What are the Advantages of Photochemical Etching?

August 2021
CNC machine drilling the hole at the steel shaft

Photochemical etching, also known as chemical machining, chemical milling, photo etching, and metal etching is a manufacturing process that fabricates fine metal parts through chemistry and precision photolithography. From the aerospace industry to electronics, and from the medical industry to the automotive landscape, photochemical etching is a prefered technology because its unique methods make it perfectly suited to meet the high demands and standards of modern manufacturing with fast turnaround times, low costs, and perfect accuracy for even the most intricate designs. Before you contact a company that offers photochemical etching it is important to understand the advantages your organization can enjoy when opting for this manufacturing process. With this in mind, this article is intended to help newer management and leadership teams, as well as internal engineers and design teams, understand the benefits of investing in a partner that performs photochemical etching for your project.

Photochemical Etching is Often done Using Laser Cutting Technology

One of the many benefits offered by photochemical etching is that you can use laser cutting technology to produce thin metal parts. When using laser cutting technology in the photochemical process, you tend to get cleaner edges. This is because the heat cutting through the metal impacts smaller areas resulting in those highly desired clean lines. The laser ensures burr free parts that are unstressed, with precision and hyper accurate cuts, even on small metal parts 1/10 the fineness of a human hair. This is critical because smaller parts run the risk of distortion and warping, and a laser beam doesn’t weaken during the cutting process nor does it require the engineer to engage work stoppage for retooling or replacing parts.

Metal Stamping VS. Micro-Stamping, or Photochemical Etching?

Micro-stamping is a ballistics identification technology that involves engraving onto the tip of a firing pin and onto the breech face of a firearm. Based on  your project, it may be an option for you, even if you aren’t working with firearms. If experienced teams can avoid using micro-stamping in place of metal stamping, they almost always will if photochemical etching is not an option. While chemical etching is more affordable than metal stamping due to the cost of the tools, metal stamping is preferred above micro-stamping because it is ultra precise and the turnaround time is much shorter. During the metal stamping process flat metal sheets are inserted into a stamping press where they are formed into the intended shape as dictated by the tool and die surface. Though expensive, this process is highly effective for miniaturization. When investing in photochemical etching services, you may also utilize metal stamping at some point in your project thus giving you a benefit. However, photochemical is a cut above both of these, and if it is an option, it is rarely passed.

Photochemical Etching Speeds up the Engineering Process

Another benefit of investing in photochemical etching is that engineer teams can fabricate even the most complex small metal parts within mere hours upon receiving the design plans and drawings. This allows for a speedy turn-around time, which benefits any company focused on internal effectiveness and productivity. In fact, this is one of the top reasons why organizations decide to work with photochemical etching providers. Other manufacturing processes can literally take twice the time, and even three times as long to complete.

Photochemical Etching can be Performed on a Wide Variety of Materials

Photochemical Etching Process

While some etch-based manufacturing processes are limited to a small selection of metals, photochemical etching can be performed on multiple materials making it a flexible option for companies that have a number of specific requirements surrounding their design. Photochemical etching is only limited to materials with a thickness of 0.0005 to 0.080 in (0.013 to 2.032 mm), meaning that you can use virtually any metal, commercial alloy or really any hardened surface. When it comes to photochemical etching, United Wester Enterprises commonly uses brass, steel, silver, copper, nickel, stainless steel, inconel, aluminum, zinc, titanium, and manganese.

The Process of Photochemical Etching ensures Strict Quality Control

Another benefit of investing in photochemical etching is that the process is so intense that it leaves no room for flaws or mistakes. From cleaning to coating and beyond, every step in the process follows a path that guarantees perfection. These steps are as follows:

  • CAD Design / Protocol Design – When you submit your drawings the photochemical etching engineers are able to review your designs and make any proposed design changes that can make overall improvements. This is also when the file gets converted over to the working protocol in a fast, cost-effective manner.
  • Metal Selection and Preparation – Experts choose the right metals required based on your instructions, design challenges, and to ensure the product is highly effective.
  • Photoresist Coating – A type of photosensitive material is applied to the metal using a specialized machine.
  • UV Exposure – The coated sheet is exposed to UV rays placed between two pieces of film that have been designed based on your submitted designs.
  • Development – During this phase the soft resist is cleaned away leaving behind the hard resist. Exposed material appears where the soft resist was which will be dissolved by the etchant using heat. The hardest areas are protected from the etchant.
  • Chemical Etching – Depending on the base material, a wide range of etchants can be used in the etching process. This is also when the appropriate chemicals are matched.
  • Photoresist Stripping – The etching resist is removed resulting in the metal parts you ordered down to every detailed specification.

As you can see, the photochemical etching process requires ongoing quality assurance from start to finish, giving organizations like yours yet another benefit to investing in this process.

Call United Western Enterprises for the Best Photochemical Etching Services in the Industry

CNC Laser cutting machine

United Wester Enterprises is proud to offer the best photochemical etching services that stand apart from any other provider, and we work across a wide range of industries. With our affordability, fast turnaround time, skilled engineers, and the latest in technology and tooling, we guarantee your project will be done within the agreed upon time frame, and we will work closely with your team through every step of the process. Call today and learn how UWE can take your project to the next level.

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