photo chemical etching

photo chemical etching

Photochemical etching: A sound approach to precision speaker grille manufacture

PR speaker grillePrecision Micro’s market-leading photo etching services enables automotive OEMs to add aesthetic and functional advantages to their precision metal parts.

(Birmingham U.K., July 2018) Today, in the field of photochemical etching, Precision Micro is the leading European practitioner, and one of the world’s most cutting-edge and innovative suppliers of precision metal parts and components.

While the use of photo etching is pan-industrial, it is a metal manufacturing technology that is especially at home in the automotive sector, where it has been adopted by many of the leading premium and luxury automotive OEMs due to its ability to produce highly aesthetic complex mesh patterns and high definition surface engraving.

In the manufacture of speaker grilles, photo etching allows OEMs to move away from the use of thick woven aluminium wire which was often the go-to material for such applications, and adds aesthetic and functional advantages such as facilitating the manufacture of thinner grilles with superior rigidity, higher durability, and greater open areas with finer apertures.

Photo etching is unique among the alternative production metal fabrication technologies in the fact that it doesn’t require time-consuming and expensive hard steel tooling. Instead, it uses digital tooling that gives interior trim designers the freedom to experiment without incurring expensive set-up or modification charges as they seek competitive differentiation for their vehicles. The use of digital tooling means that products can make the transition from prototype to production in a matter of hours.

Unlike stamping, etching is both burr and stress-free, and openings and surface engraving are possible to 0.025mm micron accuracy. As customers pay by the metal sheet being machined (and not the grille itself) complexity is almost unlimited, meaning designers can add high definition logos if required and can have openings of any size, shape, and in any position at no extra cost.

Custom speaker grilles are just one of the ways that photo etching can give automotive interior design engineers the freedom to explore new opportunities. Precision Micro also works with a number of automotive companies looking to manufacture tactile fascias, steering and gear knob inlays, dials, and tread plates.

Dashboard fascias can be manufactured from 0.1mm-1mm thick aluminium, steel, or titanium, photochemical etching being used to surface engrave and emboss intricate, blemish-free tactile surfaces. Again, customers pay by the sheet so there is no limit on design complexity. As one of the few suppliers to offer sheets to 600mm x 1500mm in size, Precision Micro can guarantee economic volume supply.

For tread plates, photo etching can incorporate sharp aperture and directional mesh patterns for backlighting, and the plates can be personalised with owners’ names or signatures which is uneconomic when using traditional pressing technologies.

Precision Micro has had a long-standing supply partnership with automotive OEMs, tier-one, and tier-two manufacturers, producing speaker grilles for models including Jaguar XJ, Mercedes C-Class and Rolls-Royce Wraith — to name but a few. Today, the company is producing in excess of 1 million speaker grilles each month and is one of the only suppliers in the world with the etch capacity to cater for current and forecast future demand.

As a technology, photo etching can truly be seen as an innovation driver, as demonstrated by its precision, versatility, scalability and aesthetic qualities, overcoming the constraints that alternative technologies place upon design and manufacturing engineers.

About Precision Micro.

For over 50 years, Precision Micro has pioneered photo chemical etching. The company has won a reputation as the industry innovator, trusted to deliver by major global manufacturing concerns across multiple markets.

t. +44 (0)121 380 0100

Getting the Measure of Etching – Why You Shouldn’t Always Default to Stamping

(Birmingham, U.K. June 2018) When manufacturing components from metals there are numerous options available to design engineers, some traditional, some relatively new and innovative. However, when component characteristics are very precise, complex, and high degrees of accuracy are required, the number of viable production manufacturing processes is greatly reduced. For such applications industry typically defaults to stamping, but this may not always be the most suitable option.

Introducing Photo Chemical Etching

When choosing a metal machining technology it is important that first the engineering challenge is carefully appraised to understand which material is most suitable, critical features and required part complexity, and efficiency and scalability.

Photo chemical etching — often known as chemical etching — is a highly precise, tightly controlled corrosion process used to produce complex metal components with very fine detail.

