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Chemical Conversion Coating: An Essential Surface Finishing Process For The Aerospace And Defense Industries

by | Dec 6, 2023

Chemical conversion coating is a vital process in surface finishing, particularly in the commercial aerospace, defense, space, and satellite industries. In this article, we will explore the significance of chemical conversion coating, how it works, its benefits, potential downsides, and alternative options available.


What Is Chemical Conversion Coating?

Chemical conversion coating, also known as chromate coating, is a surface treatment process used to protect metal substrates from corrosion and improve adhesion for subsequent coatings. It involves the application of a chemical solution containing reactive materials such as chromates, phosphates, or other proprietary substances.


What Is Chemical Conversion Coating?


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Why Is Chemical Conversion Coating Important?

Chemical conversion coating plays a crucial role in enhancing the performance and lifespan of metal components in demanding industries like aerospace and defense. By forming a protective layer on the surface of the metal, it prevents corrosion caused by exposure to harsh environmental conditions, chemicals, moisture, and other corrosive agents.


How Does Chemical Conversion Coating Work?

The chemical conversion coating process typically involves several steps:

  • Surface Preparation: The metal surface is thoroughly cleaned and freed from contaminants such as dirt, oils, and oxides. This is often achieved through acid etching or alkaline cleaning.
  • Application Of Chemical Solution: The prepared surface is treated with the chemical conversion coating solution. The solution reacts with the metal surface, forming a thin, chemically bonded layer.
  • Rinsing And Drying: After the coating solution has been applied, the treated metal is rinsed off to remove any excess chemicals. The surface is then carefully dried to complete the process.


What Are The Benefits Of Chemical Conversion Coating?

Chemical conversion coating offers numerous advantages for companies seeking top-quality surface finishing in the commercial aerospace and defense sectors. Some key benefits include:


Corrosion Resistance

The protective layer formed by chemical conversion coating shields the metal surface from corrosive elements, increasing its resistance to rust and degradation.


Enhanced Paint Adhesion

The coating’s unique composition ensures improved adherence of subsequent paint or coating layers, providing better durability and aesthetics.


Electrical Conductivity

Unlike alternative coating methods, chemical conversion coating preserves the electrical conductivity of the metal substrate, making it suitable for electrical components or applications.


Are There Any Downsides To Chemical Conversion Coating?

While chemical conversion coating has several advantages, it is essential to consider potential downsides. These may include:

  • Environmental Concerns: Some chemical conversion coating processes involve the use of hazardous substances, raising environmental and safety considerations. However, advancements in technology have led to the development of more environmentally friendly alternatives.
  • Restricted Metal Compatibility: Chemical conversion coating is primarily suitable for specific metal substrates, such as aluminum, magnesium, and zinc. It may not be compatible or produce desired results on other metals like steel or stainless steel.


What Are The Alternatives To Chemical Conversion Coating?

Alternative surface treatment options are available for companies that prefer to avoid chemical conversion coating. Some common alternatives include:



Anodizing is an electrochemical process that creates a protective oxide layer on the surface of metal substrates, primarily aluminum. It offers excellent corrosion resistance and can be customized with various color options.


Powder Coating

Powder coating involves the application of a dry powder to the metal surface, followed by curing at high temperatures. It provides a durable coating that is resistant to chemicals, corrosion, and impacts.



Galvanizing is a method of applying a protective zinc coating to steel or iron substrates. This process effectively prevents corrosion by providing a sacrificial layer that corrodes before the underlying metal.


How Thick Should A Chemical Conversion Coatings Be?

The thickness of a chemical conversion coating can vary depending on several factors, including the specific coating type, application method, and the desired outcome. Generally, chemical conversion coatings range from 0.00001 to 0.00004 inches (0.25 to 1 micron) in thickness.

It is crucial to note that the thickness of the coating does not solely determine its effectiveness. The quality, adhesion, and uniformity of the coating are equally important factors to consider for optimal performance and durability.


