When working with metalworking technology, one thing has remained the same across the various processes used – complexity and precision means higher costs. It makes sense, as the tooling used for complex and precise components are more expensive, while the thickness and grade of the metals are typically higher too.
Precision etched components are the exception to this rule. Because they are manufactured using chemical etching as opposed to traditional metalworking processes, the precision etched components can be created with the most complex designs without the excessive costs.
Precision parts are a vital component in various manufacturing industries. From aerospace to automotive, various industries require precision etched components because they boast the most desirable properties for the design requirements, which often includes strength, conductivity, and resistance to corrosion.
Chemical etching is often cited as the best process for components that require complex, precise designs, but is this really the case when there is so many alternative processes available? Let’s look at how chemical etching is the best option for precise components compared to other metalworking processes:
As the name suggests, laser cutting is the process of cutting metal using a high optic laser. The beam cuts through thin sheet metal and can cut at higher thicknesses too, while its precision is very close to accuracy produced by chemical etching – so why are laser cut components of a lesser quality compared to etched components?
The main issues with laser cutting sheet metal is the chance of burs and thermal stress occurring on the metal. This often occurs around the surface and edges of the metal and while the burrs and stresses are often on a micro scale, this is still enough to cause unwanted interference.
Chemical etching is a burr-free process, meaning the surface is smooth and will not produce unwanted friction or heat, which can reduce the performance of the component.
One of the oldest types of metal working, stamping is the process of using a hard tooling die to stamp out the parts needed from sheet metal. The die is designed to stamp out the except dimensions and features of the component.
Because the process involves a lot of force, stresses to the surface area often occur, especially on thinner sheet metals and materials that are brittle. These stresses can have a notable impact on the precision of the component, therefore reducing its performance.
As a result, sheet metal below 0.5mm is not suitable for stamping. Issues also develop when trying to create smaller components with complex designs, as stamping simply isn’t equipped to produce intricate designs like chemical etching does.
This process involves the use of a wire electrode that produces a spark used to cut the metal. It’s a highly precise metalworking process, being up there with chemical etching, especially when working on small and complex designs.
However, there are some limitations with the process, including the fact it is only applicable on conductive metals, whereas chemical etching is suitable for nearly every type of metals.
One big drawback of wire EDM is that the process involves exposing the metal to high heats, resulting in possible thermal expansion and other structural issues, which will reduce the precision of the component and therefore its performance.