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Articles from CAD / CAM EQUIPMENT (103 Articles), CAD / CAM SERVICES (65 Articles)

CAD design demystified

CAD/CAM technology is opening doors for jewellers and manufacturers alike. COLEBY NICHOLSON finds that those who have introduced it are enjoying greater design flexibility, more efficient manufacturing and even higher margins.

When jewellers adopt CAD/CAM, there can be flow-on effects over and above the changes they experience to their manufacturing processes.

Some jewellers report an increase in sales once they’ve conquered the software because they can now provide customers with quicker turnaround times and a more efficient design process. Additionally, the new technology presents businesses with new capabilities, which can often attract new customers. Other changes can occur internally.

Having fully embraced CAD/CAM technology, one ‘traditional’ retailer says he had to change staff and introduce a fresh skill-set to assist with the new style of selling that CAD/CAM delivers. The retailer, who does not wish to be named, describes the change as a “re-invention” of his business.

“We cut down on people who would be considered traditional salespeople and went for those with more professional skills, such as CAD/CAM design work and people who could also help me on the bookkeeping side of the business,” he explains.

This shift in focus has brought about a change in the types of customer, with the business now attracting consumers who want to be more involved in the design of their pieces, right down to the selection of materials. It means sales staff are now selling the promise of unique items created exclusively for the customer rather than just what the store has in stock.

“If you want to be clinical about it, we now have a sales process; we have a computer-based system showing customers what we can do for them and how we do it,” the retailer continues, adding that the demands on staff have changed as a result. “Clearly our salespeople now require far greater computer skills than they needed in the past.”

An unexpected and unintended consequence of this new approach has been a shift to a younger customer demographic, the retailer reports: ”By embracing CAD/CAM and 3D-printing technology, we have definitely increased customers between the ages of 20 and 40, whereas the traditional jeweller’s major [customer] base would be 40 to 70 years old.”

Not all jewellers see a change in their customer base as a result of introducing CAD/CAM.

Rachel Bird, of South Australian business R&B Sutherland Jewellers by Design, says, “I don’t know if our customer base has changed due to using CAD but customers have definitely embraced it – they all love being able to see a 3D-rendered image of their piece.”

Bird explains that sketches can sometimes be a difficult way to present design ideas to prospective customers, adding, “With CAD, everything is there right before their eyes, which gives them added confidence that they will get exactly what they want.”

Melbourne-based jeweller Shaun Staples agrees with Bird. “There’s been no change in demographic in my experience but people are continuing to become more discerning. With CAD renderings, customers have come to expect a finished picture before they see the final piece,” he explains. “They appreciate that they can give creative input and have changes made.

Changes are not usually made as easily as people sometimes assume but better to change a 3D model than to recycle a finished ring.”

Creative visions

Chris Winspear, director of CAD/CAM service provider Cad Culture, says CAD/CAM software has a learning curve but some users have surprised him with the capability of their early designs.

“It does take time for people to grow with the software and understand how it works but you do get a few jewellers that really start to do some weird and wonderful things with the software that are typically more challenging.”

Ben Farago is production manager at CAD/CAM and casting business Rapid Casting. He agrees that CAD knowledge in the domestic jewellery market is improving quickly.

“The great thing with CAD is that people get better at it as they use it. As they become more confident, their designs become more interesting and elaborate,” he says. “We see improvement in customer designs and watch their work develop into a distinct style as their confidence grows.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Cochineas, CEO of Pallion, the parent company of custom jewellery manufacturing business Palloys, says that often some of the most creative CAD/CAM work is done for competitions.

“Competitions held by WorldSkills, TAFEs, the Diamond Guild Australia, 3D Systems and the Hong Kong Jewellery Fair offer great outlets for jewellers to be really innovative and push the boundaries of CAD/CAM,” he explains. “The quality of the work that has been submitted in each of these competitions is incredible and evidences the marriage of traditional skill with cutting-edge technology, which is why we are a significant financial contributor to those competitions.”

Farago has similar sentiments: “We are proud of the award-winning work our customers have done, demonstrating that a high standard of CAD/CAM is recognised at the national and international level.”

Evolution Jewellers director Anthony Nowlan says he is not necessarily surprised by the quality of work his clients are achieving.

Image courtesy: Palloys/Pallion
Image courtesy: Palloys/Pallion

“I am in quite a unique and special position where I am privy to the journey of success that some of our clients experience,” he explains. “A large majority of our clients already produce work to a high quality without the use of CAD but add Matrix or CounterSketch to that already successful recipe and the result is often a very well-engineered piece of jewellery with the soul of a passionate maker behind it.”

Consequently, Nowlan enjoys witnessing each of these successes: “To say it brings a smile to my face is an understatement; it is one of the best parts of my job, and I am honoured to bear witness to it. It truly is a great time to be a jeweller.”

Advances in jewellery technology and subsequent improvements in the ways jewellers are using this technology are also causing changes to manufacturing processes.

Rik Juod, director of CAD Jewelry School, explains that he’s now seeing manufacturing efficiencies that were not viable a few years ago.

