What are Tabs and Why are They Used in Photo Etching for Intricate Components?

February 2023
Professional men engineer with tablet pc at workshop

Photo etching, also known as photochemical etching, photochemical machining and photochemical milling) is a manufacturing process used for creating thin metal parts from a metal sheet using photoresist and etchants to corrode away unwanted areas of the metal. Photo etching first came onto the scene in the 1960s rooted in the process for printing circuit boards. Today, it is a favored process embraced by the best photo etching companies for intricate components because it doesn’t result in burning and the process isn’t known for damaging material.

Etch Tabs (also known as tie-ins) are metal features that tie the sheet frame to the part. Manufacturers add the tab feature to the component’s profile during the tooling process so that it is retained after the etching process. Etch tabs are commonly used in producing intricate components because they enable the ability to achieve much tighter tolerances with significantly less variation from part to part. The close tolerance capability increases the precision of and improves the fit of mating parts. Additionally, tabs that secure the parts to one another and the sheet are more suited to plating processes as the sheet prevents parts from moving, thus masking one another and causing uneven plating coverage.

After the pieces are manufactured, these intricate components can be supplied to customers as individual parts, by clipping the tab flush with the part profile, or delivered tabbed into the metal sheet which enables easy storage and inventory maintenance. Based on the design, tolerance requirement and size of the component, United Western Enterprises can manufacture intricate components without tabs, but these are usually recommended when the mandatory tolerance is less than 15 percent of the base material thickness.

Tabs in Photo Etching Help to Reduce Damage in Transit and Enhance Portability

Every year thousands of dollars are lost in damaged goods when thin metal parts are shipped to customers. It is ideal to add tabs in order to prevent the metal parts from bending, creasing or rubbing together which can lead to surface finish damage.

What are the Four Main Etch Tab Types?

The laser cutting machine cut the metal plate.

There are several types of etch Tabs, but there are four primary types used by the majority of photo etching companies. These include the following:

  • Recessed Tabs – When a tab protrusion is not permitted, recessed tabs are used creating a tiny notch in the part’s outer profile.
  • Half-etched Recess Tabs – Similar to recess tabs, these eliminate tab protrusion and assist in the removal of the intricate component from the sheet.
  • Protruding Tabs – These tabs extend from the outside of the profile and are the most common option for most intricate components, as the part’s surface is not affected.
  • Half-Etched Protruding Tabs – Like protruding Tabs, these are partially etched to aid in the component’s removal.

Our experienced teams can consult with you and your team and recommend the best types of tabs when you invest in our photo etching services, and we will work to ensure that your product ultimately gets to market before the competition with a superior user experience and higher quality build.

Tab Length Considerations in Photo Etching

Our experienced team of photo etching professionals will be able to take your design, its requirements, and determine the exact Tab length that’s necessary. In ‘Science Direct’ Volume 16 Issue, Issue 5, researchers determined the relationship between depth of penetration and tensile bond strength of photo etched intricate components in dental materials. The product was applied to enamel samples to create test specimens that were loaded to fracture on a piece of testing machinery. The tabs and specimens were examined under light microscopy and electron microscopy, and certain precise cut tabs outperformed another. Our team of photo etching experts at United Western Enterprises uses data like this to engineer the right intricate parts using the right tab types and lengths to ensure superior performance, without compromise.

Call United Western Enterprises for the Best Photo Etching Services in the US

Now is the time to partner with an industry leader in the realm of photo etching capable of producing your specific designs, and even introducing design improvements while closely collaborating with your team. United Western Enterprises has more than 45 years of experience providing clients with the best photo etching services, serving a wide range of industries from medical to defense, and from consumer goods to aerospace. Call today to get a quote on your project and learn how a partnership with United Western Enterprises can help you dominate the competitive space in your industry.

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