Most people’s awareness of etching will be limited to its artisan background, notably Rembrandt etchings or medieval sword engraving, but today it is a sophisticated technology enabling next generation aircraft, satellite communications, and low and no emission vehicles.

What Makes Etching Unique?

Although developed as a sheet metalworking technology more than 50 years ago, etching has seen rapid growth in the last decade and is being adopted by designers ‘in the know’ to solve a wide range of engineering challenges, many of which are either not achievable or cost-effective with traditional stamping.

Product designers need to appreciate that etching can truly stretch the boundaries of what is possible, not only answering key questions on product features, complexity, and efficiency, but in some instances offering enhancements of component characteristics.

The process can be applied to almost any sheet metal 0.01mm – 1.5mm thick in a variety of grades and tempers, and unlike stamping does not struggle with very hard materials. Precision Micro — Europe’s market-leading chemical etching supplier — produces over 50 million components each year from over 2,000 metals types, including those considered hard to machine such as titanium and aluminium.

Standard etching tolerances are typical to ±10% material thickness, but greater accuracy can be often be achieved. Minimum component features are 0.1mm, though surface-etched features can be finer and are not defined by the thickness of the material.

Unique characteristics can be designed into products manufactured using chemical etching by taking advantage of the inherent edge “cusp” created during the process. Etch cusp can be controlled, and by so doing, a range of profiles can be introduced that allow the manufacture of sharp cutting edges (such as those used in medical blades), or conical openings, such as those used to direct fluid flow in filtration meshes.

Low Barriers to Entry

Chemical etching not only copes well with difficult geometries, it also allows design engineers enormous flexibility, facilitating the adjustment of designs right up to the point of manufacture due to the use of digital tooling.

Digital tooling is hugely less expensive than the hard steel tools needed for punching and stamping (etch tool costs around £100-£200), and is also extremely quick to create and adapt, making the process ideal for prototyping. Also, as the tooling is transferred to metal through a contact printing process, there is no tool wear ensuring that the first part produced is identical to the last.

More often than not, when using stamping, part complexity adds cost, whether in low, medium, or high volume applications. The complexity of a product means the necessity for a complex mould tool, and complex tooling means increased costs, increased potential for tool failure, and increased lead-times for satisfactory completion. Chemical etching is unaffected by the level of tool complexity, and it makes no difference in terms of costs or lead-time how complex the geometry of the part is and therefore the complexity of the digital tooling.

Flatness, Burrs and Stresses

Etched components are completely flat, making the process especially well suited to the manufacture of parts that require subsequent assembly by way of stacking and bonding, such as motor laminations, fuel cell plates, and heat exchangers.

Unlike stamping, there is no degradation or distortion of the metal being processed, and all parts are therefore burr and stress-free. Typical components specified include safety critical flexures for use in ABS braking systems and fuel injection, which must actuate millions of times without failure.


Photo etching is best suited to complex parts with high degrees of accuracy, or parts which rely on the integrity of the material. In extremely high volume runs where the tooling expense is justifiable, and where designs are not overly complex, stamping typically represents a more economical process.

As a global leader in photo chemical etching, Precision Micro has been active for over 50 years. However, it takes more than age to be a market-leader. Continual investment in its technologies, often driven by its customers engineering challenges, has ensured Precision Micro has remained at the forefront of chemical etching technology and remains the world leading supplier of intricate, often safety critical, precision metal parts and components for leading names across a range of high-tech industry sectors.

About Precision Micro.

For over 50 years, Precision Micro has pioneered chemical etching. The company has won a reputation as the industry innovator, trusted to deliver by major global manufacturing concerns across multiple markets.

t. +44 (0)121 380 0100

Manufacturing the Impossible

Photo chemical etching can machine metals that conventional processes find too difficult.

Birmingham 2018… For designers looking to manufacture burr and stress free metal parts with complex geometries, maintain the flexibility to make last minute design changes, and mass produce prototypes quickly, photo chemical etching is increasingly seen as the answer. Chemical etching offers both an economical and efficient solution, and allows for the mass production of incredibly intricate, thin metal parts at a fraction of the cost of other methods.

