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Hot dip galvanizing is one of the most common yet least understood metal finishing
processes. In the first of a few articles well post on galvanizing we hope to clarify any questions you may have. First developed in the 18th century, hot dip galvanizing is the process of applying molten zinc to metal components to provide it with a protective surface. It is considered a premium coating for components that are exposed to environments where high corrosion is of concern, and combined with it also being extremely durable no wonder its commonly found on fabricated steel products.

Though some products such as wire, sheet and tube can be manufactured and, subsequently, zinc coated in a somewhat continuous process, most steel products that are fabricated go through the manual application of zinc. Where the continuous process will apply the coating by immersing in the molten zinc for only a few seconds, the hot dip process sees the products immersed for as long as 8-10 minutes resulting in a thicker and, subsequently, higher quality finish. The hot dip galvanizing process consists of a number of steps briefly explained below.

The first process, Degreasing, dips the structure into a bath containing a mixture of hot sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) to remove any paint and grease contaminants.

Subsequently dipping into an Acid Pickling bath, consisting of 10% hydrochloric acid, removes much of the mill scale, rust and other surface oxides. Where recognised, heavily corroded steel should be abrasive blasted prior to the hot dip process.

Prefluxing, where the steel is dipped into a bath of hot zinc ammonium chloride solution and then allowed to dry on the surface, conditions the steel in preparation for the galvanizing process. Then its off to the Galvanizing bath, where the steel is submerged with the molten zinc for a time period sufficient for it to reach that of the zinc (approximately 455 degC). Subsequently heavy sections may stay in the bath for many minutes. The galvanizing reaction in the bath produces a crystalline layer of zinc-iron alloy, and as the melting point of Zinc is only slightly lower than the temperature of the bath it rapidly solidifies when exposed to air forming the shiny appearance commonly associated with galvanized parts. Some exceptions to this surface finish are seen where a reactive steel causes a dull grey finish we sometimes see. Some galvanizers will quench and passivate in a weak solution of sodium dichromate as the parts come from the galvanizing bath. This helps quickly cool them for easier handling and unloading, but also temporarily stops oxidation of the surface which can occur as a result of exposure to water and condensation. The zinc takes 2-3 weeks to build a patina of oxides to protect itself from further oxidation. Once finished the parts are inspected and cleaned of any excess drainage spikes. Touch-up in areas where galvanizing may not have adhered, such as those where jigs or lifting chains were used in moving the parts between stages of the process, will be conducted.

Depending on the galvanizers process, rinsing (where the parts are submerged to clean them of chemicals from a previous process) may be used.