What are the Qualities of a Good Photo Etching Company?
Manufacturers all have a common objective, to produce quality, functional components that satisfy industry demands. Industries such as electronics, medical, military, aerospace, R/F microwave, automobile, and communications all require precision thin metal parts for some of their most common applications.
The photo chemical etching process is one of the most cost-effective methods for high volume, burr-free, thin parts with low tolerances. Engineers work hard developing designs to meet industry demands and must do so quickly without compromising quality and functionality. It then becomes the role of the project manager or buyer to begin the search for the most reliable etching supplier to make their designs a reality.
The path from design→ prototype→ material selection→ manufacturing process→ finishing services→ testing, and finally to the consumer or organization is well thought out. To make this process easier, there are 3 specific things to consider when choosing a photo etching company and what to expect when it comes to experience, quality, and capabilities.
Industry Relevant Experience
Is experience everything? Not necessarily. However, a metal etching company must be doing something right if they have been around for decades. Most likely they have long-standing relationships with customers and suppliers. And, with time comes extensive knowledge of the different photo etched product applications and requirements.
An even better indicator is employee retention. If an etching supplier's employees have been around a long time it is indicative of good company culture. Ask if the prospective chemical etching company cross-trains its employees. If so, it is very likely they have full scope and understanding of machining processes and quality which can help mitigate risk while at the same time increase efficiency in the production line.
A good photo chemical etching company with experience must keep up with new technologies. Consequently, a PCM (photochemical machining) manufacturer will invest in new equipment to increase capabilities, quality, and productivity. They are also more likely to be educated in metallurgy, and how it applies to product functionality and conductivity for which specific applications are dependent.
From a financial perspective, a company with longevity understands how the fluctuating economy can affect manufacturing costs. Therefore, if necessary, it will engage in price negotiations with their suppliers to keep costs down while maintaining efficient inventory control procedures to support stable operations.
High Product Quality
With increasing industry regulations added as an ongoing basis, it is necessary for photochemical machining companies to accommodate these changes for improved processes, part functionality, and customer trust. Therefore, companies that offer metal etch services must invest in the most technologically advanced equipment and purchase quality materials from trusted suppliers.
There are several compliance criteria photo etching companies must consider when purchasing metals. The government requires certain guidelines for businesses when purchasing raw materials.
- RoHS (Restrictions of Hazardous Substances) compliance restricts the use of specific hazardous materials found in electrical and electronic products that can interfere with performance.
- DFARS (Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement) is a set of restrictions aimed to protect the US defense industry from risks associated with the dependency on foreign supply.
By complying with these regulations, photo etching manufacturers are committed to protecting the defense industry and ensuring quality for their suppliers.
Another critical quality issue of equal importance to the defense industry is the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms) compliance which requires manufacturers and suppliers of goods and services to register with the State Department’s DDTC (Directorate of Defense Trade Controls) to ensure products are within ITAR guidelines designed to protect U.S. national security.
The ITAR registration will further assure trust; therefore, choosing an American-made (US) manufacturer can guarantee and control the metal quality.
The most universally important quality compliance that a good photochemical machining manufacturer should have is an ISO (International Standard for Organization) compliance certificate. With this, OEM's can be sure that metal photo etching companies adhere to a series of documents created to ensure materials, products, processes, and services comply with specific industry applications and purposes. Having the latest ISO standards proves that a PCM company continually reviews and updates their procedural and reporting methods to create manufacturing efficiency and accountability to customers.
The first qualifying aspect is whether or not machines can etch a part's dimensions. The thickness, tolerances and metal type of a part are deciding factors when choosing a photo etching supplier.
Start by visiting a company's website to view machining capability data information. Here you will find technical details such as etched dimensional tolerances, holes/slots diameter and width, center to center tolerances, and half-etch capabilities as well as the types of etchable metals.
Source: Advanced Metal Etching, Inc.
Another quality of a good photochemical etching company is technical assistance services. Some part designs are difficult to etch, however, the tooling engineer will use different photo etching techniques to maintain the dimensional tolerances.
For example, the tooling engineer can determine how the etching process will affect the design and then make changes in the tooling to compensate for the lateral and vertical etching effects of photo ething metal.
One technique is to add protruding or recessed tabs. Tabs are sometimes necessary when a technical etch tolerance is required, or if parts need plating, electroplating or assembly. It is beneficial to inquire about a manufacturer's experience with a particular industry part and etching successes.
Also, be sure that a chemical etching supplier has state of the art production and inspection equipment. All of these technologies help ensure that parts remain burr-free with low tolerances.
Ultimately, saving time and money is the goal of many businesses today operating in the fast-paced technology market. With this as a driving factor, how can a metal etching company help get a product from design to the consumer quickly?
Look for companies that offer fast quotes, quick turnaround times and practice lean manufacturing. Ask a chemical etching supplier how long it takes to receive a quote. They should be able to respond within hours to first confirm the quote was received and then give an assurance that a quote will be delivered within 24-48 hours.
Ongoing communication is the key to success. If a photochemical machining company has a formulated quoting sheet with pre-set conditions based on variables such as metal, temper, volume, finishing services, etc., then they will be able to turn around a large number of quotes in a short time.
Another important time factor is the turnaround time of the order from quoting to shipping. Most PCM companies' standard lead times are within 2 weeks. Some companies offer expedited services, which may include 24 hours or less. This shorter time frame is especially important for prototypes that may require testing prior to full production.
Moreover, in-house finishing services will reduce lead times. If a company outsources services, then a location to major industrial areas and long-standing relationships with vendors may prove to be just as beneficial.
Lastly, another efficient time-saving process is the practice of lean manufacturing. Lately, there is much talk about lean manufacturing and how it affects performance. How does this look in the chemical etching environment?
With the adoption of manufacturing software and scanning systems, a part's cycle is tracked from sales order to production, then shipping. All paperwork is scanned and then can be viewed from computers in every department. Shop floor layouts are strategically planned, in-process quality audits conducted to prevent problems, and continuous improvement processes are in place.
All of these time-saving actions will enhance customer service and accountability. Technological advances will require companies to invest their resources in order to keep up with industry demands.
When the time comes to find photo etching services that align with your business goals, experience, quality, and capabilities are the benchmark qualities of a trusted photo chemical etching company. A reliable supply chain helps eliminate delays in the project production and quality process.