In this article we’re going to take a look at two processes commonly used in the etching manufacturing process: chemical and micro-stamping. Both have similar functions and can achieve similar results but there are of course differences that we’ll explore here. As with any manufacturing process it could be that your particular needs are suited to one process over the other but this article will hopefully give you some insight into the pros and cons behind each.
Quality and Accuracy
With demand for precision instruments increasing every day as our personal devices: TVs, computers, phones and even things like fridges and washing machines have now reached incredibly sophisticated levels. We look to the manufacturing process to improve alongside technology in order to match demand both in terms of sophistication but also in terms of the quality and accuracy of the instrument itself. This is why micro stamping and chemical etching (along with laser cutting and water jetting too!) have come to the forefront of this particular manufacturing process.
Both offer incredible precision when it comes to micro levels of metal parts but unlike stamping, the etching process provides a stress and burr-free result without any loss or tampering of material integrity. Meaning that it can go straight into whatever product without further cleaning or adjusting after the initial chemical etching process. Micro stamping on the other hand cuts through the metal with the stamp and as a result, this process inevitably causes some loss of integrity as the force applied creates heat and can distort the metal’s tension. Chemical etching bypasses all this completely so when it comes to precise and complex designs, the etching process is the way to go.
This is another area where chemical etching really comes into its own as the time taken from creating the stencil to receiving the finished product can be a matter of days, at least to receive the prototype. Adjustments are similarly quick and easy to accomplish as the stencil can be changed without any trouble. Stamping is a much longer process just to create the initial stamping tool even before adjustments may be considered. For this reason, stamping is better for products that are a known shape and form that can be stamped repeatedly on a large scale. The maneuverability of chemical etching is much more agile in this respect as the stencil can be fine-tuned to whatever specification, often within days. So chemical etching has an edge on stamping in terms of receiving a finished product quicker.
I’ve touched on this in the above paragraph but the chemical etching process allows for more design flexibility simply by virtue of the manufacturing process being done with a chemical etchant that is sprayed onto the metal via a stencil essentially. Meaning that all that needs to be altered in the design process is the stencil which is a simple enough change. Stamping can require a new die, tooling for the actual stamp and re-setting the machine for each iteration of
the metal product. Therefore chemical etching means that you can trial prototypes easily and quickly before putting the right one into mass production.
The overall cost of production is greatly reduced for chemical etching simply because it can be repeated on a massive scale; there’s no degradation over time like there is in stamping. Of course it happens over a long time and after industrial-scale use but micro-stamping does reflect that in the cost of production. Maintenance costs over time can also build up which is reflected in the price. We employ chemical etching as our chosen manufacturing option because of its repeatability and low barrier to entry: it’s cheap whether you need hundreds of units or thousands.
Stamping is more suited to very high volume runs where the tooling expense can be factored into the total cost. Chemical etching is best when extremely precise parts are needed with the metals’ integrity untouched. Because of the very nature of the chemical etching process, it also means that it can be flawlessly repeated on an industrial scale over and over. Obviously there are pros and cons for each but it’s important to carefully consider all available options to decide which is best for your manufacturing needs.