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Environmental Hazards of Electro-plating vs Electroless Plating

(-----) February 21, 2008

My company manufactures switching devices that employ nickel and gold plating on printed circuit boards. Some suppliers of printed circuit boards in southern China, have recently informed our company that they can no longer supply electro-plated Ni/Au coatings over copper circuits. They offer electroless or immersion plating (ENIG) as the only process they can provide. Their claim is said to be based on recent environmental laws that restrict the use of electro-plating.

We favor the electro-plated finish for certain sliding contact applications because of its superior uniformity, surface hardness, smoothness and reliable resistivity. We have had numerous performance problems associated with poor quality control on chemical plating baths as well as general deposition perfomance issues with ENIG. Our designs specifically provide for electric charge paths and circuit layouts to facilitate electro-plating.

My questions are:
1. Is there significantly greater health or environmental hazards with electro-plating vs. electroless plating?
2. Is anyone familiar with any new restrictions on electro-plated gold in China or elsewhere?
3. Is this a case of low buget suppliers not wanting to use a more expensive process? Is it more about gold recovery than hazardous processing?

If you know what is going on here, please don't avoid the technical details as we are interested in all aspects of the processes and the alternative solutions.

Mark Mehney
Product Design Engineer - Detroit, Michigan, USA

February 22, 2008

It's certainly always possible that something is going on in China that I'm not aware of, Mark, but this sounds completely bogus. Thanks for the interesting question!

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

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