Do you ever wonder what exactly is photochemical etching? If you are curious, you’re reading the right article, because the following paragraphs will educate those who read them as to just what photochemical etching is.
Photochemical etching is also called photochemical milling but is commonly called photochemical machining, abbreviated as PCM. It’s a chemical milling procedure used to manufacture components of sheet metal. The procedure uses etchants and a photoresist to machine off designated surfaces in a corrosive manner. It arose during the 60s as a derivative of the industry revolving around printed circuit boards. PCM is a precise and affordable way of producing sophisticated parts in great detail.
The procedure of photochemical etching or PCM is affordable substituted for other processes, such as punching, water jet or laser cutting, or stamping. It can even substitute wire electrical discharge machining for precision parts that are thin-gauged. Tooling is cheap and fast, and so it has obvious advantages for those creating prototypes that might need to make fast and drastic changes before gearing up for mass production. Sharp edges and burrs are easily avoided, and dimensional tolerances can be maintained with parts created just hours after drawings are completed.
Photochemical etching is a process that manufacturers can apply to nearly all alloys or metals that are available for commercial use, and hardness rarely matters. Specific examples range from titanium, stainless steel, silver, manganese, copper, aluminum, brass, Inconel, nickel, traditional steel, and zinc, assuming their thickness likes between 0.0005 of an inch and 0.08 of an inch. Metals thinner or thicker than this range are not suitable for the photochemical etching process.
Since so many alloys are available for photochemical etching, they are very useful for the manufacture of thin-gauge parts that are less than a twentieth of an inch in size, or just over a millimeter on the metric scale. Fine meshes and screens are common industrial applications. This process can also be used to make heatsinks, microwave circuits, semiconductor parts, electrical contacts, fuel cell components, and even battery grids. The jewelry industry also uses this process a lot when mass is producing finely detailed pieces.
Photochemical etching is cheap to start up and fast to get going. A majority of photo tools come with price tags of less than four hundred bucks and are manufactured within a day or two. This makes them very appealing to industry innovators.
As you can see, photochemical etching, be it called that, photochemical milling, or photo chemical machining, is a form of industrial manufacture that is younger than some people still in the workforce. As it has been perfected over the years, it has become a cheap, effective, and time-efficient way for industry innovators to get their ideas into physical reality faster than ever, using whatever metals are cheapest and most widely available. You may not even know how many photochemical etched pieces and parts are around you, but from your smartphone to your thermostat, you’re surrounded by these tiny devices that make the modern world so comfortable, convenient, and easy to live in.