Electroless plating is an important process in printed circuit board and electronics manufacturing but typically requires temperatures of 70‐95°C to give a suitable deposition rate. This is becoming problematic in industry due to the rising price of energy and is a major contribution to production costs. Previous studies have noted beneficial effects of ultrasonic irradiation upon electroless plating processes and it has been reported that sonication can increase the plating rate and produce changes to the chemical and physical properties of the deposited coating. The purpose of this paper is to reduce the operating temperature of an electroless nickel bath by introducing ultrasound to the process.
The deposition rate of an electroless nickel solution was determined by two techniques. In the first method, test coupons were plated in an electroless nickel solution at temperatures ranging from 50‐90°C and the plating rate was calculated by weight gain. In the second approach the mixed potential (and hence the current density at the mixed potential) was determined by electrochemical analysis of the anodic and cathodic reactions. In both cases the plating rate was found with and without the application of an ultrasonic field (20 kHz). The electroless nickel deposits obtained in the plating tests were also analysed to determine the phosphorus content, microhardness and brightness.
The plating rates under ultrasonic agitation were always higher than under “silent” conditions. Most importantly, considering the objectives of this study, the deposition rate under sonication at 70°C was significantly higher than that found with mechanical agitation at 90°C. In addition, the results indicated that the deposits produced in an ultrasonic field had consistently lower phosphorus content, higher microhardness and were brighter than those prepared in an electroless nickel bath that was not sonicated.
Although previous work has been performed on the effect of ultrasound on electroless plating, all these studies have been carried out at the normal operating temperature of the electroless process. In this paper, ultrasound has been applied at temperatures well below those normally used in electroless nickel deposition to determine whether sonication can enable low temperature electroless plating.
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