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Anodising is the general name applied to methods of treating metals, where the work piece is made the anode in an electrolytic cell, usually to form oxide coatings for the purpose of increasing the performance of the surface. In the case of aluminium, the anodising process forms a layer of aluminium oxide - Al203 - or corundum, which is very hard, relatively inert, electrically insulating and can absorb dyes to colour the film. The anodic film itself grows at the aluminium / aluminium oxide interface by the continuous formation and dissolution of a layer of oxide, this is the so-called barrier layer and its thickness is a function of the process starting voltage. A porous, more structured layer forms on top of the barrier layer making up the rest of the coatings.

Anodized aluminium
Aluminium alloys are anodized to increase corrosion resistance, to increase surface hardness, and to allow dyeing (coloring), improved lubrication, or improved adhesion.

Preceding the anodization process, wrought alloys are cleaned in either a hot soak cleaner or in a solvent bath and may be etched in sodium hydroxide (normally with added sodium gluconate), ammonium bifluoride or brightened in a mix of acids. Cast alloys are normally best just cleaned due to the presence of intermetallic substances unless they are a high purity alloy such as LM0.

The anodized aluminium layer is grown by passing a direct current through an electrolytic solution, with the aluminium object serving as the anode (the positive electrode). The current releases hydrogen at the cathode (the negative electrode) and oxygen at the surface of the aluminium anode, creating a build-up of aluminium oxide. The voltage required by various solutions may range from 1 to 300 V DC, although most fall in the range of 15 to 21 V. Higher voltages are typically required for thicker coatings formed in sulfuric and organic acid. The anodizing current varies with the area of aluminium being anodized, and typically ranges from 0.3 to 3 amperes of current per square decimeter (20 to 200 mA/in).

Aluminium anodizing is usually performed in an acid solution which slowly dissolves the aluminium oxide. The acid action is balanced with the oxidation rate to form a coating with nanopores, 10-150 nm in diameter. These pores are what allows the electrolyte solution and current to reach the aluminium substrate and continue growing the coating to greater thickness beyond what is produced by autopassivation. However, these same pores will later permit air or water to reach the substrate and initiate corrosion if not sealed. They are often filled with colored dyes and/or corrosion inhibitors before sealing. Because the dye is only superficial, the underlying oxide may continue to provide corrosion protection even if minor wear and scratches may break through the dyed layer.

Conditions such as electrolyte concentration, acidity, solution temperature, and current must be controlled to allow the formation of a consistent oxide layer. Harder, thicker films tend to be produced by more dilute solutions at lower temperatures with higher voltages and currents. The film thickness can range from under 0.5 micrometers for bright decorative work up to 150 micrometers for architectural applications.

The most widely used anodizing specification, MIL-A-8625, defines three types of aluminium anodization. Type I is Chromic Acid Anodization, Type II is Sulfuric Acid Anodization and Type III is sulfuric acid hardcoat anodization. Other anodizing specifications include MIL-A-63576, AMS 2469, AMS 2470, AMS 2471, AMS 2472, AMS 2482, ASTM B580, ASTM D3933, ISO 10074 and BS 5599. AMS 2468 is obsolete. None of these specifications define a detailed process or chemistry, but rather a set of tests and quality assurance measures which the anodized product must meet. BS 1615 provides guidance in the selection of alloys for anodizing. For British defence work, a detailed chromic and sulfuric anodizing processes are described by DEF STAN 03-24/3 and DEF STAN 03-25/3 respectively.

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Anodisers Association of Australasia,
The Aluminum Anodizers Council

Article/information contributed by.............. Let's Finish it Team


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