Awesome Stuff: Electroplating At Home

from the metal-for-makers dept

As with last week’s awesome stuff, we’re trying out something slightly different. Instead of gathering three new crowdfunded products, we’re focusing on just one and taking a slightly closer look at it. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

This week, we’re looking at a potentially exciting new addition to the maker’s toolkit: the Orbit1 tabletop electroplater.

The Good

The Orbit1 simplifies, streamlines and compacts the complex process of electroplating a wide variety of materials with various metal coatings, and could open up a whole new world of possibilities for all sorts of creators. 3D printers get so much focus in these discussions that it’s easy to forget there are other pieces to the puzzle, and a tabletop electroplater fills in a big gap. There are many things you can’t do with plastic, metal 3D printing is still expensive and not easily accessible, and electroplating typically means forking over cash to professionals with large machines — so the Orbit1 is enabling countless new avenues for prototyping, jewellerymaking, art and more. It even enables the creation of printed circuit boards with a standard 3D printer. That will make it a boon to future Kickstarter projects too: many creators go as far as they can doing home prototyping work with their 3D printers, and the Orbit1 pushes that limit considerably further for many projects.

The Bad

As with virtually all new devices these days, the Orbit1 is going to be unnecessarily shackled to its proprietary apps and cloud system. Thankfully, it appears they aren’t going too far with this: the device can be controlled with the app via Bluetooth so it isn’t online-only, and the “expert mode” (where all the various settings are under your control) is useable even without an account on the online service. But it sounds like many other features — including the ability to automatically determine settings and store various settings profiles — will be tied to the cloud. There’s also no desktop app for controlling the Orbit1: it’s limited to Android and iOS.

This approach to new devices is becoming a huge headache. Backing many things on Kickstarter now means not just betting that the creators will be able to produce the product successfully, but that they will also evolve into a sustainable company that keeps its servers running and properly manages your account. Using such devices means additional accounts and passwords (we all need more of those right?), putting your personal data on yet another distant server (best practice!), and having even more limited cloud storage (the Orbit1 comes with 5gb) scattered in fragments across the web. Mobile-only control means you’re also relying on the apps to remain active and updated in proprietary app stores, with the potential for issues on that end of things to suddenly and randomly brick your new toy.

The Admirable, But Problematic

There is, however, some justification for the Orbit1’s desire to tie users into an ongoing relationship: the creators appear to have a sincere commitment to environmental responsibility and safety (not to mention a genuine need to comply with various countries’ regulations). Electroplating can be dangerous — the solutions used in some settings are highly poisonous, and all of them require proper disposal to avoid serious environmental damage. While the Orbit1 can work with any electroplating solution, and those with more knowledge of the process will surely make use of that, the creators are also focused on selling their own line of the safest possible solutions along with a free recycling service.

Here’s the catch, though: the solutions are available to people with Orbit1 accounts, and those accounts can get cancelled if people fail to return their used solutions to be recycled. The details are slightly unclear, but it seems like this means a full account cancellation, which would also include all the additional cloud-tied features mentioned above. Now, while I understand and even approve of the desire to put real pressure on people to use the Orbit1 in a responsible way, I can’t help but think this is going to screw some undeserving users.

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Comments on “Awesome Stuff: Electroplating At Home”

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dr evil says:

bring me my grog (electroplating solution)

plus some WASTE solutions cannot be stabilized for shipment, even if you CAN find someone to ship. (hell, try to legally ship a bunch of spent lithium batteries if you want to have some fun) I see promise for maybe a small local electroplater servicing others, but this is doomed to fail with all the regs and difficulties in shipping. too bad, I wanna plate stuff..

Max (profile) says:

The what now...?

Why this thing has any “user interface” beyond a power switch and possibly a current setting dial is beyond my humble comprehension (hey, you can integrate both of those into a single knob!). OK, you can throw in a timer if you feel really fancy. That and maybe consulting a booklet with plating times / amperages is all the trouble I’m willing to go “configuring” this thing – as far as I’m concerned regarding ANY gadget or tool, if it connects to the cloud I have no use for it, full stop.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: The what now...?

It would appear that electroplating is a little more complex then pressing start. Depending on your solution and intended thickness, different temperatures, times, and current What you describe, a series of setting dials/digital incriminators is also a user interface, just not a computer one. If this was nothing more then a special chamber to hold the solution and was otherwise dumb, it probably would be A) cheaper and B) useless. The entire point is to provide a semblance of the control provided by professional machines, but still fit on you workbench.

I would argue that if you don’t want full and robust configuration of your semi-professional electroplating machine, your probably not the target market, which seems to be high end “makers” (as in the maker Faire), either professional or hobbiest. Your abhorrence of the cloud really seems secondary.

Now I hate the cloud aspects, and the phone app only aspect. A desktop control app would seem to be preferable, as it sounds like otherwise your phone is tethered to the device until completion. And in no way should this need to access a proprietary server system for it to work. that is just ridiculous.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: The what now...?

Thanks. It seems like everyone saying this is stupid because it’s easy is just focusing on the basic science-lesson version of electroplating, which is fine if you want to coat a penny in zinc or whatever — but is not going to succeed at getting nice, even coatings of chosen thicknesses on complex objects. I’m pretty sure that when you pay the big bucks to a professional electroplater, they aren’t just dunking all your stuff in some tupperware with a nail and a battery then walking away.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Seriously?!?!

