Plating 3D Prints

Looking at ways to add strength and beauty to 3D printed objects

Adam Mugavero Eyewear.

Snap. You have just tweaked, bent, a 3D printed part just a little too far and that is the noise you hear. G-r-o-a-n is the next noise you likely hear.

Most of us have done it – in testing a part or a connection, we press or pull a little too hard and our work breaks. Sure, it would help to read up on the 3D Printing Material Strengths, but with a little bit of creativity we might find another way of preserving or strengthening a special 3D printed object.

Please enter the world of plating.

Plating has been around for over 200 years. The History of Electroplating by Mary Bellis, Lifewire.com expert on Inventors, explains that “Italian chemist, Luigi Brugnatelli invented electroplating in 1805.

First, I should tell you a bit about how and why I got interested in this plating idea. 3D design software has made it easier to create objects and many people start with a blank screen, so to speak, and build a digital model, then print it.

But during the 3DRV roadtrip, I met Adam Mugavero who starts unlike the two modes above – he is a craftsman first, a woodworker, taking exotic and common woods and making one-of-a-kind works of art. He specializes in eyewear, creating what he calls “couture pieces,” that individuals commission him to make. From ebony, purpleheart, and other beautiful woods, Adam will lovingly handcraft a pair of glasses.

As I wrote in my 3DRV post: “Here is where Adam thinks and approaches creating a product differently: He does not start in digital mode.

Adam works from the physical to craft a pair of glasses, and becomes intimately comfortable with the angles, the curves, the joints; so that when he feels it is just perfect he can move from tangible to digital and then back again.”

When he is done, he 3D scans the wooden creation, imports it into Autodesk Fusion 360 to further refine and tweak the design.

He then 3D prints the model on a Stratasys Objet printer.

Here’s the coolest part and the reason for exploring plating: He will then get the plastic prints electroplated to make them stronger, more unique, and to give them the exact look he wants. He is infusing metal into plastic. He uses a whole range of different metals, working closely with his plater.

You can read the original 3DRV post here: Defining The New Age Of Eyewear With Adam Mugavero.

Electroless plating

Electroless plating uses chemical or auto-catalytic plating methods. Reactions occur in a water-based solution that causes the metal molecules to bond to the plastic molecules, more or less. Wikipedia explains that “the most common electroless plating method is electroless nickel plating, although silver, gold and copper layers can also be applied in this manner, as in the technique of Angel gilding. Unlike electroplating, it is not necessary to pass an electric current through the solution to form a deposit.”

I found an excellent video showing results, plated parts, from how one firm, RePliForm, uses an electrolytic and also an electroless plating process. They can apply different thicknesses of metal, dependent on which process is used.

They use both copper and nickel and customize the thicknesses between the two metals to achieve a certain goal for your part. Watch the video: Metal Plating 3d Printed Plastics by RePliForm.