Conard's Photo Etching Blog

3 reasons to celebrate photo etching during Manufacturing Month

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Oct 6, 2015 8:59:00 AM
Kathleen Stillman
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The first Friday of October - known as National Manufacturing Day - kicks off what is now considered Manufacturing Month here in the U.S. All throughout the month, manufacturers and educational institutions will lead discussions and panels about the state of U.S. manufacturing now and in the future. The American manufacturing industry has never been as exciting as it is today, with so many different technological and industrial innovations converging to change the sector as a whole.

Photo etching is unique in this regard: Even though it's a fabrication method that's been around for decades, it is extremely well-suited to meet the needs of modern manufacturing. Here are three reasons why photo etching should be included in any celebration of American manufacturing this month.

1. Perfect for "micro" manufacturing
One of the biggest trends in the industry today is the rise of micromanufacturing. In many different verticals, from microelectronics and medical equipment to RF and microwave, finished products are shrinking at a rapid rate. That means the component parts inside them must get smaller without sacrificing performance.

The limitations of conventional fabrication methods, such as stamping, laser cutting and wire EDM, become more apparent at such miniscule dimensions. They often leave thermal and mechanical distortions that affect the tolerances of the part. It's not uncommon to see recast layers caused by extreme heat or burrs left behind by cutting - not good when the final part can be completely thrown off by even the slightest aberration.

Photo etching is able to overcome these problems by being fairly benign in its interaction with the material - there is no "brute force" cutting or extreme temperatures. The process utilizes what is known as a phototool, which is a stencil of the final part printed on a sheet of metal in a layer of photoresist. The etchant (usually ferric chloride) dissolves the exposed metal, leaving only the final part.

This allows for an accurate, repeatable process. Drawing block tolerances of +/-.005" are achievable on metals up to .032" thick. For metal over .005" thick, minimum dimensional tolerances are +/- 15 percent of metal thickness. Location tolerances will be within +/-.001" of drawing nominal.

Micromanufacturing is one of the most exciting trends in the industry today, yet an older process may be the best option to meet those needs.Micromanufacturing is one of the most exciting trends in the industry today, yet an older process may be the best option to meet those needs.

2. Relatively inexpensive
In industries like electronics manufacturing, the prices of final products are continuing to decline. OEMs need to find ways to cut their costs without hindering their products' quality.

Conventional methods generally get very expensive at high production volumes due to tooling and setup costs. These costs get even higher if the OEM needs to make a design change, as all new tooling must be created to accommodate it.

Phototools, the foundation of the etching process, generally cost $300 or less and can be ready within 48 hours. They can also be easily regenerated for multiple production runs, so your costs won't increase dramatically just because your desired production volume is high.

3. Can work with a variety of materials
Not only are most products getting smaller, they are also getting lighter. Consider the example of an airplane manufacturer - it must include a full array of electronics and communications equipment without adding excessive weight to the plane. This is leading manufacturers to experiment with new materials that allow them to reduce the weights of their final products. Again, this must be done without affecting performance.

One metal that is expected to become more common is aluminum. It's lightweight and versatile, but is difficult to work with due to its sensitivity to high temperatures and burrs from cutting methods. Etching avoids those issues, and with process metrics and machines dedicated to aluminum etching, we can ensure high quality aluminum products with each run.

If you are ready to see how chemical etching can work for you:

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To learn more about why you should celebrate photo etching during National Manufacturing Month, call us at 800-443-5218 or email your designs to us at and see what etching can do for you.

Topics: Photo chemical etching, Manufacturing Industry News