Today’s OEMs don’t just need parts produced quickly, however, they also need them to be affordable. In addition to fast production speeds, chemical etching is often the most economical option for producing custom parts with complex designs and strict tolerances, and unlike other metal manufacturing processes, the cost of photo chemical etching rarely ever increases with design complexity. This frees design engineers to utilise their creativity and to innovate when designing metal parts, without the worry of incurring additional fees for intricate details.

The use of inexpensive and easily reworked photo-tools in chemical etching allows for design configurations not typically possible with other metal fabrication methods. Chemical etching even offers the ability to produce parts with different geometries at the same time, on a single sheet of metal. The ability to use mixed graphic tooling to produce multiple part types in one production run is one of the greatest cost-saving advantages offered by the process.

But there is another key advantage of photo etching, and that is the fact that through constant investment in R&D, leading practitioners like Precision Micro can apply the process to a vast palette of metals, even those notoriously difficult to machine such as titanium and aluminium.

Titanium and its alloys have gained widespread applications in the aerospace and biomedical industries as they are lightweight and strong, have excellent fatigue performance, and offer high resistance in aggressive environments. It is unfortunate, however, that these favourable properties prove to be a curse during conventional machining.

Due to their high strength, low thermal conductivity and chemical reactivity with tool materials (at elevated temperatures), titanium and its alloys pose a hazard to the tool and significantly reduce tool life. In addition, a relatively low Young’s modulus of titanium alloys leads to spring-back and chatter when machining causing poor surface quality on the finished product. In addition, during turning and drilling, long continuous chips are produced, which can lead to entanglement with the cutting tool, making automated machining near impossible.

The use of photo chemical etching overcomes many of these issues, but even etching titanium is difficult, as the metal forms a protective oxidised coating when exposed to air, meaning it cannot be etched with standard etch chemistries. Precision Micro has overcome this problem and is, therefore, one of the only photo etching companies in the world that can offer photo etching of titanium on a production scale.

Precision Micro specialises in etching biocompatible cranial, dental, and pacemaker battery meshes for the medical devices market. These complex and sometimes ultra-thin meshes benefit from the fact that photo etching manufactures all openings and countersinks simultaneously, therefore making it more economical than competing laser cutting and machining processes.

Aluminium exhibits many of the attributes of titanium — notably its high strength to weight ratio and natural corrosion resistance — but at a lower cost. Whereas titanium is stronger and more corrosion resistant than aluminium, it has a relatively low fatigue limit, which makes aluminium well suited to aerospace applications where fatigue limits must be high.

One of the biggest problems conventionally machining aluminium is what is termed “the built up edge”, essentially the welding of work-piece material to the tool edge, and the loss of effective geometry which causes increases in cutting forces and quality problems such as scratches in the surface and cloudy finish.

Aluminium is also difficult to photo-etch effectively as the heat energy it releases during etching often results in a rough, granular edge. Precision Micro has developed a proprietary method for etching aluminium and its alloys, producing edge profiles comparable with those etched in stainless steel. It is also AS 9100 accredited, the quality management system standard required to supply the world’s leading aerospace, space, and defence businesses.

Typical applications include light-weight helicopter air intake grilles and heat transfer plates used in aircraft dehumidifiers and engines, the latter often requiring multiple designs which can be set-up cost-effectively with photo etching and include smooth channels to improve airflow.

Precision Micro has over 50 years’ experience as a photo etching specialist, and its continual investment in research and development of chemical etchants and process parameters means that today, even the most challenging metals can be processed in volume and to high levels and accuracy and repeatability.

About Precision Micro.

For over 50 years, Precision Micro has pioneered chemical etching. The company has won a reputation as the industry innovator, trusted to deliver by major global manufacturing concerns across multiple markets.

t. +44 (0)121 380 0100

For Media Information Contact:

Chris Young,
Micro PR & M Ltd.
t. +44 (0)7712 891 070