The chemical etching process is a fantastic manufacturing technique that creates high-precision metal parts that feature complex shapes and patterns. The opportunities to create distinct features that are micro in scale means that the applications of chemical etching are far-reaching. Industries such as aerospace, auto manufacturing and medical have all found use in chemically-etched metal parts. It’s no wonder when it’s possible to achieve tolerances of 25µm to 2mm with stainless steel for instance. A versatile and practical metal that can be used widely within many industries.
Chemical etching isn’t only beneficial thanks to the many applications of stainless steel; the process can be applied to a great many metals. This is a list of some of the most popular choices that we use at Tecan but there are still many more that can be used:
- As well as stainless steel, we use: carbon steel, mild steel, spring steel and tool steel
- Aluminum that includes aircraft/aerospace grades
- Copper, this includes C110 and C101 (oxygen free)
- Brass, Phosphor Bronze, Beryllium Copper, Nickel Silver
- Nickel Alloys: mu-metal, inconels, alloy 42 (nilo 42) and invar
There may be examples where the above do not suit the intended process. If you have a certain requirement or need a different material, always check with the chemical etching company as they may be able to find a solution.
If your parts need to meet a strict tolerance then it’s likely chemical etching is going to be the best solution over traditional manufacturing processes. This is thanks to the amazing precision that can be achieved by the chemical process which removes unwanted material by dissolving the untreated metal. The process is particularly useful for repeating fine shapes and patterns that can be seen in speaker grilles, heat exchangers and filters. The tolerances we typically see on chemically etched features are only around +/- 10% of the parts’ thickness. And as mentioned earlier, the possibilities for achieving incredibly precise details are very achievable in the chemical etching process.
With the increased complexity of computers and machine parts these days, often the parts are becoming smaller and smaller but still require the same precision as before. Thankfully, reducing the scale is not a problem for chemical etching and presents no complication in the manufacturing process.
Thanks to the very nature of chemical etching, the process results in a burr and stress-free metal. This, therefore, eliminates the need for a deburring process after the fact which is a part of a lot of other etching processes. As a result, it means that the ductility and structure of the metals are unaffected by the manufacturing process. Apart from cleaning and harvesting the metal parts at the end of the process, chemical etching requires no secondary processes which are often required, and as a result slow down production times, with other etching methods. Sharp or profiled edges, repeated holes and intricate patterns are no problem at all thanks to this manufacturing method. They’re also easy to replicate time and time again because there’s no tooling that needs replacing or parts to wear out that can also affect the metal’s structure. The etchant simply dissolves the unwanted metal and leaves a perfectly finished and ready-to-go product.
If you’re looking for quick turnarounds then chemical etching is for you. Prototyping is simply a matter of designing and adjusting the CAD design which is then directly applied as a stencil onto the metal. So, if the prototyping is that easy, it also means that once a final design blueprint has been established, the production run can begin. This means that lead times are greatly reduced when compared to other etching methods that can take much longer to achieve the final product as well as just taking longer to produce.
At Tecan, our quick turnaround can be credited to the specific process employed which means that the majority of the production parameters are already in place from sample creation. So you’re able to go seamlessly from prototype to industrial scale production in a matter of days in some instances. There really are a great many advantages to using chemical etching when creating precision metal parts.