Anodising is a post-processing operation used for finishing. It is a conversion coating method that converts the surface of aluminium, and other compatible metals, to their oxides. This electrochemical process increases the thickness of the oxide layer that occurs naturally on the surface of metallic parts.
Unlike painting which adds a superficial layer to the material, anodising fully integrates the oxide layer with the underlying material, thus preventing it from peeling. This layer is a highly ordered and quite porous structure that allows other subsequent processes like colouring and sealing. The ideal material for anodising is aluminium. However, other metals such as magnesium and titanium can be anodised.
Anodising is commonly carried out as a finishing process on parts made from CNC machining and sheet metal fabrication. It is a simple yet effective process that enhances the durability, wear resistance, hardness, and corrosion resistance of a part. It also improves aesthetics as it creates a shiny surface finish, with the option of colour, on parts.
Anodising process: how does it work?
Anodising is carried out using the electrolytic cell electrochemical process. The aluminium to be anodised is thoroughly cleaned to remove impurities and immersed in an acidic electrolytic bath. The cathode is mounted inside the anodising tank. The immersed aluminium becomes the anode.
As direct electric current is passed between the anode and the cathode, oxygen ions released from the electrolytic bath migrates towards the aluminium and combines with atoms of the aluminium to form aluminium oxide. As a result, an anodic oxide barrier layer is formed on the surface of the part.
This process changes the microscopic texture of the metal surface and the crystalline structure of the parent metal near the surface. Titanium racks and lead cathodes are the most ubiquitous cathodes for anodising aluminium.
There are three types of anodising that differ by electrolytic fluid:
- Type I – Chromic acid anodising: In Type I, the electrolyte is chromic acid-based. Anodising with chromic acid forms a thin coating of about 0.00254 mm and provides the least colour absorption during dyeing. This type is not commonly used as it offers not-so-great wear resistance and low porosity.
- Type II – Sulphuric acid anodising: Type II sulphuric acid-based anodising creates a thickness of approximately 0.00508 to 0.0254 mm and has better colour absorption. It has good resistance to corrosion and wear.
- Type III – Hard anodising: Type III is carried out using sulphuric acid, albeit at much lower temperatures. Hard anodising gives thicknesses in the range of 0.0508 mm to 0.1524 mm, the highest of the three types. Hard anodised parts have excellent resistance to wear and corrosion, and their layers have the highest porosity. A different kind of anodising commonly referred to as architectural anodising makes use of metallic ions.
Materials used for anodising
Anodising can only be carried out on conductive materials. The most common material is aluminium. Non-ferrous metals such as magnesium and titanium can also be anodised. Other materials include zinc, niobium, zirconium, hafnium, and tantalum. Ferrous metals are anodised using nitric acid or by using red fuming nitric acid for treatment. This forms a hard black iron (II, III) oxide that maintains conformity. Steel and other ferrous metals cannot be anodised as they will corrode when subjected to the anodising process.
Benefits of Anodising
The following are some of the benefits derived from anodising:
- Good surface properties: Anodising improves the surface properties of the material. It increases the part’s resistance to scratch, corrosion, and wear
- Better protection: Anodising offers better protection than painting as the protective layer is one with the part and can neither peel nor chip
- Better surface absorption for coatings: The layer created has improved absorption, so paint primers and glue adherence on anodised metals are much better and improved than bare metals
- Galling prevention: Anodising prevents galling (wear caused by adhesion of sliding surface) of threaded components such as bolts and nuts
- Shiny surface finish: Anodising gives surfaces a shiny aesthetic finish. Also, it provides the option to apply a variety of colours to parts
- Good insulation properties: It improves insulation properties as it produces parts with lower electrical conductivity compared to bare metal.
The standard colours available for anodised parts are clear, bronze, champagne and black. Other colours include; red, pink, gold, yellow, green, brown, black, blue, violet, olive drab and grey. But the most common colour is black followed by blue, red and gold.
An anodised part may be dyed or undyed. The part is dipped into a hot dye tank immediately and directly after anodising. A variety of colours can be obtained through this process.
Another way of adding colours to anodised parts is by electrolytic colouring. In this process, the part is immersed in another electrolytic solution together with metallic salts. These salts form coatings that are UV resistant. However, the possible colours are limited to black or bronze.
Colours for anodised parts can be often selected by either colour name or RAL code. Colour names specify commonly available colours simply by their name, such as green or red. This is the most commonly available option when selecting the colour for anodising.
Large manufacturing plants can sometimes offer to anodise with the RAL colour code system that gives very exact options for the required colour. The RAL system differentiates between various shades and types of a particular colour, thus providing a palette of numerous colours. For example, while the colour name will simply specify “grey”, the RAL chart specifies ” anthracite grey” with the code “RAL 7016”, along with various other types of grey.
Xometry Europe offers high quality hard and colours anodising for all our magnesium and aluminium parts. We offer various colours, including black, blue, gold, green, red, orange, and others. To request anodising for your part, simply select your preferred type and colour under the finishing column when uploading your model to our Instant Quoting Platform. If you are uncertain about the type of anodising that’s best for your application, our experts are always standing by to assist.