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Copper or nickel activation prior to plating

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Q. Hello guys, how often do I need to replenish/make up our 40L activation tank after copper plating? We usually plate screws around 3 x 8mm 15 kilos load per barrel -- much appreciate your help.

Rafael Lapina Eusebio
electro plating operator - City of Bacoor [Philippines]
December 14, 2021

A. Hi Rafael. Many plating lines have only rinsing (no activation) between copper and nickel plating, so I don't think it's going to be easy to determine how critical the chemistry of your activation step is. But drag-out from the activation tank will bring dissolved copper into your nickel tank.

Actually, I think the best answer is to concentrate on keeping the rinsing time as short as possible so there is very little passivation and less need for activation, then keep the activation time as short as possible ... and only after that try to track how much copper is in the activation tank and set up a schedule to dump it before it reaches the point where too much copper is impeding its function and dragging too much copper into the nickel tank.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
December 2021

⇩ Closely related postings, oldest first ⇩

Q. Hi,

I'm Jerwin, I have a project in electroplating (tin plating, base material nickel plated copper alloy) and I have seen few steps and I'm trying to eliminate or simplify things further. One of the operations is activation prior plating. I need to understand how to activate copper prior to tin plating. How does it work? Do we need such operation if we are plating bare copper? Is there anyone can discuss the importance of activation of copper?

Jerwin C. Separa
Semiconductor Assembly - Taguig City, Philippines

simultaneous replies

A. The activation step removes oxides prior to subsequent plating; if you skip this step you will see poor adhesion. Activation consists of a dip in an acid with the type/concentration determined by the chemistry of the subsequent plating bath.

James Totter
James Totter, CEF
- Tallahassee, Florida


A. Activation of nickel/copper means to remove nickel or copper oxide layer which form during water rinse and air exposure. 5% sulfuric acid is good enough to remove copper oxide while bifluoride salt is commonly used to remove nickel oxide.

Should passivated copper and nickel not being activated prior electroplating, the plating deposit may not have a good adhesion to base metal and appearance of plating deposit will be affected also.

David Shiu
David Shiu
- Singapore


A. Hi Jerwin,

Do you mean you want to know activation of nickel prior to tin plating? It is important for you to know first if the nickel plating over copper is by electroless or electrolytic deposition. Activation will depend on the manner nickel was plated. Copper activation is much easier than nickel. Activation is important to ensure proper adhesion of the plated metal over the base material. it is important in any plating activity.


Germie Maravilla
- Philippines

Q. Hi,
I'm Ph.D student. I study on depositing nickel barrier (prior to tin plating) on leaded bronze and have also above indicated adhesion problem. I know that precleaning and pretreatment steps are very important. in order to solve it I'm searching the most appropriate activating solutions.
Is there anyone who suggest me the suitable pretreatment conditions and etching acid type.
Thanks in advance.

sermin d.
- Turkey
January 29, 2010

A. Hi, Sermin. The previous advice is applicable, but your substrate is leaded bronze (unlike the copper of the original inquiry), and this will usually require preparation with fluoboric acid because the fluoride ion is required to activate lead.

You may find letters 45354 and 29782 helpful for your situation. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
January 30, 2010

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