Vacuum Metalizing Services

Because vacuum metalizing has been around for decades, it has developed a not-so-flattering reputation as a process used to make cheap plastic parts look like shiny metal. This misunderstanding stems from early practices where an aluminum thin film was evaporated onto a painted plastic part, which was then clear coated for protection. It was often used on toys and produced with primitive vacuum coating systems.

Today, at Vergason, vacuum metalizing is being used to produce the highest quality streetlights, automotive headlamps, and sophisticated electronic device enclosures. Of course, we still can produce decorative items, but we are not limited to bright aluminum. We can deposit virtually any metal through vacuum plating for unique color options. We can also coat substrates made from glass, metal, or ceramic in addition to plastics. Most plastics today can be coated directly onto the substrate, eliminating the need for primer paints.

Vacuum Metalizing Services

Vacuum Metalizing can be broken down into two categories…decorative or functional. The functional coating types are REFLECTIVE and SHIELDING, while the decorative coatings serve only to enhance the appearance of the parts being coated.

We use a specific PVD vacuum coating process called sputtering which can deposit any metal. This means any of the metallic colors can be used to decorate the part…from the bold look of copper or brass to the more subtle shades of grey found with titanium and stainless steel. If the goal is to reproduce a particular texture in a plastic part, as with brushed stainless, the texture must first be applied to the injection molding tool. Then each molded part will show this same texture. The coating is so incredibly thin, it conforms to the texture, and does not alter it, producing the visual effect of the part being fabricated from actual stainless steel. VTI offers this effect as “NexSteel™”. If the parts need added durability, a clear coat of paint can be applied over the metallic finish.

For reflective coatings, the most common material used is aluminum, which can produce 90% reflectivity. Industrial, commercial, and automotive lighting reflectors all use aluminum. At VTI we can also source the molded substrate for you, eliminating the need to contract with a separate injection molding house. Our long-term relationship with our molder means you can avoid the steep learning curve associated with molding “Class A1” polished surfaces that are required for this type of product.

Shielding coatings are produced from metals with very high electrical conductivities. The most common are copper and aluminum. Copper is a better conductor than aluminum and produces a superior shielding coating, but it must be overcoated with another metal such as nickel-chrome or stainless steel to prevent tarnishing or oxidizing. Shielding coatings are also up to 10 times thicker than the other types of vacuum metalizing.

Common Applications for PVD Metallizing Services

  • Vehicle Lighting and Components
  • Appliance Components
  • Commercial, Industrial, & Residential Lighting
  • Display Items, Cosmetic, & Product Packaging
  • EMI/RFI/ESD Shielding
  • Glassware & Mirrors
  • Consumer Products
  • Vapor Barrier Protection
  • Solar/Photovoltaics
  • Chrome Plating Replacement

Our Inspection Process

Once you’ve selected the appropriate application for our vacuum metalizing services, you can rest easy. Our rigorous schedule of inspections guarantees that each vacuum metalized product that leaves our shop is perfect. We inspect shipments from our customers at arrival, maintain quality control throughout the PVD application process, and perform a final inspection before any product is delivered to the customer. 

Additionally, we perform metalizing tests to ensure that adhesion, coating reflectivity, and electrical resistivity are at their highest capabilities for every product. At Vergason, excellence is in our blood.

FAQ

What's the difference between thermal evaporation and sputtering?

Thermal evaporation is a process where you heat the metal to be deposited (usually aluminum) in a vacuum chamber until it melts and then boils-off as a vapor. There are different ways to heat the aluminum, but a tungsten filament is the most common. The vapor condenses onto all surfaces in the vacuum chamber forming a thin film. Thermal evaporation is the process most traditional vacuum metalizing suppliers use.

Sputtering, on the other hand, is a plasma-based process whereby the metal to be deposited is bombarded by high energy ions, which causes atoms of the metal to be knocked off, or sputtered, from the surface. These atoms condense on the part surfaces inside the vacuum chamber, forming a thin film. The advantages of sputtering include 1) precise control of deposition rates and thickness; 2) compatibility with nearly all metals, including metal alloys.

How thin are the layers applied during the vacuum metalizing process?

Shielding films are typically 1-2 microns thick.

Reflective films are typically .05 - .1 microns thick.

Decorative films can be from .02 - .1 microns thick.

Do you use topcoats?

VTI has two automatic conveyor-based UV-cure robotic spray paint lines. We can topcoat after metalizing if the required abrasion resistance for the metalized parts are severe.

What size items do you accept for vacuum metallization?

The maximum part size that will fit the vacuum chamber is 28” wide by 48” tall.

The maximum part size that can be painted is 16 “ wide by 20” tall.

Are there any materials you can’t coat?

There are certain plastics which are very difficult to coat and get good adhesion. Polypropylene is the most problematic.

How long is the turnaround time for a project?

A typical job takes about 2-3 weeks to get into our production schedule. The time for production depends on the number of pieces that need to be coated.

What are your minimum and maximum order sizes?

We are structured primarily for higher-volume jobs. We do not accept “one-off” jobs, nor very low-volume work. Annual production value should be in the $10,000 range and above. We have no maximum order size.
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