What Are The Types Of Chemical Conversion Coatings?

Chemical conversion coatings can vary depending on the specific requirements of the metal substrate and the desired outcomes. Here are some common types of chemical conversion coatings:


Chromate Conversion Coating

Provides corrosion resistance and improves paint adhesion. Offers a yellowish or iridescent color depending on the specific chromate used. Examples include hexavalent chromium and trivalent chromium coatings.


Phosphate Conversion Coating

Enhances corrosion resistance and improves paint adhesion. Provides a more uniform coating compared to chromate conversion coatings. Examples include iron phosphate and zinc phosphate coatings.


Anodizing Conversion Coating

Specifically used for aluminum and aluminum alloys. Forms a durable, protective oxide layer on the surface of the metal. Offers various color options and excellent corrosion resistance.


What Are Safety Precautions When Using Chemical Conversion Coatings?

Safety should always be a top priority when working with chemical conversion coatings. Here are some essential safety precautions to consider:

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Wear protective gloves, safety glasses, and a lab coat or apron to prevent contact with the coating solution.
  • Ventilation: Work in a well-ventilated area or use an exhaust hood to minimize exposure to fumes and vapors.
  • Chemical Handling: Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety data sheets (SDS) for the specific coating product. Use appropriate containers for chemical storage and disposal.
  • Spill Management: Have spill kits readily available for quick response to any accidental spills. Clean spills immediately and dispose of waste material properly according to local regulations.


What Are The Environmental Impact On Using Chemical Conversion Coating?

Chemical conversion coatings have specific environmental considerations due to their chemical composition. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Disposal: Proper disposal methods should be followed to prevent environmental contamination. Local regulations may dictate specific procedures for disposal and treatment of waste materials.
  • Recycling: Whenever possible, recycling of chemical conversion coating solutions and waste materials should be explored to reduce the environmental impact.
  • Alternative Options: Companies can explore alternative coating methods or newer technologies that offer more environmentally friendly options, such as trivalent chromate conversion coatings.


What Are The Tools And Equipment Needed For Chemical Conversion Coating?

The following tools and equipment are typically required for the chemical conversion coating process:

  • Safety Equipment: Gloves, safety glasses, and a lab coat or apron to ensure personal protection.
  • Cleaning Supplies: Cleaning solutions, such as degreasers or alkaline cleaners, to remove contaminants from the metal surface prior to coating.
  • Application Equipment: Brushes, rollers, or sprayers for applying the chemical conversion coating solution onto the metal surface.
  • Rinse Tanks: Tanks or containers for rinsing the coated metal surface to remove excess coating solution.
  • Drying Equipment: Air dryers, ovens, or heat lamps to facilitate the drying process after the application of the coating solution.


What Is The History Of Chemical Conversion Coating?

Chemical Conversion Coating has a rich history dating back to the early days of aviation and the aerospace industry. It was initially developed as a method to protect metal surfaces from corrosion. Over the decades, it has evolved and adapted to the changing needs of the industry. Some key historical points to consider:

  • Early Innovations: Chemical conversion coating techniques were first developed in the early 20th century to address corrosion issues in aircraft components made from aluminum and other metals.
  • World War II: The aerospace and defense sectors saw a significant boost in the use of chemical conversion coatings during World War II, as they became essential for protecting military aircraft and equipment.
  • Technological Advancements: Advances in chemistry and material science have continuously improved the effectiveness and environmental sustainability of chemical conversion coatings.


What Is The Current Landscape Of Chemical Conversion Coating?

Understanding the current state of Chemical Conversion Coating is crucial for appreciating its importance today. Here are some key aspects of its present environment:

  • Wide Industry Adoption: Chemical conversion coating processes are widely adopted across the aerospace, defense, space, and satellite industries to enhance the durability and longevity of critical components.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Stringent environmental regulations have led to the development of eco-friendly formulations, ensuring that chemical conversion coatings meet modern environmental standards.
  • Advanced Applications: Chemical conversion coatings are applied to an array of materials, including aluminum, magnesium, and titanium, supporting various industry applications.


