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Evolution Jewellers
Evolution Jewellers

Tools & tech for better business

The use of the right tools and technology can go a long way to maximising a jeweller’s profitability and keeping one step ahead of the competition. Jeff Salton discusses the latest innovations and updates.
The Solidscape 3Z Pro 3D Printer
The Solidscape 3Z Pro 3D Printer
The Revo 540CX Milling System
The Revo 540CX Milling System

There are two motivating factors for new technology – to improve the user’s quality of life; to improve the sustainability (profitability) of the business. Ideally, any investment in new technology should satisfy both.

In jewellery manufacturing, technology is still making inroads into an industry which has long been renowned for its reliance on hand tools and the artisans who wield them.

The advent of CAD/CAM and 3D design and printing have revolutionised the industry, improving product quality and reducing jewellers’ manufacturing and labour times. Since 2010, technology has further improved, yielding higher quality levels and lower equipment prices.
Equipment supplier and current JAA president Selwyn Brandt owns House of Jewellery. He says most recent equipment innovations are improvements to existing technology rather than totally new inventions.

“There have been further improvements to equipment that jewellers use for micro welding, such as PUK04 pulse arc welder and laser welders,” Brandt says.

“For retailers and manufacturers, there are now small in-store engraving machines that are compact, computer-controlled and very simple to operate such as RingCube and Gravograph M20. These machines allow operators the ability to engrave almost anything inside and outside rings and bangles, as well as deep milling on flat and curved surfaces.”

Brandt adds that advanced labelling equipment provides improved results for barcoded pricing, while a higher quality range of RFID printers, scanners, readers and labels is now available to jewellers.

“There have been significant software upgrades for CAD/CAM programs now widely used in the industry as part of the manufacturing process and now being taught as a module at TAFE,” he says, adding that software is now much more user-friendly and also relatively cost effective.

“There have been major advancements in equipment for 3D printing of casting models, allowing for much improved results,” he continues.
Brandt believes prices have either been constant or have reduced as a result of a strong Australian dollar and some technology becoming more affordable.

Anthony Nowlan from Evolution Jewellers agrees with Brandt’s comments. He says advances in the technological solutions his company provides are many. Evolution Jewellers supplies desktop design software and milling equipment.

For instance, Nowlan says Gemvision’s Matrix V7.5 has improved results when coupled with the Revo 540CX Milling System. The latest version of Counter Sketch Studio (V4) also enables jewellers to design pieces in freehand mode.

“Matrix V7.5 is the benchmark jewellery design solution used by over 300 manufacturing jewellers and designers in Australia and NZ,” Nowlan explains.

“Vast improvements within the software combine the raw CAD power of Rhino 3D, the organic modelling of T-Splines, the stunning render images of V-Ray, and Gemvision’s own proprietary technology to create the ultimate 3D jewellery-creation tool.”

Nowlan believes the greatest improvements can be found in the field of rapid prototyping (RP) as more RP equipment becomes accessible to consumers.

“While these machines are comparatively inexpensive, the great majority of these printers do not have a resolution that is suitable for jewellery manufacture; however, the upside is that it does provide the public with a greater insight into design, which has the potential to flow onward to custom-made jewellery pieces they may require,” Nowlan says. 

“Many existing [commercial grade] rapid prototyping solutions have improved drastically where the resolution is now so high that the cast piece resembles a smooth, sandblasted finish. Obviously, this makes for much less waste in the cleaning process, which may provide for a higher profit yield for the jeweller. The field of rapid manufacturing is also improving vastly, with SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) equipment becoming finer and, in some cases, arguably stronger than any hand-fabricated piece.”

Another supplier of prototyping solutions is Facet RP, which supplies Solidscape 3D printers to the industry. The company’s CAD manager and head designer Ben Calabrese boasts of the release of the Solidscape’s 3Z Pro and the subsequent 3Z Studio and 3Z Max solutions, saying jewellers can expect better accuracy, faster turnaround times and less clean-up.

“These machines make jewellers’ lives easier by producing a high-quality product in a shorter space of time with less clean-up. This gives every jeweller the opportunity for growth.”

Calabrese says the level of uptake has been well above average: “More jewellers are coming to understand that rapid prototyping is not a threat but a great asset to their business, allowing them to take on and complete a greater number of jobs than if they were to hand-make everything.”

Justin Elsey from Rapid Prototyping Services says sales prove that the interest in prototyping is skyrocketing. “Our business has sold more 3D printers to jewellers in the past year than in the previous seven years combined,” he says, adding that CAD/CAM is no longer an activity restricted to technocrats with a big budget.

Elsey believes the rise of low-cost, high-resolution 3D printers for CAD/CAM jewellery production is having a profound effect, pointing to US company Asiga, which launched an LED-based 3D printer in 2011 called the Pico.

“It builds casting patterns in layers as fine as 1 micron at a price of under $7,000,” Elsey says. “It won the Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America ‘Thinking Ahead Award’ in 2012.”

Since then several companies have launched similar machines and high supply is driving down prices. “Entry prices are now one-tenth of what they were three years ago,” Elsey says. “That’s an extraordinary change in any industry.”

