Conard's Photo Etching Blog

In-flight Wi-Fi takes off - can photo etching play a role?

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Aug 4, 2015 10:58:00 AM
Kathleen Stillman
Find me on:
Google Logo
After several years of stalled growth, in-flight Wi-Fi appears slated for widespread adoption.

After several years of stalled growth, in-flight Wi-Fi appears slated for widespread adoption. An article from the Washington Post explained that as more consumers come to expect wireless Internet connections wherever they go and airlines are responding by outfitting their airplanes with upgraded communications technologies that will allow for faster Internet and even video and music streaming.

These new communications systems will make use of the 3GHz spectrum (which beams 3G signals from towers), Ku antennas and satellite technologies to provide the Wi-Fi capabilities on board each plane. As this communications infrastructure on the ground and in space is further developed, we can expect to see more aerospace and RF & Microwave manufacturers working to build Internet connectivity right into planes.

OEMs in these industries should consider photo etching for the component parts they will need for this fast-emerging product category. Here are a few advantages photo etching offer the communications sector:

A variety of metals
Copper and copper alloys, like brass and beryllium copper, are frequently used in the etching process. RF & Microwave manufacturers prefer these materials due to their current- and signal-carrying capabilities. Additionally, aluminum is a common component in antenna manufacturing.

In some rare cases, carbon or galvanized steel is used for these purposes, and those can also be etched. A good photo etching shop will also be able to electroplate the surfaces of your parts with metals such as nickel under silver, gold or palladium.

The demand for communications and Wi-Fi technology on airplanes is poised to grow. OEMs should be sure to work with supply chain partners that can help them create the products they need.The demand for communications and Wi-Fi technology on airplanes is poised to grow. OEMs should be sure to work with supply chain partners that can help them create the products they need.

The ability to handle complex designs
For OEMs that create communications and Wi-Fi-enhanced products, the ability to create complex component part geometries out of thin gauge metals is essential. Photo etching is well-suited to this kind of work because the parts are machined all at once, with all unmasked areas of the sheet being etched simultaneously. The etching process leaves no burrs and ensures that all tolerances are held to within +/- 15% of the part's thickness.

Other methods like punching, laser cutting and wire EDMs only work on a small, localized area of the part at one time. These methods take more time than photo etching, are vulnerable to undesirable side effects like tool wear, uneven locational tolerances and thermal and/or mechanical distortions that lead to deficiencies in the final product. This is essential for communications technology for aerospace applications, which is expected to be compact, lightweight and precise.

High production volumes are no problem
Photo etching uses phototools to create parts in volumes ranging from dozens to hundreds of thousands. A phototool is a stencil of the finished part printed on dimensionally stable mylar using an 8,000-dpi photoplotter. The phototool gets laminated to both sides of the sheet metal, and the etching solution dissolves the exposed metal in the shape of the final part. Most tools cost $300 or less, and since there is no "hard tooling," we can create as many as you need without substantially driving your costs up.

To find out if photo etching works for your application:

Request Quote

To learn more about how your OEM can benefit from working with a photo etcher, call us at 800-443-5218 or email us at sales@conardcorp.com.

Topics: Photo chemical etching