Recycle to Recycle: Brush Plating
Recycling is important at Semco. Rather than dispose of old graphite material, we seek it out. Companies send their spent graphite components to us rather than to a landfill. A farmer in Iowa even called us up, asking us to retrieve large pieces of graphite from his cornfield. And it isn’t just other people’s graphite that we recycle. We also recycle over 1 million lbs. of graphite dusk and chunks from our own production facility every year. In today’s graphite market, which has been thrown into mayhem with the current trade war with China and the resulting regulations on production, graphite material, in whatever form, has become a more valuable commodity, not to be wasted. Be it graphite dust, graphite plates, or old graphite electrodes, Semco probably has it in our warehouse. Usually, we can find a use for it, or give it a new home. A recent request by a small shop owner for some small graphite pieces reminded us of the great versatility of graphite and why it is important that we recycle. You never know -- someone, like this shop owner, might need a few small pieces of graphite for his brush plating business.
We should first explain what brush plating is. There are a couple of ways that metals can be plated with a coating material, often another metal (think of a gold-plated ring that is copper on the inside). First, there is immersion plating, the standard and older method. The object to be plated is immersed in a solution containing the plating metal. This method is great for getting the plating metal (such as gold) in all the tiny cracks and crevices of the object being plated, and to cover it uniformly. There are some drawbacks to this method of plating, though: you can’t be very precise with spot-plating, and you can’t plate a very large object.
Brush plating (also called selective plating), on the other hand, uses an applicator hooked up to an electrical current to brush on the plating metal. The plating tool can be both large or small, depending on the size of the object to be plated and the level of precision of the plating. Often, people who brush plate objects do so for aesthetic purposes, but brush plating is also used to enhance the surface of brand new parts or to repair worn parts and surfaces. Our caller, we were surprised to find out, would be plating old artefacts. From old tooling to various artworks, the small shop is giving old, worn, rusted objects new life, mostly as decor items, but also, in some cases, as functional objects. Our large quantity of recyclable graphite material allowed us to offer this shop owner some pieces for free. He uses the graphite pieces as electrodes. Brush plating works by using a portable power pack to provide a current to a closed circuit created when the plating tool touches the object to be plated. The brush plating requires movement between the plating tool and the part. Because of that, the electrodes must come in various shapes and sizes based on the plating machine type, as well as the size and shape of the part to be plated. The pieces we gave him easily satisfied his requirements.
We like to think of what we did for this gentleman as recycling to recycle. We were happy to help out someone else who knows that there’s always something better to do with old objects and materials than throw them in a landfill.