How has our 3D printer changed the chain of manufacturing?
My inspiration as a designer with access to various technologies
Nearly 30 years ago the landscape of the jewelry industry was very different. During those years, we specialized in creating one-of-a-kind pieces including bridal jewelry for larger diamonds and gemstones.
The method had not been challenged for generations. The standard process included the creation of a master model hand fabricated direct from metal or wax. From there, the item was either considered a “one-off” or a silicon mold and was created for future manufacturing. After a few years the silicon molds would start to break down and fall apart, resulting in unreliable generations of the style.
In 1999, we acquired Matrix from Gemvision and I embarked on my 3D modeling path. We instantly knew the technology would revolutionize the way jewelry is manufactured. The payoff was immediate. Platinum rings once made by hand, were now created and stored digitally. This move alone freed up thousands of dollars of handmade platinum “Masters” stored away in our safe. Also gone were the stacks of stinky rubber molds.
The technology also broke all the rules for fabrication, streamlining efficiency and profitability. For instance, if you want to hand fabricate a ring to weigh 12 grams of metal, you must start with double the material to account for shaping, forging, fabrication, finishing and waste. Using 3D printing, we can print, wax, metal and finish with minimal waste. = Profit
Most printers for our industry in the early 2000’s were costly and prohibited most jewelers from acquiring the technology. Additionally, the options were vast for jewelers. Additive or subtractive manufacturing? Which direction was going to be best for moving forward, as well as being the best fit for the type of designs we were creating?
Fast forward to 2016 and most of our staff are sitting in front of computers. Our office to shop ratio has changed significantly and we are simply more efficient. We are able to explore unproven ideas or just build a “test-run”. Every aspect of design is affected in a positive way utilizing 3D design software and 3D printing. You can push the envelope of design. You can explore never before created concepts. You can create a virtual inventory. You can communicate your ideas with renderings. From a designer’s point of view, the technology is simply immeasurable. Ideas, concepts, communication, volume, finishes, materials; the list goes on and on. Typically we run our Solidscape 3D printer a few times a week with larger builds on weekends. Casts are clean so we can spend more time on the finishing and stone setting process.
Designers were always required to have knowledge base of metalsmithing and stone setting with a proven ability to create their own designs. This required years of training and apprenticeships with various houses to acquire a desired skill set. Today, knowing a good industrial designer to translate concepts into viable stl models is enough to start creating a line. For me, this is the most exciting aspect of this technology into our industry. The emergence of new designers with no prior bench knowledge to distort or direct the creative process. The barriers that once deterred designers from embarking on the journey are no longer there.
For an ancient industry, the jewelry business has come a long way in 20 years. Hang on, the box is open and as the technology improves, we, as jewelers will adapt and grow. This is an exciting time to be alive and working in this industry.