Analysis of Pre-Treatment Processes to Enable Electroplating on Nitrided Steel

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstract


Nitrided steel is being used to increase the lifetime and wettability of selective soldering nozzles. In this environment, the liquid solder wets to the surface of the nozzle to enable control of the solder flow during the soldering process. Pre-treatment is a key step in the processing of parts for electroplating. Pre-treatment usually involves degreasing and acidic pickling steps in order to remove adsorbed oil-based compounds and oxides respectively. These steps ensure a well-structured and adherent electroplated coating to the part.

Surface treatments such as nitriding alter the surface composition of steels and thereby change the conductivity/surface activity. Typically, a nitrided surface contains a dual-phase surface layer followed by a diffusion zone consisting of the formed nitrides and finally a transition zone to the bulk material. Generally, this surface treatment is performed to harden materials without the risk of dimensional changes. For a selective soldering application, it reduces the dissolution of material into the solder during operation while also improving the wetting of the nozzle.

The electroplated coatings for the selective soldering nozzles consist of 10 microns of nickel and 10 microns of tin. This structure allows for near-instant wetting and use of the nozzle. Furthermore, the electroplated layers provide corrosion protection for the nozzle ensuring no oxide or scale layers will form that may require flux for cleaning.

A range of chemical and electrochemical pre-treatment steps were explored to prepare and optimally activate the nitride-hardened steel surfaces for electroplating. The processes included: hot degreasing and electrolytic degreasing with alkaline detergents; electrolytic descaling in a solution containing sodium hydroxide; chemical pre-descaling process with potassium permanganate; varying the compositions of pickling in inorganic acids; different formulations for nickel strike electrolytes for plating onto ferrous alloys.

Mass loss measurements provided an estimation of the thickness of the material removed due to acid pickling. Scanning electron microscopy was employed to assess changes in the surface due to the pre-treatment. Open circuit potential measurements were applied to measure the surface activity before any pre-treatment and also the change in surface conductivity/activity post-treatment. Nanoindentation measurements were used to assess the change in surface hardness as a result of the nitriding treatment and also to check for the presence of the remaining hardened nitrided layer after pre-treatment. Glow discharge optical emission spectroscopy was utilised to study the elemental depth profile of the nitrided parts. Crystalline structure was studied through x-ray diffraction. After pre-treatment, a Woods nickel strike was applied to prepare the surface for further electroplating with bright tin. SEM analysis of the cross-sections of the coated specimens was used to analyse the coating microstructure. Thickness of the electrodeposited coatings were confirmed with x-ray fluorescence. Thermal shock tests were performed to confirm that the adhesion of the coating was sufficient.

Approximately half of the nitrided layer was removed by pre-treatment in order to activate the surface for electroplating. More severe pre-treatment was required compared to electroplating non-hardened parts to activate the surface. Surface conductivity/surface activity was altered as measured by OCP resulting from the pre-treatment.

This work has analysed the surface modification of nitride-hardened steels during the pre-treatment steps required to initiate electroplating and has shown that it is possible to prepare nitride-treated steels for electroplating. The results can be used to develop more optimal pre-treatment processes for electroplating nitrided steels.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1259
JournalECS Meeting Abstracts
Issue numberE10
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2023
Event244th ECS Meeting - Gothenburg, Sweden, Gothenburg, Sweden
Duration: 8 Oct 202312 Oct 2023


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