Conard's Photo Etching Blog

From micro to nano: How photo etching & electroforming meet tiny needs

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Apr 24, 2015 3:41:00 AM
Kathleen Stillman
Find me on:
Google Logo
Photo etching and electroforming help OEMs reach micro and nano scale standards without compromising on quality.

One of the accelerating trends in manufacturing today is micromanufacturing. From medical, to microelectronics, to scientific instruments, to RF & Microwave, OEMs are looking for ways to make their devices smaller without sacrificing functionality. In fact, most devices need to pack more functionality into smaller packages.  This need is being driven by the rapid evolution of the "Internet of Things"  Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use in 2015, up 30 percent from 2014, and will reach 25 billion by 2020. The IoT has become a powerful force for business transformation, and its disruptive impact will be felt across all industries and all areas of society.  And it will be up to manufacturers to find solutions to deliver this technology.

"The photo etching process is well-suited for small precision metal parts."

Despite advancements in their technologies, many conventional fabrication processes are unable to make parts on a scale that OEMs require. In the future, "micro and nano" needs will be more pronounced. For OEMs unconventional manufacturing processes like photo etching and electroforming may be the most effective solutions for volume production of very small-scale parts. 

Photo etching - a precision micromanufacturing process
The photo etching process is well-suited for small precision metal parts. Because the parts are chemically etched all at once, we can produce intricate geometries without creating burrs or distortions on any edges, sidewalls or holes. Using phototools, we don't have to worry about tool wear that leads to dimensional variation.

Through etching, we can fabricate parts down to about .020" in materials as thin as .001". In etching, the minimum hole/slot ratio must be at least 110 percent of metal thickness, though we can adjust the aspect ratio to make them different sizes on each side of the sheet. We can reliably hold tolerances to +/- 15% of metal thickness, ensuring part quality.

Here are some other advantages photo etching has for micromanufacturing:

  • Most photo tools are about $300 or less. They can also be reused, allowing for large batches from just one tool.
  • We can have your tools ready in about a day, keeping lead times short.
  • Design changes are easy and cheap thanks to low tooling costs.
  • Expertise with a wide variety of metals.
  • Etching does not alter the composition of the metal or expose it to heat - parts come free of mechanical/thermal distortions and burrs.
  • Drawing block tolerances of +/-.005" are achievable on metals up to .032" thick.
OEMs are increasingly turning to the "micro" processes to meet their small-scale needs.OEMs are turning to the "micro" processes to meet their small-scale needs.

Electroforming - the most "micro" of the micro processes?
There are a few competing definitions of electroforming, but ASTM B892-93 provides one that will satisfy most practitioners: "Electroforming is the production or reproduction of articles by electrodeposition upon a mandrel or mould that is subsequently separated from the deposit."

With electroforming, we can build a totally new part one particle at a time, giving us a high level of control over the process and keeping those miniscule parts exactly as they appear on the drawing. We have the ability to electroform parts that have a thickness between .0005" and .020". Holes and other design features on an electroformed part can be brought down to about .002", while holding tolerances of about +/- .0003".

Electroforming has proven useful in the MEMS and medical fields and is used to create sieves, meshes, screens, ligatures and other parts. Microlithography techniques developed in the semiconductor industry are readily applied to the creation of templates for electroforming.


For more information, please download our free guides:

Download The  Design Guide             Introduction to  Electroforming


If you're an engineer or designer with "micro" designs, call us at 800-443-5218 or email us at to see how our processes can help you.

Topics: Electroforming