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Articles from CAD / CAM EQUIPMENT (103 Articles), CAD / CAM SERVICES (65 Articles), 3D PRINTING EQUIPMENT (61 Articles)

Printing in a new dimension

Local jewellery manufacturers are bridging the gap between themselves and the most innovative 3D printing pioneers by embracing new technology. What's the next step into the future?

3D printing technology has advanced at an unfathomable rate in recent years and, as the machinery and technology have become more accessible to manufacturing jewellers, many have opted to pick up the skill.

A reduction in equipment prices and an increase in onshore casting companies have helped Australia and New Zealand to catch up to international 3D printing pioneers. Early concerns raised by artisanal jewellers that 3D printing would result in job losses or poorly assembled products have been cast aside as other industries embrace the once-feared technology.

Some reservations towards 3D printing still remain and invested parties agree that comprehensive education and training are required in order to capitalise on the expanding sector and ensure the quality of products.

Get the resin right

Once priced out of reach, 3D printers are now considered affordable for personal use, having dropped to under US$400 for a small printer that can be installed at home. This opportunity offers endless possibilities for boutique and amateur jewellers, but such unrestricted access raises concerns about quality control, notably that novice CAD designers might create casts that fail to produce quality jewellery.

Palloys is a jewellery division of Pallion and was one of the first local companies to embrace CAD and silicon casting methods. Operations manager Chris Botha acknowledges that attitudes to the technology have changed and cautions newcomers to ensure they are well-educated in the practice before investing heavily in both the machinery and software.

“The biggest change in recent years has been the cost of the equipment involved in printing. Software has remained pretty expensive but the hardware in 3D printing has dropped dramatically,” Botha says, adding that Palloys is committed to training and education in these technologies.

“Anyone can now purchase a printer to produce jewellery designs. Our aim is to address this hole and ensure knowledge in the trade is shared.”

As machine prices have dropped, producers of 3D printers have altered their resin specifications to lock customers into purchasing only corresponding resins for their printers. This means there are many different printers and resins in the market at the moment, each with its own unique features to suit different production needs.

Abraham Tok, of Sydney’s Tok Bros Jewellery, uses Form2 3D printers manufactured by FormLabs, which require blue and purple castable resins. He says jewellers and designers should research thoroughly before purchasing a printer.

“Do your homework and be very patient; getting started in 3D printing can be time consuming for newcomers and there can be a lot of tweaking and adjusting to get the right balance of settings on your printer and resins,” Tok explains.

“We recommend asking manufacturers for samples so you can benchmark them against others – we send resins to customers for them to try on before producing in precious metals.”

Botha echoes these sentiments and warns that many companies are distributing printers only manufactured to respond to a particular resin combination, usually offered exclusively through the company.

“The industry is changing and we will soon see companies that are coming in at a low price point but are fixing their hardware so it will only work with one type of resin. Much in the same way, you can’t move HP printer ink onto another traditional printer,” Botha says.

Anthony Nowlan’s business Evotech Pacific exclusively distributes GemVision Technology along with open-source printing line Asiga. Nowlan says having an open-source model offers manufacturers more diversity in what casting house they choose and which products they can model for commercial production.

“The advantage of the Asiga printers is that you can also use open-sourced resins from other companies,” he says.

“As long as you know what the exposure rate of those resins are – which the companies are usually happy to divulge – then you dial those into the software and use those without issue.”

Nowlan says different products suit different requirements, which provides flexibility to the user. “It’s all about choice,” he explains. “Having the choice to utilise a resin that works with your casting company or, if you do your own casting, having an investment that works better with one resin. It is advantageous to be able to experiment.”

Sydney-based casting house Chemgold offers a wide variety of software and printing services. Director Larry Sher says the company aims to account for the ever-broadening requirements of manufacturing jewellers by operating printers across different casting systems.

“We have a huge range of 3D printers to allow us to accommodate the variety of designs our clients need us to produce for them,” Sher says. “Certain designs may not be suitable for resin so they are produced using Multi Jet printing technology, which is relatively smooth.”

Tok Bros
Tok Bros
Tok Bros
Tok Bros

Sharing resources

Navigating the gamut of 3D printing and resin purchases can be daunting and time consuming, as is learning the intricacies of CAD design and its software. To assist, resellers and printing companies are striving to educate clients.

FormLab printers distributor LST Group has launched 3Design training lounge, an online forum where customers can connect with industry specialists to have all their questions answered.

“The 3Design Forum is the largest jewellery-specific CAD community and we offer a large variety of complimentary training resources,” managing director Chris Hill says, adding, “Our local product specialist has 14 years’ experience in providing customised training solutions.”

Palloys recently launched an online platform called JewellersPal and the company offers a space where 3D printing users and CAD designers can share questions, tips and hints to help manufacturing jewellers.

“We’re trying to lift that little mantle of secrecy off the trade; there’s this perception that everyone has been hiding their secrets to turn a profit, which is not actually true,” Botha says.

Evotech Marketplace and Evotech Vendor are two programs currently available to manufacturers and casting experts through Evotech Pacific.

“Because they’re only fairly new, we are concentrating on the design aspect of the Marketplace and Vendor stores,” Nowlan says.

“We will be branching out and inviting service bureaus that concentrate on 3D printing to join the Marketplace. That way, clients will be able to upload files and get a quote directly from any company on the marketplace and then they can send the model to them or the casting house.”

