Like Chemical Etching (also referred to as photo chemical machining or PCM), Laser Cutting is a subtractive manufacturing process. It works most commonly by directing the output of a high-power laser through optics to cut materials in order to achieve the desired results.

So what’s the difference between these two precision manufacturing techniques? Here we review Cost Efficiency, Lead Time, Design Complexity, and Quality/Accuracy.

(1) Cost Efficiency

When it’s a small volume production or prototyping, Laser Cutting can be more cost-effective compared to Chemical Etching. When you need 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 at a time, Chemical Etching is a process that produces 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 shorter.

(3) Design Complexity

Chemical Etching and Laser Cutting are both flexible regarding design. When the design is very complex however, Laser Cutting will often take a 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 deliver a 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. In addition, it allows you to create 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.

Learn more about Chemical Etching and how it can contribute to your next R&D project in our chemical etching whitepaper