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Industry Spotlight: Photochemical Etching

Photochemical etching (also referred to as chemical milling) is a precise manufacturing process to create intricate patterns or shapes on metal sheets. It utilizes a photosensitive material (photoresist) applied to the surface before placing a photographic mask on top. This combination is exposed to UV light to undergo a chemical reaction, leaving behind the desired pattern on the metal.

The following industries utilize the photochemical etching capabilities:

1. Aerospace

The aerospace industry demands precision components to ensure the safety and performance of aircraft and spacecraft. Etching is often used to manufacture complex, lightweight parts such as brackets, gears, and shims. The process also allows for the creation of thin and heat-resistant turbine blades and heat shields with precise cooling channels.

In the satellite industry, weight reduction is important to achieving cost-effective launches and efficient in-orbit operations. Photochemical etching can create portable yet sturdy satellite components, including solar cell frames, reflectors, and waveguides. It can also produce fuel cell plates and battery parts with precise flow channels and electrical paths.

2. Automotive

The automotive industry utilizes chemical milling primarily in the production of vehicle parts. This technology is crucial in manufacturing gaskets, shims, and filters, ensuring precise fit and functionality in motor vehicles. It also creates compact and durable fuel injector nozzles and transmission mechanisms to enhance fuel efficiency and performance.

3. Electronics

The electronics industry heavily relies on etching technology for various applications. One of these is the production of printed circuit boards (PCBs). The process forms precise and intricate copper traces on PCBs, allowing for the efficient connection of electronic components. This ensures fine detail and high precision, which is crucial for the performance of gadgets and devices.

Electronic devices also typically require shielding against electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI). Chemical milling creates EMI/RFI shielding components that prevent signal interference in sensitive electronics. It also fabricates heat sinks with intricate designs to maximize heat dissipation.

4. Medical Device Manufacturing

The medical field requires implants and prosthetic components that are biocompatible, lightweight, and precise. Chemical etching is utilized to fabricate these tools and devices, ensuring that they meet patients’ specific anatomical and functional requirements. It also enables the production of microfluidic channels and structures, making it valuable in developing diagnostic equipment.

Medical devices are also becoming smaller, particularly for implantable sensors and remote monitoring. Photochemical etching helps fabricate tiny electronic components with complex circuits and connections. It also offers a cost-effective and efficient way to create healthcare prototypes. This facilitates customization to meet the unique needs of patients and medical applications.

5. Military and Defense

Chemical milling is used to produce intricate and lightweight components utilized in various defense systems assemblies, such as air force and naval equipment. It is also vital in manufacturing radar parts, electronic enclosures, and shielding materials for sensitive electronic equipment, ensuring optimal performance and protection. In addition, it enables the creation of custom tools tailored to specific military and defense needs.

6. Telecommunications

Photochemical etching is used in the telecommunications industry to construct modules for various communication devices and infrastructure. This entails designing connectors and contact springs used in cables to enable reliable signal transmission. This method also produces waveguides and RF/microwave parts, where precision is essential for signal integrity.

Partner With MET Manufacturing Group for Your Etching Needs

MET Manufacturing Group specializes in photochemical etching for thin gauge, precision sheet metal applications. Aside from the abovementioned industries, we also serve to the following industry applications:

  • Semiconductor
  • Alignment and quality systems
  • Pressure sensors
  • Prototyping
  • Custom model work
  • Custom metal art
  • Scrapping dies
  • Electrical equipment

In addition, our team offers value-added services of forming, plating, heat treating, kitting, and specialty packing for our etched products. We pride ourselves on delivering active customer service, competitive lead times and pricing, and building long-term client partnerships.

Contact us today or request a quote to get started with us!

Additional Benefits and Uses of Photochemical Etching

Photochemical etching (also known as photo etching or photochemical milling) is a process that removes selective material from metal alloy substrates ranging in thicknesses of .002” to .062”. This manufacturing technique is beneficial in producing light gauge, metal alloy parts with complex shapes that require high precision. Photochemical etching is a cost-effective alternative to traditional machining processes as the upfront tooling cost is generally less than $300 with the ability to rapid prototype.