What Does The Future Hold For Chemical Conversion Coating?

Anticipating the future of Chemical Conversion Coating is essential to staying ahead in the aerospace and defense sectors. Here are some trends and developments that provide insights into its future:

  • Advanced Materials: The industry is likely to see increased adoption of advanced materials, and chemical conversion coatings will evolve to cater to these materials’ specific needs.
  • Digital Technologies: Integration of digital technologies like AI and IoT for monitoring and quality control in the coating process is expected to become more prevalent.
  • Space Exploration: As space exploration becomes more prominent, Chemical Conversion Coating will play a critical role in protecting spacecraft and satellites in the harsh conditions of space.


Frequently Asked Questions About Chemical Conversion Coating


How long does a chemical conversion coating last?

The longevity of a chemical conversion coating depends on various factors such as environmental conditions, exposure to corrosive elements, and the quality of the coating application. Generally, a well-applied and maintained chemical conversion coating can provide corrosion protection for several years. Regular inspections and maintenance can help extend the lifespan of the coating.


How is the quality of a chemical conversion coating determined?

The quality of a chemical conversion coating is typically determined by assessing its adhesion, coating weight, appearance, and corrosion resistance. Coating weight, measured in milligrams per square foot or milligrams per square meter, provides an indication of the thickness and uniformity of the coating. Adequate adhesion and a visually consistent appearance are also signs of a high-quality chemical conversion coating.


Can chemical conversion coatings be used on non-metal materials?

Chemical conversion coatings are primarily designed for metal substrates due to the reactive nature of the coating process. They may not be suitable for non-metal materials as the coating may not adhere properly or provide the desired protective properties. Non-metal materials often require different surface treatment methods specifically tailored to their characteristics.


What is the cost of applying a chemical conversion coating?

The cost of applying a chemical conversion coating depends on various factors such as the size of the metal substrate, the specific coating type, and the complexity of the surface preparation and application process. It is advisable to contact a professional finishing company to obtain accurate cost estimates based on your specific requirements.


Can a chemical conversion coating be painted over?

Yes, a chemical conversion coating can be painted over. In fact, one of the benefits of chemical conversion coating is the improved adhesion it provides for subsequent paint or coating layers. Proper surface preparation, including cleaning and roughening the coating surface, is essential to ensure optimal paint adhesion and durability.


What is the difference between chromate conversion coating and other chemical conversion coatings?

Chromate conversion coating is a specific type of chemical conversion coating that involves the use of chromates in the coating solution. It offers corrosion resistance and improved paint adhesion. Other chemical conversion coatings, such as phosphate conversion coatings or anodizing, use different reactive materials and offer varying properties and applications.


Can you remove a chemical conversion coating?

Yes, a chemical conversion coating can be removed if necessary. The removal process typically involves using specific chemical solutions or mechanical methods such as sandblasting or grinding. It is important to follow safety precautions and consult professionals experienced in the removal of chemical conversion coatings to ensure proper procedures are followed.


What are some common applications of chemical conversion coating outside of aerospace and defense industries?

Chemical conversion coatings are also utilized in industries such as automotive manufacturing, where they protect metal components from corrosion and enhance paint adhesion. Additionally, they find use in the electronics industry for improving the corrosion resistance of metal parts in electronic devices.


Are there any specific temperature or humidity requirements during the chemical conversion coating process?

Yes, the chemical conversion coating process often requires controlled environmental conditions. Generally, it is conducted at moderate temperatures and humidity levels to ensure the proper formation and bonding of the coating on the metal substrate.


Can chemical conversion coatings be applied to non-metallic materials like plastics or composites?

No, chemical conversion coatings are designed specifically for metal substrates and may not adhere or provide the same benefits when applied to non-metallic materials like plastics or composites. Different surface treatment methods are typically employed for non-metallic materials.

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