Conard's Photo Etching Blog

Photo Etching Is Cost-Effective For Production Quantities

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Apr 15, 2015 8:12:00 AM
Kathleen Stillman
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Photo etching is a cost-effective fabrication method, regardless of production volume or part complexity.

Engineers and designers use several criteria to evaluate their options for fabrication methods, and one of the most important is the value they get for the production volume they need. Some methods, like laser cutting and stamping, are cost-effective for simple parts at low to high volumes. But the problem with those processes is that as the desired part's geometric complexity increases, their tooling, set up and material costs all rise dramatically.

Photo etching is well-suited to handling odd shapes and miniscule surface features at volumes ranging from dozens to tens of thousands. Best of all, the production costs of the parts don't spiral out of control just because the amount of parts needed increases. Our ability to deliver value to our customers regardless of the quantities they need us to produce starts with our "tools."

"The phototool is a fast, flexible and inexpensive way to produce an array of precision flat metal parts."

The phototool's role in cost-effective production
The phototool is a fast, flexible and inexpensive way to produce an array of precision flat metal parts when compared to dies or steel tools. Once we have a CAD file of the design, we can generate a phototool in a matter of hours and for around $300 or less. Other fabrication methods have lead times ranging from weeks to months. Finally, if you have design changes, the phototools can be easily regenerated to accommodate revisions without incurring substantial costs or wasted time making new tools.

A phototool is a stencil of the finished part printed on dimensionally stable mylar using an 8,000-dpi photoplotter. Since UV light is the phototool's only working exposure, there is no tool wear in the traditional sense of a die or drill getting worn out from multiple uses. This means that we don't have to keep replacing our tools or worry about tool wear leading to uneven dimensions that are out of tolerance.

Saving money on precision metal part production starts with the phototool.Saving money on precision metal part production starts with the phototool.

Photo etching handles complexity well, even at high production volumes
Phototools lend themselves to rapid and cost-effective production regardless of the part's geometry - whether we need to make 10 or 10,000 parts. Very often, we're asked to make parts with hundreds of tiny holes on the surface, and this complexity is where etching excels.

As a matter of comparison, both stamping and etching can produce hundreds of holes simultaneously, but punching requires multiple strikes and the linear processes - laser, plasma and wire EDM - must make each hole one at a time. The more holes required, the more expensive the stamping dies become. With a phototool, whether it's one hole or 1,000, the cost of the tool doesn't change and is typically less than $300.

For more intricate parts like small grids or leadframes, the difference between etching and the other processes is even more pronounced. The Photo Chemical Machining Institute asked manufacturers using a variety of process to quote them a price for a .005" stainless steel or nickel grid with a diameter of 1". The stamper, EDM and water jet cutter all said that the parts were too intricate and impractical to make in any batch size. The laser cutter was the only one that could do it, but at about 300% of the tooling and set up costs a photo etcher would charge for a batch of 5,000 parts. Photo etching, on the other hand, could handle the complexity and a variety of batch sizes ranging from 100 to 50,000 without subjecting the customer to burdensome cost increases.

For more information, download the Comprehesive Guide to Photo Etching: Get The Guide Now

To learn more about how your OEM can benefit from working with a photo etcher, regardless of your production quantity needs, call us at 800-443-5218 or email us at