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Chemical Etching vs. Laser Cutting: What's the Difference?

Feb 20, 2018 7:00:00 AM By Hua Fan

Chemical Etching (also Known as Photo-Chemical Machining (PCM) and Chemical Milling) is an efficient precision engeneering technology. Complicated, multi-level, multi-feature, high precision parts can be produced without the need for expensive tooling or machinery.

Similar to Chemical Etching, Laser Cutting is another subtractive manufacturing process. It works by directing the output of a high-power laser most commonly through optics to cut materials in order to achieve the desired products. 

So what's the difference of these two precision manufacturing techniques? This blog will review on Cost Efficiency, Lead Time, Design Complexity, and Quality/Accuracy.

Chemical Etching vs. Laser Cutting

(1) Cost Efficiency

When it’s a small volume production or prototyping, Laser Cutting can be more cost-effective than Chemical Etching. When it’s industrial mass production, however, Laser Cutting loses its advantage in costs.

(2) Lead Time

With Laser Cutting you can’t produce multiple parts simultaneously, while with Chemical Etching you can. Compared to Laser Cutting, which can only deal with one component after another, Chemical Etching is a process that harvest large amount of products in every run. When production volume is very low, Laser Cutting has advantage in speed over Chemical Etching. However, when it is industrial production, lead time of Chemical Etching is most likely shorter.

(3) Design Complexity

Chemical Etching and Laser Cutting are both flexible regarding design. When the design is very complex, however, Laser Cutting might take much longer time since it can only deal with one part/feature after another while Chemical Etching works on the complete design simultaneously and can harvest large amount of product in one run. 

(4) Quality/Accuracy

Chemical Etching is a high precision process that does not change the properties of metals such as hardness, grain structure, or ductility. With Chemical Etching, you can harvest ultra-precision thin metal parts, burr and stress free. Laser Cutting, on the other hand, is a thermal process which results in thermal stress, as well as micro burrs.

Compared to Laser Cutting, Chemical Etching is the more optimal choice when it is large volume production of precision thin metal parts, especially when the design is complex and quality/accuracy demand is high.

Interested to know more about Chemical Etching and what it can do to your next innovation? Talk to one of our engineers about your projects or read our free whitepaper on Chemical Etching


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