core Technologies Development Department