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"Electroless Nickel (EN) Plating on Leaded Steel Alloys"

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Current question:

November 2, 2021

Q. Hello, I work for an OEM manufacturer of equipment of converting equipment. We are having an issue with the plating on a rotating shaft in a rotary union which delivers a water-based lubricant to a cutting operation. The base material of the shaft is 12L14 steel, and it is plated with electroless nickel. The surfaces of the shaft which are in contact with the seals retains the nickel well, except where the seals directly contact the shaft. The void area between the seals where the lubricant travels, which are a lathe-turned finish, shows almost a complete loss of nickel after 6 weeks of use. My theory is that the material being lost from the surface in the void area is getting under the seals and causing rapid wear of the plating and into the base metal.


Since the nickel adheres well to the smooth ground surface but not to the rougher turned surface, I'm thinking that the plating in the rough area may have porosity, allowing the liquid to get behind the plating and cause corrosion.

Is there a minimum recommended surface finish to ensure a uniform layer of nickel without porosity? I realize also that a proper cleaning cycle, including fluoboric acid, is needed to remove smeared lead from all surfaces.

Mark Fritsche
- Green Bay, Wisconsin

Ed. note: While awaiting readers' replies, this thread and thread 32954, "Poor adhesion of Electroless Nickel Plating onto steel", may be helpful

Closely related Q&A's, oldest first:


Q. We need to plate Electroless Nickel onto Leaded steel alloys such as 12L17. Under the Microscope we are experiencing pits in the nickel. Can anyone suggest a preplate treatment strike? etc. We suspect the lead oxide is the cause of the problem.

Jim Kronus
- Escondido, California

"Electroless Plating"
by Mallory & Hajdu
from Abe Books

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A. Clean-Rinse-Dip in 50%/vol Fluoboric Acid-Rinse- then plate in anything. Lead forms insolubles in Sulfuric Acid and Hydrochloric Acid. Lead does not form an insoluble in Fluoboric Acid.

Ideally you would strike and/or plate in a Fluoboric Acid Matrix Nickel solution.

Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

robert probert
Robert H Probert
Robert H Probert Technical Services
supporting advertiser
Garner, North Carolina

"Chemical (Electroless) Nickel Plating"
by G. G. Gawrilov
from Abe Books

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A. I agree with the previous reply, a dip in fluoboric acid will solve your problem.

sara michaeli
sara michaeli signature
Sara Michaeli
chemical process supplier - Tel-Aviv, Israel


A. You can also overcome adhesion problems with a copper strike underlayer.

Gabriel Schonwald
Bnei Berak, Israel

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