Author: Hitachi High-Tech Analytical Science
The automotive market has always been a huge industry for metal finishing. And this is not likely to change any time soon – automotive coatings revenue is expected to exceed $27 billion by 2022. However, there is change within the automotive industry, with environmental demands sparking rapid change and innovation that will have an impact on those who supply plated components to the automotive market.
The road to low-weight vehicles
When you think of new developments within the automotive industry, one of the most obvious is the electric car. Many of the mainstream car manufacturers now offer pure electric or hybrid cars, and charging stations are a common sight. The fastest growth in the electric vehicle sector is projected to be from ‘light electric vehicles’, LEVs. These weigh less than 100kg, and include e-bikes. Globally, this small electric vehicle market is predicted to reach $28 billion by 2024 as emission targets become tighter.
However, the internal combustion engine is yet not extinct, and the focus for most vehicles is fuel efficiency. One of the best ways to make fuel go further is simply to make the vehicle lighter. To do this manufacturers are turning to lightweight innovative materials such as plastic, and increasing their use of lightweight materials throughout the vehicle. One such material is magnesium alloy, which is one of the lightest structural materials available.
Magnesium alloys have been used for wheels for decades. In fact, the magnesium alloy wheel market alone is expected to increase sharply over the next few years. A robust parts market and an increase in motorsport in developing countries are increasing the need for high quality magnesium alloy wheels. The expected growth rate is a staggering CAGR of 20.4% by 2021.
Today, the lightweight and strong nature of magnesium alloy is being used for brake systems, power steering and support brackets and housings. But, the material has a major drawback, it’s highly reactive and corrodes very quickly, especially under the conditions found in vehicles.
Plating on magnesium alloy
To be viable for use in cars, parts made from magnesium alloy need to be plated with zinc, nickel or chrome to protect them from rapid corrosion. And, in the case of alloy wheels, to make sure they look good. This is good news for plating suppliers. However, plating on magnesium is definitely more of a challenge than other substrates. As magnesium is highly reactive, it can be difficult to achieve a reliable, high quality finish. Preparing and cleaning the magnesium-based substrate before the plating process is essential for a good finish.
While plating on magnesium alloy isn’t for everyone, if you do go down that route, it’s going to be a growing industry for the years to come. Ensuring a consistent, high quality coating will be a fundamental requirement of manufacturers. Hitachi’s XRF equipment can help you ensure your plating process is delivering high quality results for every batch.
For more information on how to use XRF equipment for good quality control for your plating processes, please get in touch. You can find out more information on our range of XRF analysers suitable for plated metal thickness measurements here.