Chrome plating is a finishing treatment using the electrolytic deposition of chromium. The most common form of chrome plating is the thin, decorative bright chrome, which is typically a 10-µm layer over an underlying nickel plate. When plating on iron or steel, an underlying plating of copper allows the nickel to adhere. The pores (tiny holes) in the nickel and chromium layers work to alleviate stress caused by thermal expansion mismatch but also hurt the corrosion resistance of the coating. Corrosion resistance relies on what is called the passivation layer, which is determined by the chemical composition and processing, and is damaged by cracks and pores. In a special case, micropores can help distribute the electrochemical potential that accelerates galvanic corrosion between the layers of nickel and chromium. Depending on the application, coatings of different thicknesses will require different balances of the aforementioned properties. Thin, bright chrome imparts a mirror-like finish to items such as metal furniture frames and automotive trim. Thicker deposits, up to 1000 µm, are called hard chrome and are used in industrial equipment to reduce friction and wear.
The traditional solution used for industrial hard chrome plating is made up of about 250 g/L of CrO3 and about 2.5 g/L of SO4−. In solution, the chrome exists as chromic acid, known as hexavalent chromium. A high current is used, in part to stabilize a thin layer of chromium(+2) at the surface of the plated work. Acid chrome has poor throwing power, fine details or holes are further away and receive less current resulting in poor plating.
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