Which Industries and Types of Parts are Suitable for Advanced Metal Etching's Capabilities?
In today's competitive landscape, finding the right manufacturing partner and process for your thin metal part designs is crucial to the success of your business. With a wide range of industries and manufacturing processes available, it's essential to understand which type of parts and companies best fit the services provided by Advanced Metal Etching which offers metal etching and laser cutting services. This blog post will outline our capabilities and highlight situations where alternative manufacturing methods might be more suitable.
Ideal Industries for Metal Etching and Laser Cutting Services
The capabilities of fiber laser cutting and photo chemical etching make it an excellent choice for companies in the electronics industry. Electronic components requirements for precision and intricacy often require advanced manufacturing techniques. We specialize in delivering high-quality results for these complex parts. Our experience, from circuit boards to connectors and shielding components, ensures low tolerances and excellent repeatability.
Since most electronic parts require burr-free edges and surfaces, the etching process is an excellent option with many advantages. The lack of hard tooling eliminates metal deformations from blunt force. Part outlines and details are etched with an acid that will dissolve any unwanted metal—the acid wash results in a smooth surface and clean edges. And with our in-house nickel flash and tin plating, parts can be shipped complete at a lower cost.
The medical industry relies heavily on custom metal parts that meet strict quality standards. AME's capabilities align well with the medical sector's needs, as our manufacturing processes can produce intricate and biocompatible details. Applications include surgical instruments, medical implants, micro fluidic devices, and components for diagnostic equipment. Our company's wide range of available materials including stainless steel, titanium, and nitinol, ensure that a wide range of medical applications can be accommodated.
Automotive, RF Microwave, Energy, and Aerospace Industries
Advanced Metal Etching's expertise extends to the automotive, RF microwave, energy, and aerospace industries. These sectors demand lightweight and high-performance parts, often requiring precise manufacturing techniques. Fiber laser cutting and photo chemical machining can produce smaller apertures with intricate designs, such as gaskets, shims, filters, waveguides, heat sinks, and fuel cell components. These industries benefit from the precision, quick turnaround times, and cost-effectiveness of our services and metal thicknesses ranging from .002" to .250".
Metal Fabricators and Engineering Services
In addition to serving specific industries, our capabilities are well-suited for companies involved in other custom metal fabrication processes. Often, fabricators such as stamping, water-jet, wire EDM, and even additive manufacturers will receive orders requiring metal thicknesses or part requirements outside their capabilities. By partnering with AME, they access specialized manufacturing processes that meet their customer's needs. We work with stamping, CNC, and other types of manufacturers often to help them keep their orders on schedule and complete to print.
Engineering services companies often contact us for quick prototyping and design consultation to fit their part designs into our machining processes. For those hard-to-design parts that may require lower tolerances with greater metal thicknesses, we offer a two-step process with our Hybrid Etch-Laser Process (HELP.) that can achieve these desired results.
Limitations of Photo Metal Etching and Laser Cutting
Larger Dimensional Components
Our manufacturing processes, such as fiber laser cutting and photo chemical etching, are better suited for producing smaller, thinner parts rather than larger significant structural components. For example, our etching equipment can only accommodate 24" wide sheets and thicknesses up to .050". On the other hand, the fiber laser processes parts up to 48" wide and thicknesses up to .250". If your project involves large-scale metal structures or heavy-duty components used in equipment machinery, alternative manufacturing methods like stamping, water jet cutting, or CNC machining may be more appropriate.
We specialize in photo chemical etching, a cutting-edge process that allows us to produce intricate and precise parts from metal sheets. While this method is highly effective for creating complex designs with fine details and tight tolerances, it's important to note that it is unsuitable for working on pre-existing three-dimensional parts.
The reason behind this limitation is the etching process itself. Photo chemical machining relies on a photoresist coating to protect specific metal surface areas from being etched away. Unfortunately, applying a uniform and consistent photoresist coating to machined parts, which often have intricate shapes, features, and surface finishes, can be challenging. That is why etching can only occur on a blank metal sheet before any other machining operation. It is important to note that some chemical etching companies have processes that specialize in the selective etching of aerospace machined parts.
Moreover, machined parts typically possess existing geometries such as holes, threads, or contours that cannot be easily modified or removed through the chemical etching process alone.
Attempting to etch such parts chemically may result in unpredictable and undesirable outcomes, potentially causing damage or distortion to the existing features.
The chemical etching process makes parts from sheet metal stock. In this process, the entire sheet can be uniformly coated with a photoresist, allowing for selective etching to achieve the desired design. Alternative manufacturing processes such as CNC machining or precision grinding are typically utilized for machined parts to achieve the necessary dimensions and surface finishes.
Pre Plated Metal Sheets
The first step in the etching process is to ensure the metal sheets are clean from dust and oils. Such debris can compromise the surface smoothness of the completed part. This rule applies to any plating adherence as well. Chemical etching would dissolve the metal plating and compromise the precision.
On the other hand, pre-plated sheets can be laser-cut. Each type of plating may have its advantages/disadvantages. For example, galvanized/zinc-plated steel cuts great. Others may have some melt back from the cut edges and require a secondary process to clean up any debris.
High-Volume Production Runs
While our machines are capable of large quantity runs, other manufacturing processes such as stamping, injection molding, or die casting may be more efficient and cost-effective with certain types of parts with lower complexity.
If a part has numerous features such as holes, slots, or other geometries, then photo etching is more cost-effective because all the part features are etched simultaneously without additional costs. One example is an electronic lead frame. The time it would take to laser cut or machine each component feature would be extensive and not as cost-effective.
Prototypes and smaller production runs are ideal with etching and laser cutting because the tooling is inexpensive. There are always parts that are exceptions, and speaking with a member of our team can provide you with the best solutions.
Choosing the right manufacturing partner for your custom parts is crucial to ensure the success and quality of your end products. Advanced Metal Etching, with its fiber laser cutting and photochemical etching capabilities, is an excellent fit for the electronics, medical, automotive, RF microwave, energy, and aerospace industries. Organizations serving these industries including metal fabricators, electronics manufacturing services, OEMs, and engineering firms, will benefit from our prototyping services and ability to accommodate complex designs while keeping costs low.