The Advantages of Gold Plating in Connectors
Typically made of electrically conductive metals like nickel, cadmium, copper, and various alloys, electrical contacts ensure the flow of electricity in an electrical circuit. When the contacts touch, the circuit is “closed” and able to carry the current. Although the metals used to construct contacts are strong and capable, they can deteriorate over time due to factors like corrosion, erosion, oxidation, and heat. To fortify contacts, protect electrical circuits, and ensure the best possible conductivity, Positronic offers gold-plated contacts and connectors for mission-critical applications.
When you think of gold plating, you might instinctively think of jewelry, but gold actually has several physical properties that make it an excellent choice in electrical applications. This finishing touch provides a variety of valuable performance benefits.
Why Choose Gold-Plated Connectors?
In many electronic applications, gold can enhance the functionality of connectors through its valuable physical and chemical properties. These benefits may offset the additional cost of gold plating, providing an enticing return on investment in the long term. From protection against corrosion to increased conductivity and durability, gold-plated connectors offer numerous advantages.
Better Corrosion Protection
If iron (or any alloy containing iron) is combined with oxygen and moisture, oxidation is inevitable and will lead to corrosion in the form of rust. So, in applications where rust prevention is essential, gold-plated connectors provide an effective solution. Gold is incredibly resistant to oxidation, especially when compared to other metals. If a connector’s contacts will be exposed to corrosive environments or agents, gold plating can provide a strong defense and protect against oxidation and corrosion.
Improved Electrical Conductivity
As a noble metal, gold does not react with other materials and chemicals in most environments. So long as the thickness of the gold plating provides an adequate barrier, shielding the underlying contacts from the atmosphere, gold-plated connectors will retain their conductivity over time. In addition, gold’s anti-oxidation properties guard against surface oxidation, which can hinder a contact’s conductivity by degrading the metals used to form the contacts. Furthermore, gold plating provides a smooth finish, facilitating a consistent circuit connection. Gold’s exceptional conductive properties ensure the conduction of a strong electrical current.
Some connectors are required to perform in harsh environments or undergo frequent mating, which can put their long-term durability at risk. In these situations, gold is preferred due to its excellent resistance against normal wear and tear. For example, it is not susceptible to fretting, which is the gradual wearing away of a substance due to rubbing and friction. It also protects against oxidation and corrosion, which can threaten a contact’s reliability. By offering such a high level of durability, gold can significantly prolong a contact’s lifespan, even in extreme environments.
Ease of Application
Due to the malleability of gold, manufacturers can easily apply the appropriate amount of plating to each individual connector or contact based on the application’s requirements. The thickness of the gold plating will impact the durability and lifespan of the connector. In many applications, only a thin layer of gold plating (from 5µin to 100µin, or 0.1µm to 25µm) is necessary. However, aggressive environments or applications that require repeated cycling or sliding may necessitate gold plating in higher thicknesses (from 500µin to 1,000µin, or 12.5µm to 25µm).
Because thin gold plating is more porous, the environment may oxidize and corrode the contacts’ base material through the gold. Thicker gold plating, which ensures a pore-free layer, provides a higher level of resistance against corrosion and wear and tear. So why aren’t all contacts given a thick shield of gold? Due to the high cost of the metal, manufacturers must balance functional requirements with the desired budget to create an efficient and cost-effective gold-plated connector. To determine the appropriate thickness, several factors must be considered: whether the contacts will be used in an extreme environment, whether they will repeatedly slide or cycle during use, whether they will confront condensation or corrosive chemicals, whether they will experience extreme thermal cycles, whether the connections will be soldered, and, of course, the cost.
Excellent Heat Resistance
When electrical connectors are routinely exposed to high temperatures (over 257 degrees Fahrenheit, or 125 degrees Celsius), they require extra protection to ensure the heat doesn’t damage the contacts. Gold provides a substantial barrier, shielding the contacts and protecting the circuit from the elevated temperatures.
Finally, gold is nonmagnetic. In applications where strong magnetic fields can cause interference, this is beneficial. For example, connectors used in certain medical applications, such as with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) equipment, may benefit from gold plating.
A well-designed, gold-plated connector is often quite beautiful – some might even compare it to fine jewelry. But its beauty pales in comparison to all the performance benefits it provides: corrosion protection, improved conductivity, enhanced durability, varying thicknesses, heat resistance, and more. Plating is just one of many factors that can influence how a contact will perform in the field, which is why it’s important to assess every factor of a connector’s design for performance and value.
At Positronic, we believe in crafting versatile, high-quality connectors. Our design and manufacturing processes meet and often exceed our customers’ needs for quality and reliability. And to suit the needs of our varied customers, we have a plethora of options available. If you would like to request product recommendations, locate a sales agent, ask a technical question, or simply request a quote, please contact Positronic today.
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