Chemical etching: The cost-effective way to machine hard-to-machine metals

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 the answer.

But there is another key advantage of chemical etching, and that is the fact that through constant investment in R&D, leading practitioners like Precision Micro can apply the process to almost any metal – even those notoriously difficult to machine.

A corrosive process for “non-corrosive” titanium

Titanium and its alloys are favoured by aerospace and biomedical designers as they are lightweight and strong, have excellent fatigue performance and offer high resistance in aggressive environments. However, these favourable properties prove to be a challenge when machining, titanium’s hardness often resulting in reduced tool life or slower speed of cut.

The use of 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 developed a propriety process for etching titanium, investing in plant and equipment to become the only industry accredited supplier in Europe.

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 chemical etching manufactures all openings and countersinks simultaneously, therefore making it more economical than competing laser cutting and machining processes.

Read more about titanium etching

Etching exothermic aluminium

Aluminium exhibits many of the attributes of titanium, notably its high strength to weight ratio and natural corrosion resistance, but at a lower cost. Its low fatigue limit also makes aluminium well suited to aerospace applications.

Machining aluminium also has its challenges, such as aluminium oxide build up and die wear when stamping. During etching, heat energy is released resulting in a rough, granular edge.

Precision Micro’s AS 9100 accredited aluminium etching process can produce edge profiles comparable with those etched in stainless steel, making it one of the few reputable suppliers to leading aerospace, space, and defence companies.

Typical applications include lightweight 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 chemical etching and include smooth channels to improve airflow.

Read more about aluminium etching

Precision Micro has over 50 years’ experience as a photo chemical etching specialist. 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.

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