This article will identify and explore additional benefits and uses of photochemical etching.

Advantages of Photochemical Etching

The photochemical etching process provides cost-effective tooling and mass duplication of designs across an etched panel.. It also maintains the integrity of the metal’s physical and chemical characteristics, leading to smooth, pure and defect-free parts.

High Precision Tolerance

Photo etching is known for its precision and tight tolerances. It uses precision tooling and tightly controlled chemicals used to etch the material resulting in parts with tolerances as low as 0.001”. This high level of precision also makes it suitable for applications requiring very accurate features, material thickness, and purity of metallization.

High Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio is the relationship between the thickness of a feature and its width. In photo etching, thin photoresist materials selectively expose and etch accurate patterns. This results in high aspect ratios, where very thin parts are produced relative to their width and material thickness.

Material Versatility

Photochemical milling is a versatile manufacturing technique that may be applied to various materials, including red metal alloys like copper, brass, phos bronze, and Beryllium Copper. In addition, etching can handle cold rolled alloys such as 1095 spring steel, stainless steel, Kovar, Inconel, and other exotic alloys.. This versatility enables manufacturers to build or test components from different metals simultaneously, eliminating the need for multiple production procedures or suppliers.

No Secondary Finishing Required

This etching technique leaves the component with a clean, smooth edge devoid of burrs and other defects. Thus, it significantly lowers the requirement for secondary finishing procedures like deburring, polishing, and smoothing. Consequently, this process decreases production time, additional labor, and extra material costs.It also sets up etched products to receive precious metal, nickel, or tin/lead plating to enhance the final use of the products. Many etching houses can also use their plating masking as selective plating masking as well.

Typical Etched Products and Applications

Photochemical etching is a flexible and effective production technique with applications in various industries, including aerospace, medical, and electronics. This makes it a valuable manufacturing solution for the following parts and components:

Spring Contacts and Fuel Cells

Photo etching’s precise tolerances make it possible to build spring contacts and fuel cells for the electronics industry. Spring contacts are utilized to generate electric connections between two conducting surfaces. Meanwhile, fuel cells are devices that produce electricity via a chemical reaction.

Gaskets and Seals

Photochemical milling allows for the efficient and precise manufacturing of intricately shaped sealing components. The function of gaskets is to block the flow of liquids, gasses, and other things between two surfaces. Similar to gaskets, seals are used to prevent the leaking of pressurized fluids.

Filters and Screens

Filters and screens play a vital role in the health industry by ensuring the cleanliness and safety of fluids and chemicals used in medical devices. Filters are designed to remove pollutants from liquids and gasses, such as particles, bacteria, and other contaminants. On the other hand, screens separate materials depending on their size, shape, or other characteristics.

EMI and RFI Shielding

Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) and Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) can pose challenges for electronic devices, as they disrupt signals and cause malfunctions. These issues are prevented by installing proper shielding around electronic components and wires. Photo etching is suitable for fabricating metal sheets, screens, and meshes that shield devices from electrical and magnetic fields.

Printed Circuit Boards

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are essential for linking active and passive electronic components using pads, tracks, and lines onto a copper laminate sheet. The etching procedure in PCB production includes chemically removing the copper cladding from the substrate’s surface, leading to the fabrication of precise and high-quality boards.

Heating Elements

Etching sets up well for the use of heating elements such as packaging sealing, kitchen appliance heaters, and conductive mesh. 302/304 stainless steel or exotic Kanthal materials are ideal to serve as heating element base alloys.

Encoder Disc

Brass, Phos Bronze, or Stainless Steel encoder discs of all varieties are very popular products for photochemical etching. High precision allows for the final application to be as precise as designed for many alignment or sensory blocking applications.


Partial etching into base alloys set etching up well to make repetitive name plates, display panels, and other artistic based applications.

Choose MET Manufacturing Group for High-Quality Photochemical Etching Services

At MET Manufacturing Group, we specialize in photochemical milling or etching to produce precise sheet metal components! We also offer value-added services, including forming, plating, heat treating, kitting, and specialty packaging. This ensures you will not be required to work with several service providers for your project.

Contact us at (574) 293-3342 for more information about our capabilities! You can also request a quote today.