The Benefits of Transitioning to Trivalent Chrome

Nov 22, 2023

Borough Chrome has utilised the durability, visual appeal, quality and consistency of finish delivered by chrome to plate injection moulded components for a variety of industries, including the manufacture of parts for some of the world’s leading automotive brands.

We have produced millions of individual plastic components, of varying sizes and complexity, but always with the same hexavalent chromium, which is a form of the naturally occurring metallic element chromium.

Unfortunately after decades of safe use, the EU and UK are introducing new regulation that will effectively restrict the use of hexavalent chromium, which has been the coating of choice for many industries because it’s relatively easy to produce and offers unrivalled corrosion-resistant properties.

However, due to its toxicity and carcinogenic properties, all plating with hexavalent chromium will be subject to regulation and potentially banned in the European Union at some stage in the future. Which has obviously created a headache for component manufacturers like us here at Borough Chrome, with clients seeking answers.

For many manufacturers, including those supplying the aerospace industry, the switch to trivalent chrome, a safer alternative to hexavalent chrome, is not as easy as it is for those of us working primarily with automotive brands and currently the quality drinks packaging sector.

Before we look at benefits of transitioning to trivalent chrome, let’s first remind ourselves of the reason we choose to plate injection moulded components with chrome in the first place.

Why Use Chrome to Plate Plastic Components?

Plastic has become a popular material in a wide range of industries, thanks to it being lightweight, durable and cost-effective. However, some plastic components require a metallic finish to enhance their aesthetic appeal, or improve their durability and functionality.

Durability – Chrome plating is a process that involves etching the substrate polymer after injection moulding to allow nickel and copper layers to be deposited on the component. It is these conductive layers to which the chrome adheres when undergoing the electroplating process. The chromium layer provides excellent protection against corrosion in harsh environments.

Aesthetics – Chrome plating imbues plastic components with the shiny, metallic appealing finish associated with traditional chrome plating on metal components. This effect, but without the weight of metal, is what makes the process so appealing to automotive design engineers who are always looking to save weight.

Cost-effective – Chrome plating is a cost-effective option for plastic components, as the process is relatively simple and can be done quickly, reducing the production time of components. Chrome plating is a durable option that requires less maintenance and replacement, saving manufacturers money, whilst offering a cost-effective solution for different industries.

Introducing trivalent chrome during 2024

Recognising the ban on hexavalent chrome will be a major problem for our customers, across a range of industries, including automotive, premium drinks packaging and white goods, Borough Chrome has made the necessary investment to switch production to trivalent chrome.

Due to the likely problems for manufacturers if chrome plating is stopped before alternatives are found, an extension to the use of hexavalent chrome is likely, but Borough will be introducing trivalent chrome final coating during 2024.

Our customers have requested the change and given our pre-eminence in the industry, we are investing around £750k in new equipment and processes to ensure trivalent chrome when applied to our moulded components delivers the same high-quality finish for which we are renowned.

The changes are complex and require new tanks to avoid any contamination with hexavalent chrome, new processes developed over recent months of research and investment in changes to our IT systems to ensure the new processes work as they should.

There are a number of benefits on offer with trivalent chrome, when compared to hexavalent chrome, including:

Safer for the Environment – Trivalent chrome is considered to be a safer alternative to hexavalent chrome because it is less toxic and does not pose as much of a threat to the environment in the form of pollution. Unlike hexavalent chrome, trivalent chrome does not contain hazardous byproducts that can pollute the water and soil, potentially damaging the ecosystem.

Safer for Humans – Just like hexavalent chrome, trivalent chrome will also enhance the surface of products and improve their durability. However, trivalent chrome does not pose a threat to human health, with studies showing exposure to it is significantly less harmful than exposure to hexavalent chrome. It therefore poses significantly less risk to those who work with it.

Regulatory Compliance – The UK’s HSE has mandated the regulation of hexavalent chrome in plastic plating operations, and many automotive manufacturers in particular are already feeling the effects of this regulation. Transitioning to trivalent chrome will ensure we can help our clients remain compliant with these new regulations and avoid any penalties or fines for non-compliance.

Cost Competitive – The trivalent chromium plating process is trickier to control and the required chemicals are more expensive than those used for hexavalent chrome, but the numerous advantages of this method make it cost-competitive with other methods of finishing. The trivalent process requires less energy and it can withstand current interruptions, making it more robust.

Trivalent Chrome on the Hurry Up

Transitioning to trivalent chrome in our plastic plating operations ahead of the required regulatory schedule is a bold move on our part, but we recognise it is necessary for the health and wellbeing of our people and the environment.

Switching to trivalent chrome not only aligns our customers with new EU regulations but also positively impacts the core business functions of component performance and cost. We believe once again Borough Chrome is leading the way and we are proud the way our team has stepped up.

If you have any questions about the transition to trivalent chrome or would like to discuss a design project you have in the pipeline and how our expertise in plating with trivalent chrome can help, please get in touch.