“We have quite a few customers who produce CAD and finished pieces for the trade. They have now moved away from producing vulcanised rubber moulds and now print multiples – as many as 70 components – using CAD and their 3D printer,” he says. “This was not a viable option even 12 months ago because they were outsourcing their 3D printing and it was just too prohibitive to produce multiples.”

Bird has also seen improvements in manufacturing efficiency. “It has definitely improved efficiency in our business; it is like having another jeweller in the workshop,” she explains. “Things that would take hours to make now can be modelled in half an hour and, once printed and cast, assembled and finished on the bench. In a small workshop like ours, this allows more jobs to go through the workshop.”

Bermark Design managing director Charles Berman suggests that the technology should present more consumer-marketing features. His business provides animation services that enable pieces to rotate on screen, which
can add value to a jeweller’s marketing presence.

“3D images help finalise sales because customers can see exactly what they are getting. Inexpensive 3D print machines are increasingly being used to show samples to customers and this is helpful to customers even if the outputs from the cheap machines are not easily used to make finished pieces.”

Such features are in high demand, according to Berman: “We have been encouraged by the rapid adoption of HD rendering and animation in our customers’ websites. Jewellers are increasingly looking to us to offer innovation in these services.”

Improvements and advancements

There has been much advancement across the board, not only in equipment and software but also in services offered by local suppliers.

Chris Hill, 3D product manager for design software supplier LST Group, says, “Communication is faster and easier now, while photo-realistic renderings of CAD models shared directly with clients or via social media present a quick and inexpensive way for jewellers to measure interest and generate sales.

“The latest-release 3D resin from EnvisionTEC, called QView, allows a mock-up to be in the hand of the customer in less than one hour and for less than the cost of a coffee.”

One area that has gained more focus is the ability of jewellers to expand heavily upon their ranges using online libraries of existing CAD design files.

“While software is becoming more accessible, CAD catalogues such as JewelMounts are more popular, allowing jewellers to select from thousands of classic/popular designs that can be ordered ‘as is’ or modified to suit the customer’s needs,” Chemgold director Larry Sher explains, pointing to Chemgold’s own investments in production. “The DWS technology, coupled with our propriety resin burn-out cycle, enhances the surface finish. This means jewellers have minimal clean-up on their castings from CAD.”

There is no doubt that 3D printing is having a large impact on manufacturing efficiencies, especially with the advent of cheaper hardware.

“I guess the area where we have seen the greatest growth is the adoption of 3D printing and the main reason for this is obviously due to the introduction of low-cost 3D printers,” Juod says. “Any jeweller producing four to five CAD designs per week can now justify the cost of a 3D printer and benefit from  the immediacy of printing a castable model of their ring in two to three hours. Jewellers really appreciate the ability to print their design and check it before casting it in precious metal.”

Staples agrees: “3D printers rapidly dropping in price and increasing in quality will continue to benefit the jeweller; the time and cost to produce a wearable sample is small. I believe that the availability of these technologies and design software will encourage more design innovation and creativity now and into the future.”

It’s largely recognised that Pallion has made significant investments in all aspects of jewellery manufacturing to service the many needs of a wide range of jewellers.

“Rapid prototyping technology is constantly evolving and improving, and the biggest change in the past two years has been in print time and quality,” Cochineas says. “The expansion of the My Dream Ring catalogue in both printed and digital versions and the introduction of automated online quoting also give jewellers the ability to quote on-the-spot to customers, which assists in securing faster sales.”

At some point, the capability of CAD/CAM software will start to flatten out but developers will continue to find ways to add functionality that further simplifies usage.

“Obviously CAD/CAM software developers will continue to update with new and improved tooling and other features. As this occurs, the time it takes to create certain parts/pieces will shorten and the software will become more intuitive,” Nowlan explains.

Also, as CAD/CAM becomes the new norm, existing software restrictions might also loosen. An example of this is CounterSketch Studio, a product distributed by Evolution Jewellers that previously required jewellers to manufacture their designs via Stuller USA. Nowlan reports that this condition has now changed.

“Stuller and Gemvision have decided to open up the CounterSketch software and enable the export of files so users can now choose any local manufacturer,” he says. “Our advantage is we now have a powerful retail design product that can be marketed internationally with ease – it’s a win-win for all involved.”

Much of the resistance surrounding the use of CAD/CAM software in jewellery design and manufacture has clearly dissipated as jewellers seek ways to present a bespoke jewellery service to their clients that provides shorter production times, greater opportunities for customisation and a higher level of consumer involvement in the final product. Jewellers also benefit from potentially higher margins, a service offering that puts the mystique back into jewellery and access to an entire world of existing designs.

For the sceptics, it’s becoming hard to argue with that.

CAD/CAM supplement - More reading
Part 1: Designing a better future
Part 3: CAD's end-game is the jewellery consumer
Part 4: Looking ahead to 2020

DOWNLOAD NOW: 24-page PDF CAD/CAM supplement 
A comprehensive analysis from all aspects of the jewellery industry


Coleby Nicholson

Former Publisher • Jeweller Magazine

Coleby Nicholson launched Jeweller in 1996 and was also publisher and managing editor from 2006 to 2019. He has covered the jewellery industry for more than 20 years and specialises in business-to-business aspects of the industry.

Ellendale Diamonds Australia

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