The newest and biggest kept secret in manufacturing at the moment is photochemical etching. It is solving problems for engineers in many industries every day and is making our items more precise and better designed. It is a process that involves etching onto the metal to produce the small parts on the circuit board within our gadgets and electronics.

The process is for manufacturers to precisely and efficiently make the smallest, but most important parts inside our gadgets. It is helping them keep up with industry trends and consumer demands. This process plays an essential part when it comes to sourcing and designing circuit devices for inside technology.

The current goal is to get lighter and smaller while still providing a high level of performance to gadgets. Here is how chemical etching is helping manufacturers do just that.

What is Photo Etching?

Photo etching is a six step process. Clean, coat, image, develop, etch and strip. Images are exposed on the metal through the photo tool, essentially a stencil. The developed photoresist protects the metal that becomes the parts and the parts are produced in sheets containing as many copies as will fit.

This process means that the metal is not subject to any mechanical or thermal distortions, which is why it is becoming so popular within manufacturing.

When to use photo etching?

Photo etching can be used on any metal thickness from 0.0005” to 0.040” on white metal, 0.065” on red metal or 0.080” on aluminium. It can also be used on steel, nickel, copper, aluminium, molybdenum and silver. Items can be produced in quantities of dozens to tens of thousands, and sometimes even more.

What uses photo etching?

Photo etching has been used for years to solve the trickiest micro problems. Photo etching is used for sectors like aerospace, electronics, medical and scientific equipment, RF and Microwaves. It is the perfect way to create precise flat metal parts found in many items we use every day. Photo etching is also used to make jewellery.

Benefits of photo etching

All parts come free of burrs and deformities eliminating uneven edges and thermal distortions. It is also an inexpensive tooling, other processes can lead to long lead times and high tooling costs. Photo etching also makes complex designs simple to produce due to part designs being immensely intricate without having an impact on the tooling or production process.

How photo etching saves money

Other conventional processes like stamping, punching, laser cutting and wire EDM can be quite costly and the more complex the design is, the more the part will cost. Photo etching can create parts with extremely complex geometries and features without increasing costs.

Every feature on photo-etched parts is created all at once, only requiring payment for the first hole. Whereas other methods would have to put each hole in individually, making hundreds of holes a very costly process.

Photo etching design features

Photo etching has four design features; holes, fold lines, etch ratios and composite tooling. The holes provide a filtration device for many parts used in industrial, electronic, medical and scientific items. Photo etching put all of the holes in simultaneously.

The fold lines are half etched to make it possible to transform flat parts into 3D ones. A common application for this technique is in the creation of RF shielding. The etch ratios are usually 50/50 which means that both sides of the sheet are treated equally and have the same rules in terms of possible diameters for holes and other features.

Finally, composite tooling with photo etching allows several different designs on one sheet of metal. This helps to produce very small volumes of multiple parts, without having to pay for individual tools. All of the designs can be produced on one sheet, saving time and money.