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CHEMICAL ETCHING

What is Chemical Etching?
Chemical etching is also commonly referred to as acid etching, photo etching, photochemical etching, chemical milling, metal etching, chemi etching, chem etch and photo chemical machining (PCM). Find out more about the chemical etching process.
Chemical etching is a machining process that utilises chemicals to produce intricate components from a wide range of materials. This is done with a corrosive chemical (etchant), which is normally some form of acid and is used to dissolve unwanted material away to produce the final design. Our preferred etchant is Ferric Chloride (FeCI3).
Unlike other machining processes, the components produced by precision metal etching are stress-free with no burrs or rough edges and with no changes to the original material properties.

Highly Accurate Manufacturing

Chemical etching is a manufacturing method for producing highly complex and accurate metal components in most metals including aluminium, copper alloys, nickel alloys, titanium alloys and other exotic metals, between 0.005mm to 2.5mm thick.

More Complexity, Same Price

Many customers select chemical etching because of the flexibility it provides for supplying samples in days rather than weeks or months. The complexity of the profile does not affect the price… to process thousands of apertures or just the one, the price remains the same.

Minimum Feature Sizes

Chemical etching can achieve a minimum standard feature size of 0.075 mm, but apertures smaller than this are possible with development, as is accuracy to less than ±10% metal thickness.

Burr- And Stress-Free Metal Etching

ACE’s chemical etch process produces parts without burrs or stress, with tolerances that can be as low as 10% of human hair. Our metal etching process preserves the integrity of the material, even in highly complex designs.

The Benefits of Chemical Etching

  • Precise Tooling

    The tooling for photochemical etching is not hard tooling but low cost, highly precise, CAD generated digital tooling (soft tooling).

  • Risk-Free Design

    With the ability to produce prototypes in extremely short lead times, the complexity of design is not an issue and we can match all technical guidelines and react to design changes extremely quickly.

  • Right First Time

    The chemical etching process does not use mechanical force or heat and this means that metal properties remain unchanged. A temper of material is not altered and parts are burr-free.

  • No Finishing Required

    Ultimate net shape machining reduces the need for traditional finishing. Our metal etching process leaves no rough edges or burrs.

  • Various Thickness

    A variety of different materials and thicknesses can be etched in thicknesses from 0.005mm to 2.5mm.

  • Tolerances ±0.025mm

    As component features are etched simultaneously, the part complexity achievable is almost limitless with accuracy to ±0.025mm.

What Metals Can Be Chemically Etched?

  • Aluminium alloys
  • Copper and copper alloys
  • Nickel and nickel alloys
  • Titanium and titanium alloys
  • Elgiloy
  • Polyimide/
    kapton metallised film
  • Steels and stainless steels
  • Molybdenum
  • Very Short Lead Times

    No other metal etching process can produce stress-free, burr-free metal parts, with the added benefit of being extremely cost-effective with very short lead times.

  • Over 2000 Metal Types

    More than 2000 different metal types and grades are etched by ACE. In addition, we can supply specialist materials on request. We also work with customer supplied metals if required.

  • Almost Any Metal Etched

    The photochemical etching process can profile almost any metal including those considered hard to profile and even some corrosion-resistant metals.

To Bear In Mind…

Unfortunately, we are not able to put designs onto finished metal components or shaped metal items.
All of our acid etching is performed utilising perfectly flat sheets of metal.

Please also note that we are only able to acid etch metal.

CHEMICAL ETCHING PROCESS IN 8 STEPS

The metal etching process is multistage and can be broken down into a series of eight steps:

1. Choosing The Metal

Metal selected to meet customer requirements.

 

2. Metal Cleaning

Metal sheets are chemically cleaned.

 

3. Lamination

Dry film photosensitive resist is applied to both sides of the metal.

 

4. Printing

The design is transferred from the film to the coated sheet using UV LED exposure.

 

5. Developing

The unexposed areas of resist are developed away to leave exposed metal areas.

 

6. Etching

Etchant is sprayed both sides and exposed metal is dissolved.

 

7. Stripping

Photo-resist is removed to leave the metal parts

 

8. Inspecting & Finishing

A visual and critical dimension inspection is undertaken. Bespoke products finished to customer specification.

