Leading European photo etching specialist, Precision Micro, recently partnered with German-based technology innovator Evopro Systems Engineering AG to develop a machine to assist in the removal of production batches of precision photo etched components from processed metal sheets.
The machine, custom designed and built for one of the world’s leading tier 1 automotive companies, took 10 months from development to delivery and has been designed to reduce the manufacturing costs of millions of safety critical flat springs (flexures) which are photo etched for the customer each year.
Photo etching is a versatile and sophisticated metal machining technology, with an ability to mass produce complex and feature-rich metal components economically, without altering the original material properties during manufacture. Due to the safety critical nature of these flexures and the high levels of repeatability required, photo etching really finds its perfect application.
Active in the field for over half a century, Precision Micro is constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the process, making advances in etchant chemistry, enhancing accuracy, and developing custom solutions in partnership with its customers. It is this pre-eminence that led to the selection of Precision Micro to manufacture these components, and also the collaboration with Evopro to develop a technology for part removal.
The removal technology addresses an age-old hurdle to overcome in the photo etching process. One single sheet of photo etched metal may contain thousands of precision parts, each of which may be held in place in the sheet with tags designed into the digital tooling. Post manufacture, the parts have to be individually and cleanly removed from these tags and separated from the sheet, which is a highly labour intensive and time-consuming process.
With this in mind, Precision Micro approached Evopro to work together on a piece of custom equipment for the removal of the flexures.
The removal machine is automatic, compact, but above all rapid.
Through the use of the new Evopro machine, Precision Micro is able to break out over 10 times the number of parts per hour possible using the original manual removal method. The required labour is reduced to a single operator and the cycle time (including loading and unloading) to less than 1 minute. As demand for the flexure increases globally, the new machine will ensure that Precision Micro is able to continue to supply product to the high standards expected and at the quantities required.
For Precision Micro, the work on development of the part removal machine is just one element of a much larger investment program enhancing process automation in the area of photo etching, key objectives being cost reduction for customers, and the attainment of zero failure rates (and automatic validation of zero failure rates) for an increasing number of safety-critical industrial applications.
For many applications like the manufacture of the flexures, alternative manufacturing technologies – such as stamping, pressing, punching, and laser or water-jet cutting – struggle on a number of levels, but most importantly because of the stresses that they induce in the processed metal, and the burrs and compromised profiles that are a characteristic of such metal processing technologies.
Photo etching was selected as the most viable manufacturing process due to the elimination of such issues, and Precision Micro, in particular, was chosen as the company has been at the forefront of the development and refinement of the photo etching process for many decades. When it came to seeking a partner to work on the new removal technology, it was Precision Micro’s resources, technical capability, and security of supply (boosted by the company’s acquisition by global aerospace PLC Meggitt in 2012) that made it the obvious choice.
Evopro Systems Engineering was engaged in the removal machine development due to its renowned expertise in developing high-quality and innovative solutions for the technological challenges of industry.
For Precision Micro, the development of the removal equipment with Evopro demonstrates its continued commitment to establishing photo etching as one of the most versatile, cost-effective, speedy, and efficient mass manufacturing methods for complex, critical, and precision metal components.