How to chrome plastic: replica parts have been available in GRP for a while, but the only option been to paint them. Plastic chroming makes them look like the real thing – here’s how to do it.
Plastic chroming is used in Formula One to rapid prototype body parts, which are then typically tested in the wind tunnel to perfect the component’s aerodynamics, before being replicated as a ‘production’ part in carbon fibre. The whole process is quicker and cheaper to make, and then test within the pressures of that industry.
3D DC’s director, Graham Barton offered to demonstrate how to chrome plastic using the fibreglass three-bar grille from Old Ford Auto Services we fitted to Matt Murphy’s 100E Popular in the October 2014 issue.
Now, parts of this process are actually a bit secret, simply because they are one of the only companies in Europe doing this. They’ve invested more than your average mortgage in Surrey, so naturally, they’re a bit protective. What we got were the basics — they would simply lose you in technical jargon otherwise.
In short, this is real electro-plating on plastic — the first layer is Nickel, then Copper. In fact, the plastic component is virtually wrapped in metal. And it’s thick, too — the copper alone’s 100-120-microns thick. That may not sound a lot but it’s the thickness of a human hair — in metal plating terms though, that’s thick!
By building up several layers of copper, then flatting it back, you loose the surface imperfections. This layer provides the body of the plated process and is a bit like the primer filler stage in painting. From there, you can polish the component to perfection before the chrome coating. The polishing stage is tricky because you don’t want to over-heat the copper as it’ll simply bubble and peel off – so it really does require a lot of skill and finesse.
The final coating is genuine chrome although this area of the process is actually out-sourced. Currently chrome plating is strictly controlled; so it’s easier to get a more established company to do it; one with the necessary license!
Chrome is the tip of the iceberg, they can do loads of other coatings – copper, nickel; even Gold and Silver, plus those finishes can be modified; such as brushed nickel and coloured; an example is Technical Nickel, which is darker.
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This tech guide first appeared in the December 2014 issue of Classic Ford.
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