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Episode 23: An Interview With Brad Durkin, technical director for the Electroless Nickel Conference 2022

Electroless Nickel Conference 2022 will take place October 11-13 at the Omni Severin in Indianapolis, Indiana. Learn more about the event in this interview with ENC22 technical director Brad Durkin.


electroplating, metal finishing

Brad Durkin is the technical director for the Electroless Nickel Conference 2022.

Final preparations are underway for Electroless Nickel Conference 2022, presented by Products Finishing and Gardner Business Media. Taking place October 11-13 in Indianapolis, Ind., the conference is the first of its kind for the EN industry since 2010 and offers attendees a wealth of electroless nickel education and networking opportunities. Industry veteran Brad Durkin is serving as the technical director for the event. With more than 35 years of industry experience, including his role as technical director for the EN 2007 Conference, Durkin provides a wealth of knowledge and an unrivaled vision for the ENC22 technical program. PF sat down with Durkin to talk about EN technology and what the conference has to offer. 

*Excerpt appears below; stream to listen to the full interview above or download wherever you get your podcasts.

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Would you mind offering a quick explanation of electroless nickel (EN) technology for those who are newer to it or thinking of adding it to their offerings?

Electroless nickel technology as a plating system, and its resulting deposits, are much different than electrolytic nickel plating in a couple of ways. EN plating uses nickel anodes, a conductive plating solution with about 75 grams per liter of nickel metal, different additives that help characterize the deposit, and a DC rectifier to provide the energy for dissolving the nickel from the anodes and to the system that actually puts the nickel on the parts.

In any electroplating situation using electric current, there are high current density areas and low current density areas of the parts where the nickel thickness and the quality of the nickel deposit can vary depending on how the parts are racked or fixtured. EN technology is less reliant on racking details compared to electrolytic nickel — that’s one of its biggest benefits and features.

With electroless nickel technology, we have a six gram per liter nickel metal conductive plating solution, but instead of a DC rectifier, we use chemical energy and heat to drive the chemical reactions to deposit an alloy of nickel and phosphorus, which is much different from a deposit standpoint than pure nickel. The phosphorus in the alloy comes from sodium hypophosphite, which is the chemical reducing agent that with solution operating temperatures from 185-190°F provide a form of chemical rectifier to deposit the alloy.

Another primary advantage of EN is that for parts with very complex shapes — geometries that are often difficult for electrolytic plating — you can achieve very uniform thickness, more consistency and a much better deposit.

A nickel-phos alloy can offer more durability, deposit hardness, wear resistance, and higher corrosion protection as a standalone deposit compared to electrolytic nickel that requires some other type of deposit — chromium, for example — over it to protect it. EN is ideal for many types of applications because it doesn’t necessarily require additional layers.

There’s a history of EN Conferences, and it’s been a few years since we’ve had one. What makes this a good time to revisit the topic?

Thirteen electroless nickel conferences have taken place so far since 1979, which is 43 years ago. I’ve always viewed these conferences as an important avenue for getting the EN community together to talk shop about the technology, discuss applications and build a network. Attendees can mingle with the pioneers, experts and seasoned applicators of electroless nickel to educate themselves, create a network and help them solve problems. Between the advisory committee members, the instructors and the speakers that we have included in this program, ENC22 offers more than 400 years of EN experience in the room that's available for you to tap into.

How will the conference address some of the challenges and opportunities facing the industry today?

We've got three talks covering the range of economic challenges facing applicators for our industry. But even basic commodity chemicals for cleaning and activation can be problematic. We’ll look at recent global impacts and their effects on pricing and availability of raw materials important to the technology. There will also be an update on the nickel supply chain today and how it might look in the near future. In addition, the conference will include an updated state of the EN industry discussion covering industry challenges including labor shortages, high cost of energy, raw materials, shipping regulation, and other current economic conditions which cause problems for our industry.

So, why are some of the opportunities for nickel-phos important? Because it’s an alloy, the deposits are very beneficial for final layer coating systems that can stand alone for providing wear and corrosion applications.

Traditionally automotive, military and aerospace have used EN deposits. Even NASA and their contractors realize the benefits of EN for space applications, including the Mars Exploration Program.

EN deposits are also effective as an integrated layer in a system — so not just standalone. They work well by themselves, but in an integrated system, they work equally as well — especially for complex-shaped parts where the inside and outside surfaces need to be coated and protected.

For electrolytic nickel plating on plastics, electroless nickel technology is important for the initial metallization of the plastic. That’s another big use that’s grown over the years.

Communication companies and cell phone base stations benefit from a layer of electroless nickel and silver electrolytic silver on a very highly machine complex geometry. EN is ideal for applications where light metal substrates are required. With the need for high heat resistance, automotive turbocharger systems can benefit from the durability of electroless nickel. Electronic systems continue to shrink, requiring coating systems that can deposit in very small spaces. During the COVID pandemic, we learned a lot about the importance of anti-microbial systems and for medical applications. Electric vehicles and the electrical systems on these vehicles are growing in demand.

Electroless nickel deposits will continue to play a role in all of these platforms.


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