Conductivity plays a vital role in many industries, including electronics, aerospace and telecommunications. However, there are actually multiple kinds of conductivity. Thermal conductivity refers to a material’s ability to transmit heat, while electrical conductivity refers to a material’s ability to allow an electrical current to pass through without resistance. In general, materials that exhibit high thermal conductivity also have high electrical conductivity.
Conductivity varies between different materials and based on external conditions. Some of the factors impacting conductivity include shape, size, temperature and external electromagnetic fields. Impurities in a substance can also hinder electron flow and decrease conductivity.
Most metals conduct heat and electricity to some degree, but some metals are more conductive than others. As a result, conductivity is an important factor to consider when electroplating. If you want a final product that can conduct heat or electricity well, you will need to choose a conductive metal coating that will stand up to the unique demands of your application.
Six of the Most Conductive Metal Coatings Available
Choosing a metal with the right level of conductivity can make or break a product or component’s functional success. To help you evaluate your options, we have created this guide to the most conductive metals used to electroplate onto substrates in industrial industries. The six most conductive metals to consider include:
- Silver: The single most conductive metal, silver conducts heat and electricity efficiently thanks to its unique crystal structure and single valence electron. Silver offers low contact wear resistance and excellent optical reflectivity, making it ideal for coating contacts, mirrors and conductors in telecom applications. However, silver coatings also tarnish easily, which is why they are used less often than copper and gold coatings.
- Copper: Like silver, copper’s single valence electron makes it a highly conductive metal. It also offers good corrosion resistance. Copper coatings find use in semiconductors, printed circuit boards and other applications in which electrical conductivity is important.
- Gold: Gold’s high conductivity combined with its corrosion resistance, wear resistance and stable contact resistance make it ideal for coating semiconductors, connectors, printed circuits and etched circuits. If you are willing to accept the higher price, gold will usually offer the greatest benefits for products requiring conductivity.
- Zinc: Although zinc is significantly less conductive than gold, copper and silver, it can be an affordable alternative to these more expensive metals. Zinc offers good conductivity and great durability.
- Nickel: Another conductive metal, nickel is typically applied to the surface of a component to add thickness and increase resistance to wear and corrosion. You might choose nickel coatings for challenging industrial and military applications.
- Platinum: Platinum is a precious metal often used to provide a protective coating for other metals that corrode easily. Platinum’s extremely high melting point also makes it suitable for applications that require high thermal conductivity.
At SPC, we can coat products and components with all of these highly conductive metals. If you are unsure which option will best meet your requirements, our team of surface finishing experts will be happy to assist you.
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Sharretts Plating Company is a full-service finishing company that has been innovating within the electroplating industry for over 90 years. To learn more about the conductive metal coatings we offer, or to receive knowledgeable answers to other electroplating questions, please fill out our online contact form today.