precision engineering

precision engineering

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
e. sales@precisionmicro.co.uk
w. www.precisionmicro.com

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.

Conclusion

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
e. sales@precisionmicro.co.uk
w. www.precisionmicro.com

Core Customer Demand Accelerates Growth at Precision Micro

Precision Micro increases sales 25% as it looks to achieve ambitious turnover target one year ahead of plan.

(Birmingham UK, May 2018) With all cutting-edge disruptive technologies, there is a tipping point when it moves from being appropriate for niche applications to becoming appropriate for mainstream use.

Such is the case with chemical etching. Often viewed as a niche metal manufacturing technology, in recent years chemical etching has experienced an exponential acceleration in uptake across all industry sectors and across all geographies where there is a demand for precision metal parts and components.

Precision Micro has been at the forefront of developments in chemical etching for over 50 years, and as a company is experiencing this massive acceleration in uptake first hand, showing impressive year-on-year growth, allowing it to make further investment in research and development, plant and infrastructure.

Its recent investment programme has proved to be one of the keys to the increased uptake of chemical etching across industry, as Ian McMurray, Managing Director at Precision Micro explains.

Design engineers are constantly on the look out for technologies that can fulfil their requirements for smaller, lighter or more precise precision parts. Chemical etching is one such technology, but beyond this the increase in uptake at Precision Micro has been our continual researching into the use of new metals, and for new applications, pushing it from a niche technology into a mainstream technology for numerous OEMs in an array of high-tech engineering sectors.”

Precision Micro is able to etch the widest array of metals in its industry, including those often deemed too difficult or requiring an insurmountable level of investment to process. A £0.75 million investment in its titanium etching capability in 2014 has opened up previously untapped market potential for the company, which is reflected in its impressive growth figures.

2016-2017 saw a 25% increase in sales to £15 million, driven not only from a buoyant automotive sector for which it is a leading supplier of burr-and stress-free safety critical flexures and high-end vehicle interior trim, but across the board, key applications including lead frames for reed relays, medical implants for CMF surgery and resistive heating elements for aircraft ice protection.

The company is now on course to achieve its £20 million turnover target by 2019, one year ahead of plan.

What is particularly impressive is that Precision Micro’s growth over the past five-years has not been achieved by constantly expanding its customer base, but by building strong partnerships with its existing, loyal customers, who are using chemical etching to gain competitive advantage and in-turn achieve growth.

This fits very well with Precision Micro’s position in the chemical etching sector, being regarded as a strategic partner rather than a job shop that bolsters activity by securing one-off business from a huge number of OEMs.

Precision Micro’s positions itself precisely to cater for the demand from its customers. We recognise the drive for precise, complex, and safety critical components with more and more exacting tolerances and from increasingly difficult to machine metals, and so we invest heavily in being able to fulfil these requirements. It’s a two way street. We push the boundaries of the technology, this allows it to be used for a wider array of applications, and we benefit from the opportunities that we have helped to open up,” concluded Mc Murray.

Chemical etching uses low-cost digital photo-tooling, photo-resist and etchants to chemically remove selected areas of a metal sheet, burr-free, stress-free and to tolerances measured in the 1/100mm range. But changing demands from customers and the complex nature of the etchant chemistry behind the technology has led to Precision Micro developing and executing its ambitious investment plan.

In 2018, the company plans over £3 million of capital expenditure, the largest since its 44,000 ft2 purpose built plant was opened in 2007. As well as a new pre-cleaning line and automated optical inspection systems, the company will also be investing in a new ERP system, a new dedicated new product introduction (NPI) etch machine to reduce customers’ time to market, and significant infrastructure investment as it continues to meet upturn in demand and ensure best in class environment, health and safety (EH&S) compliance.

As chemical etching secures its position as the “go-to” technology for OEMs looking to source complex, precise, and cost-effective metal components, Precision Micro is well placed to meet growing customer demand and maintain its position as Europe’s market-leading supplier.

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
e. sales@precisionmicro.co.uk
w. www.precisionmicro.com

For Media Information Contact:

Chris Young,
Micro PR & M Ltd.
t. +44 (0)7712 891 070
e. chris@microprm.com