Characterization of single and discretely-stepped electro-composite coatings of nickel-alumina
Electrodeposition from a sulfamate bath has been used to produce single layer and discretely stepped electro-composites consisting of a metallic nickel matrix with second phase alumina (α-Al2O3) particles. Light optical microscopy (LOM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), quantitative image analysis (QIA), and micro-indentation techniques were used to characterize the deposits. As previously seen, an increase in bath particle loading and decrease in plating current density increased the volume percent of alumina incorporated into the coating, with a maximum of 40 vol % being attained. For samples deposited above 1 A/dm2, a direct relationship between the alumina volume percent and coating hardness was seen due in part to the related decrease in interparticle spacing (IPS) at the higher vol %. However, the strengthening mechanism of the electro-composites may be more complex with both the metallic nickel grain structure and IPS being factors, as seen for samples deposited at 0.5 A/dm2. The incorporation of alumina into the electrodeposited nickel was also observed to affect the as-plated surface structure of the coating. Due to the particles inhibiting the formation of pyramidal features found on the surface of pure nickel electrodeposits, the electro-composite surfaces were observed to be relatively flat. Also, structure within the metallic nickel matrix appeared due to rapid growth of the nickel coating around the inert particles when plated at high current densities. In addition, discretely layered functionally graded materials were produced without alterations to the original deposition procedure of the single layer deposits. It was found that the various processing stages needed to produce the stepped coatings did not affect the structure or properties of the individual layers, when compared to that of the corresponding single-layered electro-composites.
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