Conard's Photo Etching Blog

How Photo Etching is a Capable Alternative to Other Metal Fabricating Processes

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Dec 7, 2018 4:28:33 PM

 Photo Etching vs. "the Others"

Photochemical machining is the industry's preferred moniker for this metal fabrication process.  It is also readily called photo or chemical etching,  The process derived from the then-nascent printed circuit board industry in the 1950s. The fabrication steps are nearly identical.

More recognized processes such as metal stamping and punching utilize hardened steel tools to shape metal parts and have long histories in metal fabrication.  Plasma, laser and water jet cutting utilize directed energy to shape parts. And, wire EDM uses a wire electrode to burn away metal. In these cases the evolution of CNC (computer numerical control) in the 1970s allowed part geometries to be programmed directly into cutting machines.

The most "traditional" processes, stamping and punching, are sort of "brute force" processes, shearing metal using powerful presses.  Plasma, laser and EDM rely on intense energy, literally burning their way through metal.  Waterjet is sort of the "hot knife through butter" option, but you definitely wouldn't want to get in the way of a pressurized stream of water that can cut through an inch of steel!

Photo etching, in contrast, would be like running a sheet of metal through your dishwasher and then taking out a sheet of parts.

"Stress Free" Precision Metal Fabricating 

Photo etching is deemed a "non-conventional" method that fits alongside plasma, laser, waterjet and wire EDM for manufacturing many types of metal parts. 

The more well-known fabrication methods have their own sets of undesirable side effects.  Stamping and punching produce burrs from the shearing forces, and often cause "cold working" of the metal that may need to be alleviated by annealing. Plasma, laser and wire EDM impart significant heat into the work material.  Plasma operates at about 25000 deg F; laser and EDM typically between 2500 and 5000 deg F. In these cases, the side effects of the intense heat include what are called "heat-affected zones" or recast layers that need to be rectified by secondary processes.

Photo etching completely avoids all of these side effects. The maximum temperature metal is exposed to in etching is 165 deg F. In addition, etching is particularly capable with very thin materials (routinely down to .001")--which is beyond what is in the comfort zone for the other processes. Etching is also very capable with regard to both reflective and thermally conductive metals such as aluminum and copper, which can be problematic for lasers in particular.. 

Here's a quick run down of etching specs and tolerances.

For more detail:

Download the Guide

The photo etching process is used for fabricating metal parts for many different industrial applications including sensors, shields, retainers, flat springs, strain gauges, filters, screens, grids, shims, gaskets and more. For electronics, etching is used to produce a host of metal components used in RF, microwave and wireless applications, as well as lids and leadframes for microelectronics packaging.  Photo etched direct bond copper is increasingly used in power electronic applications, particularly in wireless devices. It is also used to produce a host of electrical contacts, buss bars and other electrical interconnect devices.

Get the picture here : 3-minute video shows the process
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Topics: Photo chemical etching, FAQs

5 reasons OEMs should choose a value-added supplier for Photo Etching

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Nov 25, 2014 3:58:00 AM
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Here are five reasons why you should consider a value-added photo etching supplier for your OEM.
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Topics: Environment, FAQs, Quality

Why OEMs Rely on Photo Etching for Key Applications

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Jul 29, 2014 3:28:00 PM

From semiconductors to fuel cells to filtration to medical devices --and many more-- major OEMs, names you will instantly recognize, use photo etched precision metal parts in key applications. Given the vast array of metal fabricating resources and technologies available to leading OEMs, why would they choose photochemical etching for critical elements of their products?

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Topics: Photo chemical etching, FAQs

Why Use Photo Etching for Power Electronic Devices

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Jul 22, 2014 4:22:00 PM

The umbrella term “power electronics” refers to a range of semiconductor devices that are used to manage and manipulate the voltage, current and frequency of electric power. img_4547-resized-600

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Topics: Photo chemical etching, FAQs

What is the difference between Photo Etching and Chemical Milling

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on May 27, 2014 11:00:00 AM
Photo etching, which is also known as chemical etching, photo chemical etching and photochemical machining (PCM), is a process for fabricating metal components by coating metal in a patterned photo resist and then exposing the metal to an etchant.  The metal not protected by the resist will be dissolved and washed away. 

Chemical etching is most often used to produce thin gauge metal parts, sometimes as thin as .0005".  Panel etching can also process ferrous alloys to .040" thick, copper alloys to .065", and aluminum to .080".  Photo chemical etching evolved in the 1950s from the printed circuit board industry. 

By using film masters as exposure masks, chemical etching is a meaningful alternative to stamping for many metal applications.

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Topics: Photo chemical etching, FAQs

10 Things MY Boss Wishes You Knew About Photo Chemical Machining

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Feb 11, 2014 3:26:00 PM

My boss has forgotten more about photo chemical machining than I will ever know.  But, there are some things about photo etching that he thinks would make your life easier.

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Topics: Photo chemical etching, FAQs

What to Know about Photo Etched Sidewalls

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Jan 24, 2014 8:40:00 AM

Different metal cutting processes produce different effects at the cut line. Stamping and punching can leave a deformation and a burr on the die side of the plate.  Laser, plasma and EDM can leave a heat-affected zone or recast layer.  Abrasive slurry water jet can leave a somewhat erose sidewall.  And photo chemical machining has its own sidewall artifact that we call a "feather."

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Topics: Photo chemical etching, FAQs

What are Dimensional Tolerances for Photo Etching Metals?

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Sep 16, 2013 4:04:00 PM

The photo etching process relies on the ability of the etching fluid to enter and exit the line or hole or slot that is being etched.  The effect of the etchant is dependent upon having adequate access to the metal that needs to be dissolved.

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Topics: Photo chemical etching, FAQs

What is Electroforming and its Applications?

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Sep 3, 2013 2:39:00 PM

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:

   Introduction to  Electroforming

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Topics: Electroforming, FAQs

Eight Reasons Why You Don't Want DIY Photo Etching

Posted by Kathleen Stillman on Aug 15, 2013 11:24:00 AM

We get regular inquiries asking about buying etching equipment. There seems to be a perception that an etching machine is like a photocopier: buy it, plug it in and you’re in business. Setting up a photo etching operation is a much bigger deal than that.  At a minimum, there are six pieces of capital equipment required: cleaning line, laminator, exposure unit, developer line, etching line and stripping line.  You also need to be able to mix, transport, use and get rid of 5 different solutions: cleaner, developer, etchant, rinse and stripping solution.  And, if you are going to do this right, you’ll need a water conditioning system, a waste water treatment plant and a fume scrubber.

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Topics: Photo chemical etching, FAQs