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Industrial Etching: Processes and Materials

What do you call it when you take chemicals, like acids and bases, and use them to dissolve unwanted materials such as metals, or semiconductor materials, or even glass as part of a larger production process? Most folks call it etching, but some of your more industrial sorts refer to it as chemical milling. Whatever you call it, it has been around since the Middle Ages; first as a decorative process, then as a way to subtly form metals, and more recently as a way to make printed circuit boards and semiconductors.

Recent Developments in Chemical Milling

Chemical milling, the process of using chemicals to dissolve portions of unwanted metals, was once used mainly on thinner metals and glass products. Today it can be used on slightly thicker and extremely larger products as well. Lines, designs, words and images can be engraved into the surfaces of these different materials, and the process is being improved upon constantly. According to Green Tech Focus, in 2009, TITAL GmbH in Germany completed their new chemical milling facility. This new facility is now able to etch parts up to 60 inches in length and weighing up to 661 pounds. In this facility, aluminum and titanium products are mainly used, and the process is done to remove any brittle casings the metal might have.

The Beauty of Metal Etching

If you start researching the topic of metal etching, one common application of this process is prevalent in the results – jewelry etching. It may play strongly into the stereotype of what it means to be female, but I unashamedly like pretty things – jewelry being one of them. Now, I work for an industrially focused company, am surrounded all day by industrial terms and topics, and I spend a good portion of my time writing about industrial processes (which, more often than not, are anything but pretty). So, if there is a way to incorporate something like jewelry into that world, I will attempt to do it. It is widely accepted that there are different ways in which people learn, but I think a commonality in the effective grasping of an idea or a new piece of knowledge is being interested in that idea or knowledge in the first place. I for one would far rather learn about the processes of acid etching, chemical machining or metal engraving by applying those methods to something that already interests me, such as jewelry. I do realize that an at-home jewelry maker experimenting with various chemicals and achieving amateur results is vastly different in both technique and precision to a high-technology state-of-the-art chemical milling process producing a semi-conductor chip. The principle steps of the methods, however, are similar enough to be connected.

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