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Nickel Electroforming: Additive Manufacturing at Conard
Electroforming for Precision Components
Electroforming is an extension of the electroplating process that enables the creation of solid nickel parts formed on a conductive template or mandrel. “E-formed” parts can be less than 25 microns (.001″) thick or up to 250 microns (.010″) thick. The process allows the creation of very fine details and structures. Particle sieves and nebulizer screens, micro-apertures for optronics and photonics are common applications for nickel electroforming.
By way of comparison, the practical limits for photochemical etching are 100 micron holes on 50 micron material and minimum 125 micron features on 125-micron or less material. Electroforming can produce foils less than 25 microns thick and holes under 10 microns. Generally speaking, in photo etching, feature sizes are driven by metal thickness. Holes must be at least 115% of the metal thickness, and land areas must be at least 90% of the metal thickness.
How Electroforming Works
The electroforming process starts with a nickel sulfamate plating bath, a DC power source and an anode and cathode. Templates for flat parts may be created using photo resist on metal, leaving bare metal where the nickel is to be deposited. Since we don’t have to protect the metal from attack by an etchant, the electroforming template can incorporate much finer features than can survive the chemical machining process. When the template is connected to the power, the nickel migrates towards the current and comes out of solution onto the template. The nickel continues to migrate to the current until the current is removed. The resulting solid nickel parts are then peeled from the template and are ready to use. The metal templates are reusable.
For more detailed information about the nickel electroforming process, we are pleased to share the following whitepapers from the Nickel Development Institute: