V Siviter Smith engravers: The early etching pioneers
Established in 1907, V Siviter Smith set up his engraving company in Moseley Street, Birmingham, UK, and over the next 50-years grew to be one of the most respected engraving companies in England.
At the forefront of technological advances, Siviter Smith was introduced to the DOW Chemical engraving process in the 1950s, which was adopted by the company to produce letterpress plates for the printing industry. Kodak was supplying the photo-resists used to etch the printing blocks and printed circuits and was pioneering a process for etching metals parts – photochemical machining (PCM). This again sparked entrepreneurial interest.
Etching technology begins its evolution
A subdivision of V Siviter Smith, Microponent Development Ltd was set-up in Livery Street, Birmingham in the early 1960s to develop PCM into a viable business. Microponent Development Ltd enjoyed success and moved once more to nearby Belmont Row, using its photomechanical expertise to manufacture plated through hole printed circuits for a growing electronics industry. The PCM side of the business developed the etching process for a wide range of metal components, including helicopter grilles for Westland Helicopters – a product still manufactured by Precision Micro today.
In the late 1960s, Siviter Smith Group was placed into receivership. Norman Marrett, a former employee who had formed his own company, Fotomechanix Ltd. manufacturing and selling pre-sensitised PCB material and other associated products, acquired Microponent Development Ltd.
Turning an art into a science
Norman took over a business with an artisan culture. His challenge was to hone their entrepreneurial spirit into the slick, repeatable process we know today as photo etching.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Microponent Development – now shortened to Microponents – continued to perfect its photo etching process. A reliable process was developed for etching stainless steel, then a tricky material to etch. Chlorine was introduced to enable the regeneration of the etchant. The high number of lead frames being manufactured for a now booming electronics sector meant an automated process line was developed for resist coating. Spot plating was also set-up, and the company’s first photo-plotter was installed to digitise the manufacture of photo-etch tooling. A bespoke enterprise resource planning (ERP) system was written and introduced to handle the growing number of customers and products.
Meggitt, Heatric and Langley Drive
During the 1990s, the first connection to Meggitt was established. Heatric, a Meggitt company, approach Microponents to etch large fludic plates used in their proprietary printed circuit heat exchanger (PCHE) technology. Up to this point, Heatric had scoured the globe to find a capable supplier, but only Microponents had the innovation to take on the challenge – the plate size, thickness, complexity and price. The investment required also appeared to be a barrier for other etching companies.
As successful as the Heatric plates were for Microponents, their manufacture did not lend to the set-up of the company’s manufacturing plant and a decision was made to transfer this business to a new, stand-alone etching facility on Langley Drive, Birmingham. This was a gamble at the time as there was uncertainty as to whether PCHEs would be adopted by the oil and gas industry.
Europe’s largest stand-alone contract etching company
In the early 2000s, Norman Marrett handed responsibility over to his son, Anthony. Not long after assuming the role, a decision was made to merge with local competitor Micro-Metallic, a company established out of Microponent Development and situated less than a mile away. The merger became Precision Micro, the largest stand-alone contract etching company in Europe.
In 2007, following a planned redevelopment by the local authority, Precision Micro moved to a purpose built etching plant situated next door to the home British car manufacturer, Jaguar. The plant was specified with cutting edge photo-etch equipment, enabling the capacity and precision enjoyed by its customers today.
Heatric continued its growth, and by the early 2010s, the company had to source additional capacity for its etched PCHE plates. As was the case in the 1990s, Precision Micro was the only company deemed capable enough to produce their product, so Meggitt took the decision to acquire Precision Micro from the Marrett family.
Investment, innovation and growth
Following its acquisition by Meggitt in 2012, Precision Micro grew rapidly into a number of high-value engineering sectors, investing in new technology, including the development a propriety process for etching titanium and its alloys, and increasing turnover by more than 50%.
In April 2018, Precision Micro was acquired by its management team, backed by Lloyds Development Capital (LDC), a UK-based mid-market private equity house and subsidiary of Lloyds Banking Group. This marks the start of an exciting new chapter for the company as it looks to further increase its position as a market-leader in photo chemical etching technology.
Precision Micro acquired by its management team, backed by LDC
Titanium etching facility opens
German sales office opens
Precision Micro acquired by Meggitt PLC
Netherlands sales office opens
Laser direct imaging technology introduced, digitising photo-imaging
Precision Micro move to new, purpose-built photo etching plant
Microponents and Micro Metallic become Precision Micro
Microponents merge with Micro Metallic, a UK based photo-etch competitor
Further expansion of photo etching capacity
High volume PCHE etching facility opens
In-house forming and finishing introduced
Precision Micro pioneer the recycling of etchant chemistry
First ERP system introduced
Automated resist coating developed
Stainless steel etching process developed
Norman Marrett acquires Microponent Development
Microponent Development established
Adoption of DOW Chemical engraving process
V Siviter Smith Engravers established