Chemical etching aids in producing highly accurate sheet metal parts with intricate details. Fathom provides chemical etching for a variety of metal materials. Do not limit yourself to local producers. Expand your search for a reliable manufacturer with a nationwide network and comprehensive services. Fathom offers convenient online manufacturing services through its SmartQuote platform and can ship to you directly.
Chemical etching, sometimes referred to as photochemical machining (PCM), photochemical milling, photochemical etching, or just photo etching is a production technology used by many different industries. Manufacturing engineers, designers, and purchasing groups all utilize photochemical etching for its multiple benefits. Chemical etching can transform a complex part beyond hard tool capabilities and machine it in dead soft or full hard material, free from burrs or metal distortion. Additionally, using chemical etching allows an order to be filled within days, which means the design can be proven without the cost of a hard tool. Photo etching is an evolving industry, building both recognition and experience as a reliable metal manufacturing method.
In the first phase of chemical etching, a photo plotter is used to produce a photo tool or negative image of a part. To maximize the number of parts per sheet, the part is nested. Two laminates are printed, one for the top of the metal sheet and one for the bottom.
Each tool is made of film, which means tooling can be completed within hours and at a lower cost when compared to other manufacturing technologies. Parts may be updated and applied in production at a fast rate.
During the second stage of chemical etching, the metal is prepared. It is important to degrease and remove surface contaminants to ensure proper adhesion between the raw metal and photo resist in the coating process.
Today’s PCM manufacturers understand the importance of clean lines to improve the cleanliness of the material. The conveyorized machines include multiple chambers that clean and rinse the raw material to ensure excellent surface condition.
The cleaning stage is important because it ensures the quality and quantity of the finished parts.
In the third phase, the workpiece is coated with photoresist, which reduces the possibility of oxidation and surface contamination. The resulting coat is resistant to etchant and is photosensitive. Liquid resist or dry film is applied to both the top and bottom of the piece, allowing both sides to be etched simultaneously.
A combination of advances in resist technology and improved Computer Assisted Design (CAD) artwork allows photoresist coatings to accommodate highly complex features.
During step 4, the coated workpiece is exposed to UV light. This step transfers the photo tool image to the coated part.
The metal material is placed into a double-sided photo tool where both its top and bottom are exposed to UV light. An image then forms on the photoresist. There is now a durable image on both sides.
Many metals may be etched, though some are better for etching than others. Most metals can be etched using an innocuous etchant or aqueous solution of ferric chloride.
During the etching stage, the metal is first rinsed of any residual photoresist that has not bonded to the workpiece. The metal piece is then placed onto a conveyor machine where etchants are applied. As the product is being etched, any non-bonded areas of metal are exposed to etchants that etch them on contact.
As etchants are applied to the whole sheet of metal at once, photochemical etching (PCE) maintains its ability to make all cuts simultaneously. PCE’s ability to cut the entire piece at once saves many hours, especially for parts with complex geometries or features, fine meshes and screens.
The last step of chemical etching is the stripping of the protective coating of photo resist. This step is performed inside the strip chamber of etch machines.
Once the photoresist has been stripped, the part may require a secondary process or treatment post-blanking to be considered finished.
Fathom offers a variety of finishing services including heat treatment, precision forming, and plating through strategic partnerships, local treatment firms and sister companies.
Work with Fathom on your next chemical etching project. In addition to chemical etching, Fathom offers many manufacturing services including CNC 3 & 5 AXIS, laser cutting, welding, wire EDM, Swiss machining and more. As part of our comprehensive services, we also offer finishing and post processing. Chemical etching is just one of 28 manufacturing services.
Fathom’s manufacturing facilities are powered by over 530 machines, including mills, lathes, presses, press brakes, turret punches and additive systems. Fathom has equipment dedicated to metal prototype fabrication, including lasers, waterjet machines, finishing tools, autodeburring, 4 slide machines, multi-slide machines, press brakes, 300-ton presses, 22-ton presses, wire EDM machines, seely slide forming tools and 35-ton blanking presses.
Fathom provides not just photo chemical etching but also hybridized services leveraging prototype fabrication. Need metal prototype fabrication as part of a more complex project? Fathom can handle it. A recent case study is listed below where Fathom delivered 20,000 parts in 27 days using 55+ tools, including metal prototype fabrication services:
A customer came to Fathom with a complex project that spanned the technologies and processes of rapid production—and needed it done fast. Fathom delivered.
55+ Tools to Injection
Mold 15,000 Parts
First Article in 2 Weeks
Fathom’s manufacturing network has one location across the United States with photo chemical etching capabilities. Our locations are:
401 W. Shore Blvd.
Newark, NY 14513
A: Yes, Fathom offers chemical etching.
A: Fathom’s certifications include ISO 9001:2015, ISO 9001:2015 Design, and ISO 13485:2016. For site-specific certifications, please visit https://fathommfg.com/fathom-manufacturing-certifications.
A: Yes, Fathom is ITAR certified. For site-specific certifications, please visit https://fathommfg.com/fathom-manufacturing-certifications.
A: Yes, Fathom is AS9100:2016. For site-specific certifications, please visit https://fathommfg.com/fathom-manufacturing-certifications.
A: Yes, Fathom’s certifications include NIST 800-171. For site-specific certifications, please visit https://fathommfg.com/fathom-manufacturing-certifications.
A: Chemical etching is a multi-step process where a chemical etchant is applied to a metal workpiece, creating complex features with great precision and accuracy.
A: Some of the benefits of chemical etching include quick turnaround, high accuracy, no costly hard tooling, burr and distortion-free and the process can be used on nearly any metal.
A: Parts such as screens, filters, heat exchanger plates, signs, nameplates, labels and more, can all be produced using chemical etching.
A: Yes, Fathom offers quotes for chemical etching projects.