Printed circuit board etching, as complex as it seems, can actually be done at home. However, most people do not want to mess with chemicals or complex lines that require too much precision and patience. The idea is rather simple overall, but the overall process can be daunting. This is where printed circuit board manufacturers come into play, even when making a single prototype.
Etching exposes the copper on the trace side of a circuit board to a chemical that removes any unprotected copper, leaving an imprint. In essence, the layout of the circuit board is printed onto a sheet and then placed on a clean board. A laminate protects the pattern when the assembly is placed into harsh acids or chemicals. Other common methods for removing copper include photoengraving, silkscreening and PCB milling.
New technology uses plasma or lasers to etch the trace elements. This method creates finer lines and more precise details. Referred to as "direct to PCB," this method may grow in popularity as the technology continues to advance.
By etching the schematics onto the printed circuit board, mass production becomes faster and easier. Almatron's usual turnaround is two to three weeks, but using available technology for etching, the manufacturer can produce a final product in just a few days. The company works with the customer to turn a prototype into an integral component of an electronic device within budget and time constraints.