The term electroplating or galvanotechnics is used to describe the processes that produce metallic deposits on a self-conducting material by means of electrochemical processes. Nowadays, they are mostly used to coat surfaces.
Galvanoplasty, which was once used to create statues and monuments, is hardly used today. The technique of electroplating was made possible by the invention of batteries by Alessandro Volta, this was around the year 1800. He invented this battery in connection with the research of Luigi Galvani, who is also the eponym for today's galvanization.
During his experiments, Volta discovered, among other things, that copper precipitated on an iron rod that was connected to the negative pole of his battery and immersed in a copper sulphate bath. For this purpose he immersed a copper rod, which was connected to the positive pole, in the solution as well. This simple procedure is still used today by hobbyists to enhance workpieces with copper luster.
Later, the first documented gilding was carried out in 1805 by a student of Volta, and from 1840 the process was increasingly used industrially. From about 1850 onwards, life-size statues were produced comparatively cheaply using the process, and the triumphant advance of electroplating had begun.
Over the centuries, electroplating has developed into a mature process with numerous possible applications. In addition to plastic electroplating and the application of metallic coatings, a distinction is made between decorative and functional applications. The enhancement of surfaces is characteristic of one use of the technique. Fashionable jewellery, for example, is often gold-plated, silver-plated or coated with other metals. Typical examples of objects enhanced by electroplating are chrome-plated components in motor vehicles, silver-plated cutlery or shiny metallic plastic parts.
However, electroplating is much more important in the field of functional applications. Because the thickness of the layer can be controlled very well and is also uniform when carried out professionally, workpieces can be coated in a variety of ways. Technically, it is also possible to make plastic components electrically conductive, which expands the application area of electroplating immensely. For example, screws are galvanized for corrosion protection, machine parts are hard-chrome plated for longer durability, and electrical contacts are gold-plated, silver-plated or copper-plated for better conductivity. In the field of functional galvanoplastics, mould construction for injection moulding machines and the lithographic-galvanic impression technique, which was not invented until around 1980, can be found.
Currently, in Germany alone, the approximately 2100 registered companies in the industry have an annual turnover of 8.3 billion euros and employ around 60,000 people. Training to become an electroplater, which today is more simply called a surface coater, takes three years in Germany and four years in Switzerland. Further training to become a technician is possible, and if you have a university entrance qualification, you can also study or train as a master craftsman.