 

The etching process is a multi- stage process and can be broken down into a series of eight steps:

A visual and critical dimension inspection is undertaken. Bespoke products finished to the customers specifications. 8. INSPECTING & FINISHING QUALITY APPROVED DELIVERY TO CLIENT Photo-resist is removed to leave the metal parts. 7 . STRIPPING Etchant is sprayed both sides and exposed metal is dissolved. 6. ETCHING The unexposed areas of resist are developed away to leave exposed metal areas. 5. DEVELOPING The design is transferred from the film to the coated sheet using UV LED exposure. 4. PRINTING U D r y film photosensitive resist is applied to both sides of the metal. 3. LAMINATION Metal sheets are chemically cleaned. 2. METAL CLEANING Metal selected to meet customer requirements. 1 . THE METAL

The Etching Process at Advanced Chemical Etching

  • Development & Evolution

    We are constantly challenging the normal chemical etching process route. We continue our research into developing new, precision etching processes in our R&D laboratory. We are constantly evolving this unique process into a competitive engineering route for virtually every industry.

  • Scalable Production

    Parts are supplied clean, burr and stress-free to tolerances that can be as low as 10% of human hair. The process is highly repeatable, so it is flexible enough to produce parts from one-off samples, through production ramp-up and even serial production – processing many thousands of parts every day.

  • High Capability

    Tolerances are a key consideration in any design, and with chemical etching, tolerances vary dependent on the material thickness.
    For metals, 0.01 mm-0.25 mm thick the minimum standard etch tolerance is ±0.025 mm.
    For thicknesses above this (to 2.5mm) the minimum standard etch tolerance is ±10% metal thickness.

  • Unique Etching Features

    ACE can produce unique characteristics designed into products manufactured using the chemical etching process, such as logos, barcodes, text, ½ etched fold lines and surface patterns.
    We can control etch profiles and, by doing so, introduce a range of profiles allowing conical openings, commonly used to direct fluid flow in filtration meshes.

Express Precision Etching

Highly precise prototypes or samples of metal etching products are produced rapidly through the photo/chemical etching process, allowing the design to be assessed for fit and function.

A Reputation for Service Quality

If a design change is required, the photo tooling can be altered at a minimal cost allowing optimum product development. Our reputation for service and quality leaves our competitors standing.

ACE is leading the etching industry

Opportunities for Growth

ACE is leading the field when it comes to the fast-moving art of developing highly precise etched components.
We are constantly evolving and creating innovative chemical etching techniques and delivering precision metal parts, manufacturing millions of etched components per annum in different types of metals and thicknesses to global manufacturing companies across 15 different markets.

Major Industry Partners

The relationship with our customers has been a key part of our success.
By partnering with us at every stage of the design and product development process, we can help to achieve the most cost-effective, timely and accurate outcomes to customers’ design and engineering challenges.

What Industries Can Photochemical Etching Be Used In?

  • Aerospace, Defence & Space

    Quality, speed, precision and innovation are four of the key drivers that make ACE such an instrumental partner to the Aerospace and Defence sector.

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  • Automotive & F1

    The car industry and ACE date back to 2000 when the company was first formed, supplying components to tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers across the UK and Europe.

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  • Communications & Electronics

    From micro connectors for a mobile phone to a large screening can for a base station, ACE plays a significant role in connecting the world.

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  • Precision Engineering

    We are agile and responsive to fluctuating demand and innovative in our ability to deliver engineering solutions to complex problems.

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  • Medical

    ACE has invested time and money into etching titanium and is now able to deep etch and profile material for intricate medical devices.

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  • Renewable Energy

    ACE is a critical supplier to this sector, with our ability to produce specialist prototypes and low volume components has lead us to having a global clientele.

    Find Out More

LOW-COST TOOLING SET-UP & MODIFICATIONS

Unlike other manufacturing processes such as stamping, the cost of photo tooling does not increase with feature complexity. This promotes innovation as designers can, at prototype stage, design multiple parts on a sample photo tool to choose the design best suited for part functionality, rather than use costly hard tooling before the part design is completed. This makes the chemical etching process the ideal choice for both high and low volume production and prototyping.

Photochemical Etching Allows for Affordable Prototyping

  • With photochemical etching, prices are calculated by the sheet, not by the part, which means multiple components can be processed simultaneously using a single photo tool. This ability to produce many part types in one production run is the key to the enormous cost savings inherent in the process.
  • The ACE etching process can be applied to virtually any metal type, including those soft, hard or extremely brittle. For instance, aluminium is renowned for being difficult to stamp due to its soft nature or laser cut due to its reflectivity. Equally, titanium’s hardness can prove challenging for other manufacturing processes.
  • ACE has developed a unique metal etching process for both aluminium alloys and titanium and is one of the few chemical etching companies in the world with a dedicated, serial production aluminium and titanium etching capability.
  • ACE lead times for manufacturing can be as low as hours as opposed to other technologies when lead times can take many months.

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