The Photo Chemical Etching Process

part of the photo etching process

Our customers often ask “What is chemical etching?” United Western Enterprises Inc. specializes in this precise chemical etching process, which allows metal parts to be produced to very close tolerances using computer aided design software, along with photography, chemistry, and metallurgy technologies. This cost-effective metal etching process allows us to quickly produce thin metal parts for many different applications.
Our photo etching process can be broken down into several steps.

Step 1. Phototool Design / CAD Design

Designs are submitted to us by customers, as a .DXF or .DWG file, or a drawing with which we create a phototool. Mailed or e-mailed, the file is converted into the working phototool our technicians use during every step in creating the final product. Adjustments and redesigns can be made quickly and cost-effectively by our experienced technicians.

Step 2. Metal Selection & Prep

metal sheet cleaned before chemical etching process

Next, the metals to be used in the project are selected. Materials can include copper alloys, stainless steel, aluminum alloys, or nickel alloys. Prior to chemical etching, the metal is cut into sheets and cleaned. Any oil, grease, or oxidation is removed from the metal sheet to be processed.

Step 3. Photoresist Coating – Preparation for Photo Etching on Metal

photosensitive material applied to metal sheet

A photosensitive material is then applied to the sheet. Sensitive to light, and resistant to acids, the photoresist is applied using a specialized coating machine in our facility. This photosensitive coating will allow photo etching on metal that needs to be removed, and shielding the metal that becomes the part. This photosensitive etching processes, also known as photo chemical etching or chemical etching on stainless steel ensures precision cut metal every time.

Step 4. UV Exposure

metal sheet exposed to uv light

Once it is coated, the sheet is put into an exposure unit. It’s placed between two pieces of film, which have been designed based on the files submitted by the customer. The sheet is exposed to UV light on both sides. When light touches the resist it becomes hard or polymerized, and areas shaded from light remain soft.

Step 5. Development

development process for chemical etching

During the development process, the soft resist is washed away, leaving behind the hard resist. Where the soft resist has been developed away, we are left with exposed material which will be dissolved away by the heated etchant.  Areas with hardened resist will be protected from the etchant and become the parts desired.

Step 6. Chemical Etching

The etching process uses a range of etchants, depending on the base material used. Matching the appropriate chemicals ensures a more effective chemical machining process, in which etching metal is fast and effective. Metal burrs are not created with chemical etching.

Step 7. Photoresist Stripping

final etched product

After etching the resist is completely removed, yielding the metal components the client has ordered and specified in the files they submitted.

Step 8. Final Inspection

approved metal etched pieces

Parts are then inspected, ensuring it meets proper dimensional specifications, is burr free, and has no other imperfections or defects. Our team also ensures all parts meet high quality standards when value added processes such as forming, laser welding, soldering, or plating are requested.

Photo Chemical Etching Helps Organizations Solve Problems

Today’s business world presents the same problems it always has: production time, cost, budget, and manpower. Photo chemical etching is a manufacturing service with a wide reputation for resolving some of the biggest problems that revolve around those areas. Due to the fact that the production method doesn’t require a large team of engineers and designers, and considering that photo chemical etching is known for creating custom thin metal parts in a quick manner with no errors, the method is widely favored.

Contact UWE Inc. to Learn More About Chemical Etching

United Western Enterprises Inc. is experienced with chemical etching of various metals, in a range of thicknesses. This yields a great deal of flexibility in the dimensions we can accomplish. For more information about our photo etching services or to request parts created with our unique etching processcontact us or call (800) 964-6461.

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