King Pin | Bead Electronics Blog

Component Plating and Its Impact on Manufacturing Costs

Posted by bead electronics on May 6, 2021 12:39:30 PM


Major, direct impacts on manufacturing costs fall into a few common factors like supply and demand, testing, certifications, or labor. The one that we're going to talk about falls under manufacturing processes— specifically pre-plated projects. Whether pre-plated projects are your thing, or post-plated projects, the order of operations in industrial plating matters and affects your bottom line.

Ready to find out how your manufacturing costs are affected by component plating like wire pins and hollow pins? Keep reading to find out.

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Why Base Metals Shouldn't Be Bare

Copper is an expensive material, particularly after March of 2020 when Chinese markets began to recover from their nationwide lockdown. The industry uses copper alongside zinc, to make brass. Phosphor bronze and beryllium copper (also called copper beryllium, or CuBe) are also common wire, pin, and connector materials.

These three copper alloys are the most commonly used pin base material, with brass being the least expensive. Brass has electrical properties that anyone could appreciate but doesn't have exceptional yield strength. That means the pin and connector assemblies are more subject to damage and wear. This creates a connector product suitable only for lower mating cycles.

If you're looking to get around structural problems with a pin or connector, you may be tempted by nickel alloys and ASTM 304 stainless steel. So what's wrong with just keeping these metals bare?

As far as oxidation and other mechanical qualities, they don't fare too badly. However, they're used more often in specialized Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) and Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) products.

Stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat and of electricity. Aside from that, it's a heavy base metal that adds a significant amount of weight to connectors.

If you thought copper would make an expensive base material, imagine a whole pin made of gold or silver and then multiply that by the number of connectors.

You've now increased the weight and cost of the assembly for a very moderate gain in better conductivity, less resistance, and the non-oxidizing qualities of gold.

Lower Material Costs by Electroplating

The solution to the bare metal problem is electroplating. It even saves you substantially on cost. Available plating options usually include:

  • Tin
  • Nickel
  • "Tin/Lead"
  • Silver Palladium
  • Gold

Copper and its alloys are excellent conductors with low resistance. It's also cost-effective, but it does tarnish and oxidize. Plating these pieces completely eliminates that risk and only adds a layer of gold atoms to the surface.
Successive electroplating baths must be performed to get the desired thickness of plating. If selective plating is performed (for example, gold on one end and tin on the other) you now have a component that has different qualities with the same base material.

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Depending on the plating, electroplating in general will:

  • Form a barrier of protection
  • Reduce friction
  • Enhance electrical conductivity
  • Enhance appearance
  • Prevent formation of whiskers
  • Resist heat (and therefore reduce resistance)
  • Increase hardness
  • Promote adhesion of additional electroplating processes
  • Increase thickness
  • Prevent oxidation and tarnishing
  • Reduce scratching

It would be impossible to get these specific qualities from just a bare connector. Most of all, you can now afford the qualities of tin, gold, and a copper alloy in one component.

Post-Plating Projects: Added Steps

Pre-plated projects are easier since you're dealing with a raw material product, without any of the precision manufacturing completed yet. But barrel electroplating can be an effective electroplating process for durable post-plating projects.

Components that now have their precision features may be disqualified from processes like barrel electroplating, which can abrade those features. Aside from that, depending on the material condition, you may need to pretreat parts.
An example of this could be all the oils and coolants used for lubrication and cooling when machining a workpiece. With oily buildups, oxides, residues, and scale from heat treatments, you can't just electroplate out of the gate.

To take care of these, you have:

  • Alkaline presoaks
  • Chemical descalers
  • Acid pickles
  • Sandblasting
  • Vapor blasting
  • Deoxidizers

You may need to employ one or more of these methods before plating for good adhesion. This results in not only extra time, but extra material, extra labor, and more room for failed parts.

Where post-plated projects shine is primarily in stamped metal manufacturing. The pre-plated raw material will have bare edges if there have been any cuts made.

Why Pre-Plated Projects Save on Cost

Pins that are part of pre-plated projects are likely to be ones with simple physical characteristics, like wire pins. Whether they are square wire pins or round wire pins, the wire can be plated in advance.

Solid wire pins can be pre-plated even if they receive:

  • Serrations
  • Stars
  • Barbs
  • Flats
  • Ears
  • Right angles
  • Grooves

When excessively working components, electroplating can be worn off or thinned out, exposing the base metal. However, this issue can be avoided with proper knowledge of the manufacturing processes and materials.

This is especially the case for end-to-end pins, where the reel can be pre-plated before any tooling is done. Reel to reel electroplating is the most efficient electroplating method for connectors. Wire too can be continuously electroplated and later formed by swaging.

Selective reel to reel plating is even possible for connectors. These processes have been well known for over 20 years to increase production and reduce costs.

Some projects may have specifications that rule them out for being pre-plated projects. But if you have experience, knowledge, and industry-leading manufacturing processes on your side, you can take advantage of it more often.

The biggest advantage to pre-plating your projects is that you don't need to wait for a plater to finish your component. Does delivering your product faster and getting paid quicker sound like your manufacturing dream?

Bead Electronics fabricates pins employing a high-speed cold-forming swaging process. Born out of innovative metal-working processes for fabrication in the 1920s, since then, we've made sure we're always industry pioneers.

Download our whitepaper to learn more about plating considerations.

About Bead Electronics

Bead Electronics, is a global manufacturer of electronic connector pins and has been manufacturing in Connecticut for over 100 years. The award-winning company carries over 500 patents and is best known for inventing its manufacturing process called swaging. This process is a high-speed, virtually scrap-less, cold-forming process capable of producing a wide size range of metal electronic components that are consistent and cost-effective. The family-owned business is led by its fifth generation. Click here to speak to a connector pin specialist today.

Topics: Custom Contact Pins, Custom Connectors, Bead Electronics, Manufacturing, Design for Manufacturing (DFM)