Chemgold’s Custom Design Form provides manufacturers with a checklist of key information and dimensions in order to complete their designs.

“A critical aspect of CAD is communication, which is why it’s best to use the form. This prevents delays in obtaining certain dimensions, along with ensuring our goal of providing exactly what our customers want the first time,” Sher says.

“Once comfortable with the design process, and if the customer is doing more volume, we would recommend they consider purchasing the CAD software themselves.”

All parties agree that social media has also been advantageous for local manufacturers seeking advice from those who have been in the industry for a longer period.


LST Group
LST Group

3D printing at the retail level

Reid Jackson manages Townsville’s Regional Manufacturing Jewellers and says the addition of his Asiga printer has increased the turnaround time on production. Furthermore, the technology has improved rapidly since purchase.

“We chose the Pico2 39 and, in the 18 months since purchasing, we’ve had possibly seven upgrades and have noticed the improvement in resolution and print growth lines diminish tenfold,” he says. “Our print time has been drastically reduced.”

Jackson says he has also benefited from the additional support he has received in online forums: “Sure, you may have failures in the beginning but throw up a problem and, in no time flat, you will be presented with many answers from around the world.”

For manufacturing retailers looking to dip a toe in CAD and 3D printing, Palloys offers My Dream Ring, a collection of almost 500 pieces that can be prototyped in store within 90 minutes. The customer can benefit by trying on the prototypes – constructed in hard, black plastic – in order to see how the final product will look.

“That’s the biggest draw right now for non-manufacturing retailers,” Botha says.

“If they own the IP on their files and they have the files locally, it’s very quick for them to prototype something for their customer to try on.” Botha sees this as the future direction of jewellery retail.

“I think that will be the future of these nouveau printers that are coming out,” he adds. “The quality will never reach a $150,000 printer but the quality is good enough for the customer to see what it looks like on the finger.”

Chemgold also has a library of CAD designs in its JewelMount Collection, which covers a range of classic styles suitable for most manufacturing jewellers and retailers.

“All they need to do is advise which aspect of the design they wish to modify,” Sher says. “This can be changes to the stone and shank dimensions, mixing shanks and settings or adding extra stones.”

The technology has advanced to help retailers and jewellers win on-the-spot sales. They can meet their customers’ need for instant gratification without waiting for a product to be manufactured.

Botha recalls a time when his biggest sales “came from me going home and printing a prototype for a customer overnight”.

“Nowadays, you no longer need to know how to operate a CNC; you just need to know how to press a go button and you can have it in an hour and a half,” he says.

Palloys calculates the cost of a black, plastic ring prototype around 45 cents if the low-end printer runs for one year alone. Calculations are made including the cost of a $90 litre of resin, which makes 600 rings.

Hill has found production rates of prototypes to be at a similarly low cost to manufacturers using FormLabs.

“The printers we offer are capable of printing high-resolution jewellery models in a single build at a cost of 40 cents per model. Why outsource your printing when you can do it faster, cheaper and better in-house with a Form2 3D printer?” he says.

LST Group
LST Group
Evotech Pacific
Evotech Pacific

The future is metal

UK manufacturers Cooksongold partnered with Electro Optical Systems (EOS) to produce the world’s first direct-metal printer, designed to cater specifically to precious metals used in jewellery manufacturing without the middle process of casting.

The printer uses a sintering method, heating powdered precious metals at a high temperature and using a laser that follows a software design similar to CAD to identify a pattern. The process, known as additive manufacturing (AM), may seem like a far-off future invention; however, companies in Europe and the US are in the early stages of producing quality jewellery using the method.

Cooksongold and EOS displayed the printer this year at International Jewellery London (IJL) and promised manufacturers “the power and freedom to create complex jewellery in a matter of hours”.

David Fletcher, Additive Manufacturing business development manager, says the IJL would provide the wider industry an insight into the forthcoming technological advancements available in 3D printing.

“[The system displays] how the jewellery industry can now adopt the process as part of their supply chain,” he says. “We believe that the more people understand about the technology, the more they will be able to push the boundaries of jewellery making by completing previously unachievable designs.”

Back on home ground, suppliers and casting companies are well aware of AM capabilities and predict the technology will become more of a reality within the next decade. Nowlan agrees it needs fine-tuning before it is embraced locally but believes it’s not far away.

“It’s one thing to print something in titanium or steel but you can have certain issues with the alloy content and the equipment itself when it comes to precious metals,” he says. “It’s not far off and additive manufacturing is definitely going to be the next revolution.”

Tok is hesitant of the current production value offered by AM and says it is still in its early days: “The technology currently exists to print 3D models directly in gold but the results are not good enough for fine jewellery production; the technology needs more time to develop,” he says, adding, “Should the results be up to our production standards then we would definitely consider implementing this technology one day.”

Sher believes that it won’t be long before manufacturers look to join the movement if the cost of the direct-metal printers drop similarly to 3D printers.

“Currently the machines are extremely expensive and require large volumes of precious metal to run and the surface finish is very low compared to our castings from resin,” he says.

Jackson agrees but says jewellers should be keen to embrace new technologies as they become viable: “My advice to any manufacturing jeweller thinking about it is just get on board with this technology. It is so exciting and rewarding and to keep all in-house, if possible, just means more dollars in your pocket – it’s a win-win solution all the way.”

Jeweller Staff
SAMS Group Australia

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