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Soapbox & Opinions

Preparing for change means sharing knowledge

Back in 2012, I wrote about how Australia tends to be up to 10 years behind other global jewellery industries in terms of technological innovation in the mass production industries.

However, in the past six years we have narrowed that gap greatly and are fast advancing in CAD/CAM to be on par with pioneering countries, including bringing it to small business.

Australians have become more globalised and are often willing to fly overseas to attend trade fairs and industry events. At worst now, we are only a year or two behind other countries in terms of taking up new technologies. The pace is picking up.

One factor opening the floodgates to CAD/ CAM manufacturing jewellers has been the deflation of cost for the equipment involved in printing. Jewellery CAD Software has remained expensive, but the hardware in 3D printing has dropped dramatically in the past six years.

Jewellers can now buy a machine for as little as US$500 that can print castable resins and it will ship with free CAM software. Commercially available printers were priced between $50,000 to $150,000 back when I started sharing my observations about CAD.

This drop in pricing will give advent to micro-industry jewellers working from home and selling online only, with little to no actual exposure to the formal jewellery industry. For casting companies, the challenge moving forward will be to keep pace with the constant release of newer resins and understanding whether or not we will be able to produce good casts using them, and helping provide that knowledge backwards to existing and newer CAM users.

"One factor opening the floodgates to CAD/CAM manufacturing jewellers has been the deflation of cost for the equipment involved in printing"

While most monomer based resins are actually castable, there are a lot of resins that are not appropriate for the commercial process, and the onus is then placed on the casting company to produce a quality cast from unknown or un-castable resins, and in some cases casting houses may suggest producing a mould from such pieces, and rather injecting the mould with wax.

I’ve found over the last couple of years, very talented “old school” jewellers I have worked with have been snapped up out of the trade to work in management roles, or now run their own businesses, and the number of traditional jewellers on the bench is diminishing - apprenticeships look to be dwindling as well.

Many traditional skills aren’t going to be passed onto the next generation of jewellers, leaving an increasing pool of new jewellers who grow directly into CAD without a full understanding of the practical aspects of production on the bench, from what they produced on the screen.

In the next five to ten years I think we are going to see a lot more young people going straight from school, having already learned CAD, with a thirst to make jewellery. They will, with very little capital expense, have the ability to create products right from their laptops; we will see a lot more micro-businesses cropping up around these new jewellers.

The current “maker” community, traditionally producing toys and small components, are moving to wanting their designs in metal, and this requires casting typically, once they tie the casting process together with what they already print now, the leap to manufacturing jewellery is only a very small one.

However, the ability to create the CAD files and print them is one thing, but the knowledge required to determine if that product is market-ready is an acquired skill, as is the finishing of the product.

Traditionally trained manufacturing jewellers are dwindling in numbers, and we as the older generation of jewellers need to share as much of this vital information as possible with these up-and-coming jewellers – and the wider jewellery community – to ensure the next generation of manufacturers aren’t faced with gaps of knowledge.

We need to get that vital information about jewellery finishing, on the web as well, where everyone can get it, so this new pool of jewellers has a resource to go to, after their “physables” becomes actual physicals.

A number of casting companies, and CAD and CAM providers are building online platforms and forum spaces for all varieties of jewellers to ask questions about 3D printing, casting and prototyping. It’s an opportunity for us to all learn from each other.

Name: Chris Botha
Business: Pallion
Position: Operations Manager – jewellery division
Location: Marrickville, NSW
Years in the industry: 27 years

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