Elsey also believes significant improvements have been made in the development of directly cast-able resins. He says 3D-printed resin parts have been notoriously difficult to burnout but new resins burnout cleanly like wax.

Laser & Sign Technologies is another player in the 3D equipment market. It is the Australian and NZ distributor of Envisiontec, which has more than 5,000 machines installed worldwide.

Laser & Sign Technologies’ Chris Hill states that at least 50 per cent of 3D models printed worldwide for the jewellery industry each year are manufactured on Envisiontec systems, adding that the number of Envisiontec micro systems installed in Australia in 2013 has grown by 300 per cent.

Envisiontec released the Perfactory Micro 3D DLP printing system in 2012. According to Hill, it is the smallest and most affordable professional-grade desktop 3D printer for jewellery production.

“Envisiontec’s patented Direct Light Processing (DLP) technology produces the highest-quality surface finish, the highest resolutions available, predictable and fast build times, high quality models in direct cast and direct mouldable materials, and minimal clean-up of moulds. The much larger Perfactory 4 series systems are capable of producing more than 20 rings in less than three hours.”

Hill warns jewellers that quality should still remain a priority in the face of falling prices: “Cheap hobby-grade machines have entered the market. These machines will not produce high-quality, high-resolution parts from materials required to satisfy the needs of the jewellery industry. Assumed savings are swiftly eroded by the high cost of consumables and additional labour costs incurred in cleaning up these lower resolution models.”

For jewellers not wanting to own/operate their own CAD/casting or 3D equipment, casting houses such as Palloys, Chemgold and Lenrose are constantly updating their equipment to deliver improved results.

Andrew Cochineas from Palloys also uses Envisiontec technology, at a commercial level. He says Palloys was the first in this country to install Envisiontec’s DLP prototyping technology.

Leading manufacturers
“Our installation of this new type of technology puts us in very esteemed company indeed – leading international jewellery manufacturers such as Cartier and Bulgari have also just incorporated this technology into their production. It is the perfect choice for micro pave or invisible settings and the reduction of keyed surfaces makes clean-up and setting significantly faster.

For jewellers seeking better casting results from alternative metals, Cochineas says the group has just completed construction of a brand new platinum and palladium alloy casting room that “couples the largest volume platinum and palladium alloy casting machines in the country with both traditional centrifugal and the newest dual-chamber differential pressure and vibration systems for better material flow, better form-filling and a significantly reduced risk of hot cracks with smaller dendrite formation”.

Technological advancements are not solely restricted to machinery or software. Michell Saunders from jewellers’ supplies company Koodak stocks hand tools designed to make jewellers’ lives easier and more productive, including an all-in-one riveting tool system from Crafted Findings that can hole-pierce metal and then set a rivet into the hole.

An array of Knew Concepts super-light aluminium saw-frames has been added to Koodak’s range as well, including a forward-cutting and/or side-cutting (90 degrees to the frame) model that Saunders says is “incredibly unique and exceptionally popular”.

Koodak also stocks a one-step looper plier nicknamed the Plooper, which trims and loops the eye of an eye-pin in one efficient step.
The team at Kiss (Keep It Simple Solutions) has formulated a new cleaning product specifically for jewellers. Brad Jones from Kiss says it is Australia’s only commercial jewellery cleaner that is natural and free from harsh chemicals.

“Many jewellers use cleaners made from ammonia and/or acids to clean precious metals and gemstones on a daily basis,” Jones says. “Ammonia is irritating and corrosive and can cause burning and irritation in the nose, throat and respiratory tract in high doses.”
According to Jones, Kiss Jewellery Cleaner is effective enough to use on all types of jewellery, even coral, pearls, turquoise and watches, and works in a water bath, sonic cleaner, steamer or even as a spray and wipe. Kiss Loves Jewels has just launched the product for the retail market to be sold through jewellery stores.

In the world of jewellery lighting, House of Jewellery is now selling the Scintalite, a specially-designed lighting product that helps diamond jewellery sparkle more than traditional lighting in cabinets and store windows.

Nowlan says that the biggest development from Evolution Jewellers will be the Counter Sketch Studio V4, which will allow jewellers to utilise local manufacturing.

“CSS V4 users will have the option for the US manufacturing giant Stuller to manufacture the piece, or purchase the STL file direct from Stuller, and then email it to any local rapid prototyping service bureau/casting house for manufacture.”

Elsey believes technological advancements may change the way jewellery is distributed in the future.

“Retailers can keep digital models of their stock on file or download trendy new designs instantly. New stock can be printed in a matter of hours, cast overnight and finished for sale the next day,” he says. “This means retail jewellers can be more responsive to the market while reducing stock-holding requirements.”

Hill says the industry is moving from benchtop to laptop: “EnvisionTEC is currently developing systems providing higher resolutions, larger work areas, faster build-times and greater material range.”

Next year expect further developments in tools, software and machinery to ease the burden of manufacture and design. There’s no shortage of companies seeking ways to make jewellers’ lives easier through innovative technology.

Scintalite from House of Jewellery
Scintalite from House of Jewellery


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