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What Are Some of the Benefits of Electropolishing?

Updated on May 21, 2013
Electropolishing helps prevent rust like this from forming.
Electropolishing helps prevent rust like this from forming. | Source

If you've ever worked for a business that uses any metal machinery, you've likely dealt with rust before. If you haven't, you may have still dealt with rust before, either on your car, your tools, or the kids' swing-set in the backyard—the majority of people know how irritating it can be. If you've ever heard the term "electropolishing," though, you're probably in the minority. If you know what it is, you know what most of the benefits are. This article is for those of you who haven't really heard of electropolishing—now, you can learn about what it is and why companies use it on their machinery and tools. You can also find out about the benefits of it for non-commercial uses.

What Is It and How Does It Work?

Electropolishing is a process by which metals are polished using an electrochemical bath. During the process, metals are not only polished, but passivated—made less susceptible to things like corrosion by being made passive and less affected by outside environmental factors. Electropolishing metals typically immerses them an acidic bath that is connected to metal plates, which are then electrified. The electrical reaction causes particles on the surface of the metal to be removed, leaving behind a light coating of a metal oxide which creates a protective shell. It can be done on a variety of metals, including stainless steels, copper alloys, nickel alloys, carbon steels, tool steels, aluminum, titanium, and more.

What Is It Used For?

Many different businesses and industries use electropolishing, including the medical, dental, and pharmaceutical industries, the food and beverage industry, the automotive and aerospace industries, and the appliance and electronics industries. Since electropolishing steel makes it resistant to corrosion, the process is ideal for applications in industries that not only utilize metals, but ones that need those metal products to stay in optimal shape. With things like medical applications, electropolishing ensures that metals don't have any jagged edges (in applications like these when precision is a virtue, like in surgical uses, even the slightest difference in surface shape can be problematic) and also prevents things like rust and corrosion. Keeping metals at their peak quality is a desirable feature for many different industries. But besides making the metals resistant to corrosion, what are some other benefits of the process?

Shiny, Attractive Appearance

The electropolishing process enhances the appearance of metal products. Because the finish of the metal is leveled out, deburred and stripped of surface imperfections, the metal is especially shiny and clean-looking. Electropolishing steel removes uneven surfaces from metal parts, but it also removes imperfections like stains, heat discoloration, welding marks, and other scratches. Since the finished product is so bright and shiny, this is an ideal process for the auto industry, where high-shine is a desired feature in car parts.

Rust-Resistant

Resistance to corrosion is one thing, but metals that have been electropolished are also resistant to rusting. Since rust can quickly deteriorate the quality of a metal, this is a critical process, and electropolishing makes metals considerably more resistant to rusting. Generally speaking, when you see rust, you only see 30% of it—similar to icebergs—and there can be a lot more deterioration that you can't see. Naturally, preventing this from happening is a good thing, and can extend the life of machinery, tools, and other metal products.

Bacteria-Resistant

Electropolished surfaces resist stains and bacteria, making it ideal for the food & beverage, medical, and pharmaceutical industries. Metals in the medical industry need to be able to be sterilized, and if there are inconsistencies on the surface, sterilization may not be possible. Similarly, food and beverage machinery should maintain a high level of cleanliness, and again, if the surfaces are uneven in any way, it is a lot harder to keep them clean.

Strength

Since a major cause of metal fatigue is a concentration of stress caused by surface imperfections on the metal, electropolishing is ideal for lengthening the life of a metal part. When a metal is electropolished, the surface defects that are otherwise detrimental to a part's integrity are removed. For example, when dealing with a spring—a part that sees a lot of movement and is especially vulnerable to stress-cracking and deterioration at stress points—this process strengthens the part significantly. After electropolishing, metal fatigue is greatly decreased.

In general, electropolishing is a process that is highly beneficial both for the metals and for the companies who use it. It makes the products more resistant to rust, corrosion, and bacteria, creates a shiny, clean look, and increases a product's strength and resistance to metal fatigue. It's no surprise that so many industries choose to use electropolishing to extend the life of the metal parts, tools, and machinery they use.

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