the process of Electroforming

Learn everything about Advanced Lithographic Electroforming process, material properties and design guidelines

how does Electroforming work?

Electroforming is an advanced manufacturing process that uses electricity to deposit thin layers of metal onto a predefined pattern. At Veco Precision, we combine the precision of photolithography with the power of electrodeposition. Put simply, we begin with a cleaned metal substrate, apply a light-sensitive coating to it, and then expose it to UV light based on a CAD pattern. Once developed, the pattern emerges as conductive and non-conductive areas. This pattern, now called the “mandrel”, is put in an electrolytic bath. As a direct current passes through, metal ions settle onto the conductive areas of the mandrel. The outcome? High-quality, precise metal components are perfectly suited for a range of applications.

the Electroforming process in 6 steps

Veco’s Advanced Lithographic Electroforming process is a unique combination of high precision photolithography and electrodeposition based Electroforming.​

1) Cleaning
Electroforming process - cleaning
A metal sheet substrate is cleaned and degreased.

2) CoatingElectroforming process-coating
The substrate is coated in a light-sensitive coating/photoresist.

3) Exposingelectroforming process - exposure
The substrate is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) laser direct imaging (LDI), whereby the CAD part pattern is projected and transferred onto its surface. The resulting patterned surface is split into conductive areas and non-conductive areas by the photoresist material hardening in the latter.

4) Developingelectroforming process - developing
The patterned substrate is developed, meaning the unexposed photoresist is removed to expose the conductive areas. It is then rinsed and dried. The patterned substrate is from here on referred to as the mandrel (part model).

5) ElectrodepositionElectroforming process_deposition
The electrodeposition process takes place in an electrolytic bath and involves two electrodes (an anode and a cathode) and an electrolytic solution. The mandrel is placed in the bath and the electrodes pass a DC through the solution. The DC converts metallic ions into atoms that are continuously deposited on the conductive areas of the mandrel until the desired metal thickness has been achieved.

6) Harvestingelectroforming process - harvesting
The electroformed part is harvested, or separated, from the mandrel. The electroforming process can be managed in different ways to achieve different product features. For example, if a thin photoresist is used and the metal is allowed to grow over it, resulting in the thickness of the part exceeding that of the photoresist, the outer edges will be rounded and have a bell mouth shape. Alternatively, if a thick photoresist is used and the metal is not allowed to grow over it, resulting in the thickness of the part being less than the thickness of the photoresist, the outer and inner edges will be straight and sharp.

available processes at Veco

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material properties

See below an overview of materials available for the electroforming process
The materials we offer for electroforming are Nickel and Copper. Whereas we have a variety of nickel types available:

Veco84, Sulfamate, Meta, Hr-Ni (heat-resistant), and PdNi (biocompatible).

  • 1 Tensile strength, yield strength, elasticity, and elongation at failure are measured in flat tensile tests on ASTM D638 type 4 samples (thickness 75-100 µm) according to ISO 6892-1:2016 with an initial gauge length of 25 mm.
    2 Stainless steel samples SS316L and SS304 are added as reference, but note that identical stainless steel types can be ordered with varying tensile properties; the measured values do not reflect the maximum capability of stainless steel 316L and 304.
    3 The Vickers hardness as measured on polished cross sections with a force of 0.981 N (100p).
    4 Measured at 32 °C with a vibrating-sample magnetometer.
    5 Ni purity with respect to the elements Ag, Al, As, Ca, Cd, Ce, Co, Er, Eu, Ga, Gd, Ge, Hg, Ho, La, Mg, Mo, Nb, Pb, S, Si, Sn, Sr, Ti, Tm, U, Y, Zn, Zr. Based on qualitative and quantitative trace level analyses with inductively coupled plasma emission spectrometry after material dissolution in HNO3 with a final Ni concentration of ca. 1 g/L and a final HNO3 concentration of ca. 10-14 v%.
    6 The Ni leaching in the standardized testing procedure for sugar sieves, i.e. leaching from 1.00 dm2 sample surface area in 170 mL DIN10531 artificial tap water at 70 °C during 24 h. All materials fulfilled the requirement of <0.14 mg Ni leaching per kg test fluid as determined for food contact applications by the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare (Technical guide on metals and alloys used in food contact materials, 1st edition September 2013).
    7 Temperature at which the material can be kept for 1 h while maintaining HV≥95% and Rm≥95%. Thermal treatments were done in air with instantaneous heating and cooling.
    8 Measured with a four-point probe under a current of 1.000 A and at ca. 35 °C.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Electroforming process

The electroforming process begins with cleaning the substrate, followed by coating it with a light-sensitive photoresist. Afterward, the substrate is exposed to ultraviolet light to imprint the desired pattern. This pattern is then developed, and metal is deposited onto the substrate through an electrochemical process. Finally, the electroformed part is separated from the substrate, completing the process.

Plating Defined Electroforming involves a thin photoresist pattern where metal grows over the resist, ideal for creating conical orifices. Photo Defined uses a thick resist to limit metal growth to the resist’s thickness, achieving different aspect ratios.

Surface Replication utilizes the precision of electroforming to duplicate the mandrel’s surface with high fidelity, allowing for detailed geometries and tight tolerances.

Electroforming is widely used in semicon, medical, digital printing, electronics and filtration industries due to its precision and versatility.

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