Whether prototyping or creating busbars for production runs we often want high quality parts and this is where photo etching comes into it’s own.
Advanced Chemical Etching take us through the process of photo etching and how this can be used to create high quality aluminium or copper parts.
We are concentrating on busbars, but let your imagination run with what this process could allow you to do.
Traditionally, processes employed in metal profiling to produce metal parts and components have included stamping, punching, laser and water jet cutting. These methods impart inevitable stress on the material, and can result in distortion, burrs and surface imperfections, leading to a loss of integrity and quality in the finished component.
Hard tooling methods can involve long lead times, especially when alterations are required, and costs that scale quickly as design complexity increases. Here at ACE we are constantly challenging the normal chemical etching process route. We continue our research into developing new, precision etching processes in our R&D laboratory. We are constantly evolving this unique process into a competitive engineering route for virtually every industry.
WHY IS PHOTO ETCHING DIFFERENT?
Photo etching, also known as chemical etching, is a very precise method of metal cutting and etching that uses specially formulated acids such as Ferric Chloride (FeCI3) to produce designs on flat sheets of metal with thicknesses up to 2.5mm. Due to the nature of this process, it is possible to etch designs with an unrivalled level of complexity, incorporating special features, in most metals, with thicknesses ranging from 5mμ to 2.5mm.
THE ACE ETCHING PROCESS
Our process starts with low cost digital tooling, where we receive data from the customer in the form of a DXF/DWG file or dimensioned drawing. This method allows customers the flexibility to include several variations of a design on one sheet of metal. Once a sample has been approved and the best design chosen, ACE uses the same data to produce a photo tool for higher volumes.
The photo tooling can be modified in a matter of minutes, and samples produced in hours, not days or weeks. Once the design is printed onto the chosen grade of metal sheet and chemically developed, the sheet is passed through the etching machine on a conveyor, where the acid solution is sprayed and attacks the unprotected surfaces of the metal, until the chemical etching process is completed, and the resulting components can be rinsed and inspected. This process allows for the highest possible level of flexibility and complexity at the best price – and produces a product of the same consistency and quality from the first etching to the last, without the characteristic drawbacks of other cutting methods.
For those that don’t know, tell us about ACE? Located in the heart of the UK, Advanced Chemical Etching Ltd (ACE) uses innovative chemi etching processes to manufacture precision metal components from prototypes to volume, providing today’s product development engineers greater flexibility in design and shorter lead times. ACE is the leader in innovative metal etching in the UK, and supplies many sectors with precision metal etching– making the difference in innovation, technology and manufacturing.
Tell us about your etching process, what is different about it? While etching is conventionally viewed as a ‘black art’ where methods evolve through experience and trial and error, Advanced Chemical Etching (ACE) has adopted a much more systematic approach based on scientific research.
Several of the steps involved in the etching process are chemical in nature, so a fundamental understanding of the chemical phenomena that occur in these processes is important. This is why ACE has invested heavily in R&D over the past ten years and our new unique and innovative aluminium and titanium etching process is a testament to the power of this approach.
Can you give us a simple step-by-step guide of the process for us? Photo etching is the process of using ultra-violet light to fix an image onto a sheet of metal through a low cost digital tool, and then using chemicals (etching solution) to etch the shape into the metal, removing more and more of the material until only the shape is left – a metal component that is far more precise than anything that can be cut or machined. Photo etching is a very precise method of metal cutting and etching to produce designs on flat sheets of metal with thicknesses up to 2.5mm. Due to the nature of this process, it is possible to photo etch parts with an unrivalled level of complexity, incorporating special features, in most metals, with thicknesses ranging from 5 μm to 2.5mm. The resultant components produced by precision chemical etching are stress-free with no burrs or rough edges and with no changes to the original material properties.
How long has it taken you to evolve the process to what it is now? Working closely with Academia, and adopting a scientific approach, since its inception in 2000 we are constantly reviewing our capabilities in line with industry needs. Utilising our fully equipped in house laboratory we are able to investigate the possibility of etching previously difficult to etch materials utilising XRF based research to investigate down to the molecular level for both material and chemistry.
How important is this process to the battery/EV industry? Advances in the battery sector are progressing rapidly and many companies are being left behind in the pursuit for cutting-edge products.
This has created many new challenges, not least in the increase in demand for various battery related bespoke metal components and cathode grids used in batteries.
We can successfully etch and profile metal for customers involved in producing intricate components devices, which may have complex mesh patterns or require micro-etched channels.
Busbars are the main electrical connections between cells, modules and connect all of the HV system to the outlet connector. Normally made from copper or aluminium. Careful consideration needs to be taken:
- Cross-sectional area
- Creepage and clearance
- Thermal impact on other components
- Joints between busbars
- Electrical isolation
- Mechanical restraints
- Expansion and contraction