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A World Without Electropolishing

Updated on March 19, 2013
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My husband owns a manufacturing business and talks about it at dinner everyday. I thought the time came for me to write a hub about this very different metal polishing process.

It wouldn't surprise me if you've never heard of electropolishing before now. That's okay — though you reap the benefits of electropolished metals every day, most folks have never had to make the call between mechanical polishing, passivation and, the cream of the crop, electropolishing before. But I can guarantee you profit off the finish and protection electropolishing provides on a daily basis, and a world without it would be very different indeed.

But for the unversed, let's go over the basics of electropolishing first.

So What Even Is Electropolishing?

Electropolished metal is the smoothest, cleanest and most corrosion-resistant way to finish metal. The technical process of electropolishing involves dousing the piece of metal — you can do this process on almost any alloy, from stainless steel to brass electropolishing — into an electrolyte mixture, which is then charged with a strong DC power charge. The result smoothens out the surface and removes any blemishes or damage present, leaving you with a sleek and flawless, shiny surface to be used in any number of industries and services.

From medical services to airplanes, electropolishing is used and valued all over the world. If the chemical electrochemical polishing technology suddenly vanished one day, Twilight Zone-style, in a lot of ways, the modern American would be down the river without a paddle in a whole lot of ways. Let's start with the industry that stands to lose the most without electropolished steel, and would most cause an immediately life-threatening risk to modern humanity: medical services.

Doctors without Electropolished Steel

Without electropolishing standards, and you're in need of safe surgery or an implant device like a pacemaker, you'd be in real trouble. The saws and other blades used for surgery obviously need to be completely and thoroughly sanitized to be effective and prevent any infection, and the flawless surface of electropolished stainless steel makes the blade completely passive and won't accrue any bacteria. Without these standards, the metal would deteriorate in time, and complications from surgery would like become far more common. Even the staples used in surgery are electropolished, or else a less burr-free surgical stapler might jam in the middle of the process.

Implanted devices also need oxygen-loaded electropolishing for their Nitinol and titanium; other metal polishes wouldn't be as biocompatible, and would collect bacteria and, in such moist surroundings, would corrode pretty quickly. Imagine having to have regular surgery every few months to replace the screws holding your limbs together. Sounds like a nightmare!

The Difference in the Dental Industry

My No. 1 fear in the world is going to the dentist's office. In a world without electropolished steel, I probably wouldn't ever go again, and yes, all my teeth would fall out. Sure, that might be going a little overboard, but take for instance the high-speed dental drills used by dentists everywhere: Without electropolished parts and bits, the drill wouldn't last too long safely, so your dentist could be using a corroded drill to work on your teeth! I'm cringing just thinking about it.

Airplanes and Helicopters

When you set foot onto an airplane, you're putting your life in the airplane-parts manufacturer's (very capable) hands. Aerospace industries like Boeing use electropolished parts for key devices all over their industry, from the parts holding helicopter rotors together to the all-important airplane landing gear.

Aircraft put a whole lot of strain onto each and every part they use. A mechanically polished metal would take on bacteria and metal particles that would, over time, cause cracks in the metal and make it less resistant to constant pressure. That means that, one day, an airplane without electropolished landing gear parts would give out from under all that tension, causing a very bad day for everyone. Mechanical failures in aerospace equipment is very rare today — if electropolishing standards suddenly disappeared, you could expect that number to jump up dramatically.

Your Home's Appliances

This is obviously a less life-threatening loss, but imagine for a moment a home washing machine without a shiny electropolished steel drum inside of it. In such a consistently moist environment, an unpolished metal would corrode and erode quite rapidly. When you needed to wash your clothes, you would soon be getting little flakes of the metal all over them — talk about two steps forward and one step back! Electropolishing makes a smooth and oxygen-rich sheen that is totally passive to whatever it's assaulted by.

The ice machine on your refrigerators, too, would need to be replaced quite often without electropolished parts. Ovens, too, use electropolished wire racks that prevent discoloration and collection of bacteria. A simple meal and a glass of ice water would, then, be very different without electropolishing service!

Counting Our Blessings

Thankfully, we don't have to worry about the absence of electrochemical polishing, and due to the many applications and uses for the technology, it's won't be going anywhere anytime soon. I'm sure you've picked up by now that I have a lot of enthusiasm for the electropolishing process — my husband's manufacturing business uses electropolished brass and steel every day of the week, and he says he has never had a problem with those particular parts. While another metal polishing process, like passivation, may get the basic job done, nothing can replace the perfect surface of an electropolished material. And even if you have never even heard the word "electropolished," without these materials, boy, we would be in a whole heap of trouble!

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