Plating 3D Prints

Ways to add strength and beauty to 3D printed objects

Snap. You have just tweaked, bent, a 3D printed part just a little too far and that is the noise you hear. Most of us have done it – in testing a part of a connection, we press or pull a little too hard and our work breaks. Sure, it would help to read up on the 3D Printing Material Strengths, but with a little bit of creativity, we might find another way of preserving or strengthening a special 3D printed object. Enter the world of plating.

3D-printed eyeglass frames.

Electroplating 3D Objects

Plating has been around for over 200 years. The History of Electroplating by Mary Bellis, expert on Inventors, explains that “Italian chemist, Luigi Brugnatelli invented electroplating in 1805.

3D design software has made it easier to create objects and many people start with a blank screen, so to speak, and build a digital model, then print it.

Artist Adam Mugavero starts unlike the two modes above – he is a craftsman first, a woodworker, taking exotic and common woods and making one-of-a-kind works of art. He specializes in eyewear, creating what he calls “couture pieces,” that individuals commission him to make. From ebony, purpleheart, and other beautiful woods, Adam will lovingly handcraft a pair of glasses.

When he is done, he 3D scans the wooden creation, imports it into Autodesk Fusion 360 to further refine and tweak the design. He then 3D prints the model on a Stratasys Objet printer.

Here’s the coolest part and the reason for exploring plating: He will then get the plastic prints electroplated to make them stronger, more unique, and to give them the exact look he wants. He is infusing metal into plastic. He uses a whole range of different metals, working closely with his plater.

Electroless Plating

Electroless plating uses chemical or auto-catalytic plating methods. Reactions occur in a water-based solution that causes the metal molecules to bond to the plastic molecules, more or less. Wikipedia explains that “the most common electroless plating method is electroless nickel plating, although silver, gold and copper layers can also be applied in this manner, as in the technique of Angel gilding. Unlike electroplating, it is not necessary to pass an electric current through the solution to form a deposit.”

There is an excellent video showing results, plated parts, from how one firm, RePliForm, uses an electrolytic and also an electroless plating process. They can apply different thicknesses of metal, dependent on which process is used. They use both copper and nickel and customize the thicknesses between the two metals to achieve a certain goal for your part. Watch the video: Metal Plating 3d Printed Plastics by RePliForm.

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