Additive Micromanufacturing: Creating Parts Atom by Atom
Electroforming creates metal parts by electrodepositing metals, typically nickel, but also copper, silver or gold, onto an electrically conductive pattern or mandrel. The nickel can be formed to thicknesses ranging from 5 to about 250 microns. The process is suitable for 3D parts as well as flat parts.
Here is a free whitepaper:
Electroforming is the Foundation of Many Applications
One of the largest uses for electroforming is the production of CDs and DVDs. For each music album or video or game disk, an electroformed nickel "stamper" is created onto which the polycarbonate material is cast. The stamper creates the unique pattern of submicron-sized pits in the surface of the disk that encodes the content for the audio, video or game player.
Another major application for nickel electroforming is in the creation of molds used to produce body and interior components for automotive and aerospace applications. There are a number of direct applications for nickel electroforms in aerospace including erosion guards for the leading edges of wings and blades, heat shields and thrust chambers for rocket engines.
The electronics industries use electroformed nickel components in a variety of applications as well. Thin film magnetic heads for disk drives are produced by an exacting process that combines electroforming of nickel, nickel/iron, and copper with lithographic masking. EMI shielding, test probes, solder paste stencils, heatsinks are among the myriad and growing uses for electroforming in electronics.
Electroformed nickel printing plates are used in the production of currency notes and postage stamps. Electroformed molds are used to produce plastic optical lenses, holograms, and mirrors.
Electroforming Micro-perforated Products
Among the most diverse set of applications for nickel electroforming is in the production of screens, grids, filters and meshes. The ability to create very tiny features, holes as small as 2 microns in foils as thin as 5 microns, is one of electroforming's most unique capabilities compared to all other metal fabricating processes. Perforated electroformed products find applications in scores of industries including medical devices, screen printing, batteries, filtration, optical encoders, electric shaver foils, MEMS and more. Electroforming can even be used to create nickel foam by metallizing a plastic foam, plating the nickel and then pyrolizing the plastic.
Emerging Technologies Need Microfabrication Processes
MEMS (micro electronic mechanical systems) is the marriage of semiconductors with tiny mechanical components such as encoders, gears or actuators of various types. Photo etching and electroforming are the most capable metal fabricating processes for creating such tiny elements.
Electroforming is finding increasing uses as technology continues its drive toward smaller and smaller devices. This is also another little known and little understood process for metal fabrication; similar to the lack of renown of photo etching. Although there are a relatively small number of dedicated electroforming job shops (fewer than 70 by our count), electroforming is also done by some photo etching and electroplating facilities.
Based on many conversations I have had with customers who are looking to solve some really small-scale problems, photo etching and electroforming are capable but unrecognized technologies for creating a broad variety of precision metal components at very delicate scales.