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What is Electropolishing?

With all the technological advances in aircraft science and engineering, it stands to reason that similar advances would find their way into the realm of metal aircraft polish. That’s just what happened when the fine-tuned process of electropolishing came on the scene back in 1975.
Electropolishing is basically the use of a chemical-based electrolytic process to accomplish the task of cleaning and polishing metals such as stainless steel and aluminum. It’s benefits and numerous applications making it one of the most cutting-edge advances in the metal polishing industry.

What’s So Great About Electropolishing?

Electropolishing boasts a number of benefits for metal aircraft. It’s primarily intended to reduce metal fatigue, the tendency of metal to become increasingly weak over time with repeated use and reuse. Metal fatigue possess as a great safety risk in older commercial aircraft, and therefore, is carefully monitored by technicians on a regular basis.
By smoothing the surface of metal, electropolishing reduces the microscopic imperfections on metal surfaces, thereby decreasing the risk of fractures, tears and breaks that can lead to operational malfunctions or even crashes.
The benefits don’t stop there, however. The electropolishing process is well-known for reducing corrosion and friction between metal parts. It also eliminated burrs and reduces adhesion, contamination and wear and tear on metal parts.

How It Works

Electropolishing works much in the same way as traditional metal aircraft polish, albeit using a different medium. The process is highly chemical-oriented, with the use of electrolytes being primarily essential for a successful electropolishing process.
Just as with traditional metal polishing, the electropolishing process begins with a cleaning stage. However, the process is vastly different from, say, hosing down an aircraft in a hangar. The electropolishing process takes place in a vastly different setting.
Most electropolishing takes place in industrial facilities using costly machinery under strict supervision of skilled workers. Smaller scale processes, like the one demonstrated in this video, can be accomplished as well, however.
After the cleaning phase is complete, the main electrolytic processes take place. This involves submerging the metal surface in a chemical bath charged with electric current. The special chemicals used, once charged with current, oxidize the metal surface to remove small amounts of metal, gradually revealing the shine beneath corrosion, wear and tear and other imperfections.
The electropolishing process must adhere to a number of safety standards in most cases, whether the application of it’s use is private or government-oriented. For instance, the ASTM International has issued the Standard Guide for Electrolytic Polishing of Metallographic Specimens, which suggests minimum standards for the electropolishing which industrial and governmental facilities, in some instances, are required to follow.

Industry Embraces Electropolishing

Electropolishing has a number of different applications including improving flow and heat transfer in metal piping and tubing. This is a particular advantage in the food and chemical industries.
In fact the food and beverage processing industry has been capitalizing on this innovation in polishing for decades. In particular, the method’s ability to remove heat tint has the ability reduce the risk of corrosion in frequently used machine parts – a significant benefit to food production processes.
The process is also an advantage in the medical and surgical fields for polishing medical tools and devices. The pharmaceutical industry, as well, employs the use of electropolishing. It’s significant advantages in terms of diminishing the risk of contamination make it ideal for polishing equipment and tools used in the pharmaceutical manufacturing process.
One of the most interesting industrial uses for the method is in aerospace engineering. Entire satellite surfaces have benefited from the electropolish process, in fact. The method is ideal for spacecraft where harsh and extreme conditions can bring new levels of wear and tear and safety risks that are best addressed with this microchemical polishing processes.
Even in the aircraft and aviation industry, electropolishing has made significant headway since the first electropolishing plant opened in the southern U.S. in 1975. Turbines, landing gear, piping and even vacuum chambers are all capable of benefiting from the electropolishing process.

Taking Over Current Aircraft Metal Polish?

The question remains whether electropolishing can overtake good, old-fashioned aircraft metal polishing as the new standard in metal aircraft polishing. The answer lies in the fact that the two methods both have significant advantages. The benefits might mean that the two will continue to coexist in industries far and wide.
It just so happens that most metal aircraft polish can accomplish the same results as electropolishing, albeit through a vastly different process. The main difference is in the amount of work involved on the part of an aircraft technician. With traditional polishing jobs, the technician is required to at least be skilled in handling a buffer or polisher and physically capable of enduring the rigors of completing the polish job.
While electropolishing may be a faster more efficient method of polishing metal, it has a number of limitations in comparison to traditional metal aircraft polish. For example, electropolishing an entire plane would mean dismantling it piece by piece, as most industrial electropolishes only allow for polishing parts on a smaller scale.
Also, electropolishing involves skilled expertise that is best handled by technicians and engineers with prior experience in running the machinery and equipment involved. We may look forward to seeing hangars equipped with electropolish baths, but even that involves safety risks and hazards that would definitely be necessary to consider prior to implementation.
Thus, while electropolishing boasts significant advantages, it’s benefits do not yet completely override the advantages of sticking to tradition with familiar aircraft metal polishes.

Sticking With the Standard

Electropolishing represents the exciting innovation that is constantly taking place in our technology-driven world. Make no mistake about it, this polishing method is sure to reach even deeper into the metal polishing world than at present. Traditional polishing methods however, are still in play and will likely remain the method of choice for years to come, even as new inventions and processes make metal polishing more and more effective and efficient.

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