Waterjet vs Photo Etching

Waterjet vs Photo Etching: Which is Best for Your Component?

September 23, 2016

Both photo chemical etching and waterjet offer similar benefits: precision cutting at competitive prices with a relatively quick turnaround time. So how do you determine which is best for your component?

The answer will depend on your application and your specifications.

While the processes share many similarities, they both have their strengths and weaknesses. The requirements for your component will determine which process is best for you.

Let’s examine a couple important factors when comparing the processes.

Part complexity

This is the primary differentiator between the two processes.

When a component is cut with waterjet, each hole is cut individually from the source material. So the more complex the design, the more time and more cuts are required.

On the other hand, photo chemical etching etches all holes simultaneously. The photo etching process requires the same amount of time to cut one hole as it does to cut a thousand of them.

In short, if you have a complex part with numerous holes and details, photo chemical etching can provide a noteworthy cost advantage.

Burrs

While waterjet minimizes burrs compared to many other processes, it does sometimes leave a small “micro” burr, particularly in softer metals.

In most cases, the burring is small enough that additional treatment is not required, but some applications demand absolutely no burr.

The photo chemical etching process, on the other hand, leaves no burrs, not even micro burrs.

For many, this difference will not impact the choice in cutting process, but it should be noted in case your specifications require an absolutely burr-free cut.

Material Thickness

Photo etching works best for thinner, more complex components.

While material thickness factors into production time for both processes, waterjet has the capabilities to cut through much thicker materials than photo chemical etching. Photo etching starts losing its advantage at around .080” (2mm) whereas waterjet can successfully cut parts many inches thick.

If you need a thicker material, waterjet oftentimes provides a more cost-effective option.

Conclusion

While other factors exist, they become so granular that we cannot make any generalizations.

A good rule of thumb: if you have a complex part with several holes and details, photo etching may provide a cost advantage for your component sourcing. Otherwise, the variables might come down to cost, time, and material thickness.

If you have a more complex, thin component, photo etching will probably suit your needs better. But if you have a simple component or a thicker one, waterjet may be more affordable for your project.

If you're not sure which method is best for you, contact Newcut. We provide both photo etching and waterjet services, so we can give you an unbiased and straight-forward comparison for your particular component.

Advanced photo etching tips design engineers should know.