Everything that sparkles, glitters and shines attracts the attention of us humans. Not for nothing are products containing attractive metal-look components in vogue, and often perceived to be of high quality. Cars and electrical devices, the kitchen and the bathroom all contain fine chrome-look plastic parts. The commonest chrome plating methods however pose hazards to the environment and people, especially the chromium (VI) compounds used in galvanic coatings. From 2017, the European Union REACH regulation shall prohibit the use of chromium (VI) compounds. Oerlikon Balzer’s new ePD technology metallizes plastic parts in an environmentally and health-friendly way.
Metallized plastic parts have the same high quality appeal as chromium-plated metal components. To date, galvanic processes have been chiefly used in their manufacture: this involves the application of metal ions to plastic parts in an electrolytic bath. Galvanization however requires both hexavalent chromium (CrVI) and nickel.
The INUBIA system allows seamless integration of ePD technology into the industry’s production lines.
Manufacturers from the automotive, electronics and sanitary industries are accordingly searching for sustainable alternatives. Oerlikon Balzers ePD technology enables eco-friendly, cost-efficient and resource conserving metallization of plastic parts. ePD moreover allows plastic parts to be given not only a high-gloss or matte metallic appearance, but also attractive metallic colour variations, as well as functional features, such as configurable light or radio transparency. The highest functional and decorative demands of industry and consumers are thus exceeded in many areas.
The so-called ePD process (embedded PVD for Design Parts) is environmentally-friendly, and requires no harmful chromium compounds or nickel. ePD generates no heavy metal waste or contaminated water. “We are working to get the European Chemical Agency ECHA, which is responsible for REACH implementation, to recognize ePD as an alternative process to galvanization and are confident of success,” said Rüdiger Schäfer, General Manager ePD at Oerlikon Balzers, confidently.
The ePD process applies three layers, with the metal layer sandwiched between two layers of lacquer: the lowest layer smooths out unevenness created by injection moulding, whilst the upper lacquer layer guarantees effective protection against environmental factors. The sandwiched metal layer is applied using the PVD process (Physical Vapour Deposition) which uses only eco-friendly substances. The process is furthermore resource-conserving. The applied metallic shiny surface is only around 0.2 micrometres thick. Galvanic coatings, in contrast, are up to 60 micrometres thick. ePD-coated plastic parts are, moreover, readily recyclable at the end of their product life cycle.
Zanini, a Spanish automotive supplier, already has an INUBIA P6, a fully automated painting line, and can thus offer ePD technology licensed from Oerlikon Balzers. “We see this as the beginning of a successful collaboration, as we plan to extend our capacities based on Oerlikon Balzers‘ ePD technology within further systems in Europe, the USA and China in accordance with market needs,” said Xavier Serra Monté, Manufacturing and Engineering Director at Zanini, convinced of the advantages provided by ePD.
German Nanogate AG, a specialist for high-performance coatings is also betting on sustainable and environmentally friendly know-how from Liechtenstein: it will soon commission an INUBIA system. So equipped, Nanogate will be able to service the automotive market with metallised decorations and panels in large quantities. The system used by Nanogate has a modular design and provides the company with an individualized gateway to the technology. This modular approach simultaneously provides a great deal of flexibility for the future: Nanogate can extend the system at any time to increase productivity.
Oerlikon Balzers is betting that the ePD process will become the new industry standard for the metallization of plastic components over the coming years. “This is in every respect a substitute technology with an enormous potential in a strongly growing market,” summed up Rüdiger Schäfer.