Clean laser technology to replace chemical etching

The engraving and texturing company Custom Etch in New Castle (USA) operates six GF laser machines.

Custom Etch is the largest laser texturing service provider in North America. The US company processes more than 4’000 molds every year. For eight years, Custom Etch has relied on the time-saving and environmentally-friendly lasers provided by GF Machining Solutions and purchased their seventh GF machine arriving in June 2019.

“The GF team truly understands our needs”

Donald Melonio is Vice President of Custom Etch. The company is based in New Castle, Pennsyilvania (USA), and processes up to 4’200 individual molds every year.

Mr. Melonio, what is the challenge in texturing a mold?
The greatest challenge has always been to provide the highest level of quality and still be able to meet the price and timing expected by the customers. Custom Etch recognized long ago that the quality of the laser was far superior to the manual process. To that end, we have committed to this technology knowing that when we had enough capacity, we could provide our services at a price and turnaround superior to current industry levels.

How does GF Machining Solutions support you?
The team at GF truly understands the needs of the texture company. Their laser system is the only one we have found that addresses the size and speed requirements of our industry.

What do you appreciate about working with GF Machining Solutions?
I value greatly my relationship with the GF teams in Geneva and Chicago. GF has made it possible for my staff to truly understand the technology and significantly grow our business. They have provided valuable insight and solutions to problems as they have arisen over the last eight years. The GF team has spent countless hours assisting Custom Etch to become the largest North American supplier of laser texturing.

This is an impressive transformation, as in 2011 the employees at Custom Etch were still wearing protective clothing and face masks when using chemical etching to treat molds. Today, the majority of the work processes carried out in New Castle (USA) are handled by state-of-the-art lasers from GF Machining Solutions.

“Thanks to the consistently good order situation, we now have six GF machines running in our plant,” says Donald Melonio, Vice President of Custom Etch. The company processes up to 4’200 individual molds every year. In June 2019, GF will supply an additional LASER P 4000 U machine to Custom Etch, making it the third of its kind to be used in New Castle. Custom Etch intends to use the machine primarily for processing large molds for the automotive sector. The new laser machine enables Custom Etch to deal with the numerous texturing orders more quickly. What’s more, the company is seeing a further increase in demand: “Our customers have already committed to projects in 2019,” reveals Melonio. In addition to manufacturers of PET bottles, car lighting elements and fiberglass doors, the company has also recently expanded its client base to include American companies from the aerospace and transport sectors.

Jean-Paul Nicolet from Laser Business Development and Market Support at GF Machining Solutions in Geneva (Switzerland).

Laser technology is completely changing the way engraving and texturing companies work.

Today, production processes are fully digitalized and automated.

The fully digital 3D laser engraving allows almost unlimited design options on individual surfaces, such as on molds for automotive parts.

Custom Etch processes up to 4’200 individual molds every year.

Donald Melonio is Vice President of Custom Etch. He greatly values his relationship with the GF teams in Geneva and Chicago.

Much faster and more accurately

Jean-Paul Nicolet from Laser Business Development and Market Support at GF Machining Solutions in Geneva has looked after Custom Etch since the beginning of the partnership. “Laser technology is completely changing the way engraving and texturing companies work,” Nicolet points out. “Today, production processes – from product design to the finished mold – are fully digitalized and automated. Meanwhile, virtually everything that product designers want can be realized.” In addition, the GF Machining Solutions laser machines process the molds much faster and more accurately than would be possible manually. Donald Melonio confirms that his clients get the finished molds back in half the time that was required before. “The labor costs previously involved in masking, applying patterns and acid etching molds have been significantly reduced.” He adds that the new machines have enabled him to recruit more staff, such as programmers. What makes him particularly happy is the reduction of chemical substances. “Since the introduction of the laser technology, we used 35% less chemical substances last year. We expect to reduce this figure by a further 10% in 2019,” says Melonio. With its six machines, Custom Etch is among GF Machining Solutions’ top five customers in the field of laser texturing. “We carry out 60% of our orders using laser machines. This figure will rise further,” reveals Donald Melonio.

“As we increase our laser processing, acid processing will decrease directly.”

Donald Melonio Vice President of Custom Etch

Interest in environmentally friendly technologies

Jean-Paul Nicolet also works with other clients in the field of laser texturing. Despite the high investment costs of up to several hundred thousand Swiss francs for each laser machine, he sees a worldwide shift to the modern, more efficient and more environmentally friendly technology. The mold processing company Tian Zhi Zun in Suzhou (China), for example, currently uses four LASER P 4000 U machines and has switched all its production for clients from the automotive, electronics and consumer goods industries from chemical etching to laser technology. “In China, there are sometimes high taxes and levies imposed on procedures involving chemical substances. As a result, there is a great deal of pressure and motivation for change,” says Nicolet. He has also noticed that many companies are interested in environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques such as laser technology of their own accord. “Especially for production facilities, the topic of sustainability is becoming more and more important.”

It’s just the beginning

Custom Etch discovered laser texturing at the start of 2010, when the company faced a challenge in applying a geometric style texture to PET bottles for Pepsi brands. “This was a very challenging project. We could have achieved the desired result manually by etching, but labor cost and time would have been prohibitive,” Donald Melonio remembers. “Our search led us to the GF Machining Solutions laser technology portfolio, and we purchased our first machine to fulfill the Pepsi order.”
Nine years later, Custom Etch hopes to continue moving forward – in terms of both order volumes and the technology used in the plant. “We feel that the texturing industry is just beginning its evolution from previously manual to mainly digital processes. There’s a great deal of potential in doing this,” says Donald Melonio. It is for this reason that he relies on the support of GF Machining Solutions. “We expect to see the continued commitment to improvements from GF that we have experienced in the last eight years.”

This is how chemical etching and laser texturing work

Chemical etching uses chemicals to dissolve unprotected parts of a metal mold to produce a predefined structure or engraving. Precise manual work is required in the multi-stage process. After cleaning the mold, synthetic resin or a protective lacquer is applied as acid protection. This protection is then removed using needles, styli or scalpels on the areas to be etched. Wax print or multi-layer films are applied to these places to transfer the pattern. The desired engraving is created in the subsequent acid bath, where the material surface is removed from the unprotected areas. After the bath, the piece is intensively cleaned, rinsed off and polished.

In contrast, fully digital 3D laser engraving offers a greater freedom of design, greater safety and a higher quality. The technology allows almost unlimited design options on individual surfaces, such as molds for automotive parts, ICT, packaging, tool and mold making, or shoes and sports items. A five-axis laser applies the pattern directly to the mold surface, which means there is no need to use or dispose of chemical substances.

GF Machining Solutions LASER P 4000 U machine demonstration