I’m aware that it’s not impossible to do it yourself, but from what I’ve read and heard from people, it’s extremely difficult to get good results that way. It’s also messy and complex, and there are a lot of facets to working with different metals and base materials and so on. Professional electroplating, on the other hand, is done in large machines that allow a lot of precise control of the process. A device like this that is halfway between, enabling more professional-level control while still fitting on a tabletop is, as far as I can tell, entirely new.

olestra (profile) says:

Re: Re: Seriously?!?!

If by ‘not impossible’ and ‘extremely difficult’ at home, you mean requires a minimal knowledge of chemistry and electricity, equivalent to high school chemistry, combined with an hour or two of reading online and watching youtube
then, yes, it is ‘not impossible’ and ‘extremely difficult’ at home.

//not be snarky at you, leigh, just getting really tired of the kickstarter abuses

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Seriously?!?!

Have to agree with the others here, this one is a scam to lock you into their “DRM” and cloud service.

You can zinc plate with a 9v battery, lemon juice, and a galvanized nail.

Any other metal electroplating is pretty much the same – just that the acids and plating compounds get more hazardous to handle and dispose of, which isn’t going to change because it’s “on the cloud”. And as someone already pointed out, trying to find a courier who will handle used plating solutions isn’t only difficult, the shipping cost of the required “return” is likely to exceed the value of whatever you plated with it.

olestra (profile) says:

life must be easier without ethics

a $20 can of spot welding primer paint, a $5 bottle of root kill, a $10 power supply, and a Tupperware container is somehow worth $2000.

I’m not sure whether I pity the backers, or dislike the ethics of the creators more.

the copper sulfate(root kill) isn’t particularly nasty to humans or the environment, however I wouldn’t want the nickle solution anywhere on my block, much less in my house.

I suspect the ‘environmentally safe’ is the creators code word for mad bank on consumables sales

The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

Re: life must be easier without ethics

So dissolve some nickel welding rods in your acid of choice by using it as both cathode and anode while passing current through. Boom, instant source of nickel for plating that won’t harm the environment any more than the acid alone would have. If it really bugs you, use vinegar as your acid. I’ve used this technique for bronze, brass, copper, and nickel and it works fine for all of them.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Nope. There is a phone around here someplace, but it isn’t very smart, and the phone itself is in one box, and the battery in another. The sim card was pulled and canceled more than 5 years ago, but then I no longer work.

I do use Skype but there is only one contact I speak to with any regularity.

Oh, I do use email, and of course I read and post here. Other than that I prefer face to face. It is more human and satisfying.

A friend sent me a picture recently (actually a digital representation of a painting), a 1930’s vision of picture phones. Two women sitting at a table outdoors (looks like a cafe), each wearing headphones and looking at their screens, which had different people on them. My comment to my friend was, “Interesting how they got the headphones and size wrong, but the two supposed friends sitting at a table together and ignoring each other they got right”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Am I the only working-age adult in the Western Hemisphere who doesn’t own a smartphone?

Oh the “joy” of Android where a device bought new today may not have the base OS level to run whatever and NEVER will get upgraded to the base OS level needed.

As an example:
That brand new 4.2 tablet bought at Wal-Mart won’t play Comedy Central Website video via the browser. And you’ll never see from the vendor an upgrade path to the requested “greater than 4.3”.

anony says:

Re: Re:

You would think they would have made it available for pc first not just smart-phones and not only that but they should really have done the windows smart-phones to start with , there are hundreds of millions of people with windows smart-phones today and they are ignoring them at their peril, all of those consumers that will refuse to buy because they refuse to support windows enabled devices.

Happily with windows tablets and phones on the cusp of taking a very large part of the market i cannot see this type of restriction working very well in future projects either.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree they should have a PC version. But I don’t know what you’re talking about with Windows Phone. I don’t even think “hundreds of millions” of units have ever even shipped — at least, they only shipped 35-million of them in 2014. Compared to nearly 200-million iOS devices, and OVER A BILLION Android phones. Also Windows Phone’s market share fell in 2014, and is now sitting at less than 3%.

Not sure where the windows phone takeover you foresee is supposed to come from 🙂

Malor (profile) says:

I actually have a funny story about this, one that highlights just what scaredy-cats people have turned into over the last generation.

When I was young, over thirty years ago, I got interested in doing a science fair, and decided that I was going to do electroplating. For whatever reason, I decided it was going to be copper; I have no idea why. So I visited a local electroplating shop to learn how to do it.

Well, to make a long story short, they sent me home with a sheet of instructions and two big bags of potassium cyanide. I am not kidding. Not even a little bit. I think I was about 13, I walked into that shop, and they sent me home with enough potassium cyanide to probably kill several hundred people. Size memory is a little strange when you’re still growing, but I think they would have been roughly quart-size, full of powder. A LOT of it, in other words.

They were very careful to explain to me that even getting that powder on my skin would kill me. So I was incredibly careful while using it, probably the most cautious I’ve ever been around anything in my life, except possibly guns. I successfully completed my project, and won a second-place ribbon; it would have been first place, I’m sure, if I’d done a better job on presentation. (I electroplated a bunch of stuff, using pennies as a source, and they came out gorgeous! But I didn’t present them well; more time there and I’d have won for sure.)

Can you even imagine someone doing that in 2015? They’d probably arrest everyone in the shop for doing that today. And a kid wouldn’t learn how to do copper electroplating.

It’s actually a lot of fun, and it’s surprising how well it comes out. Even very fine detail comes through, unless you put a very thick coat on. You don’t need anything complex, either: I did it with a simple power supply, some mason jars, some wire, some target objects, and a bunch of pennies.

And some potassium cyanide.

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