Additive Manufacturing in the Jewellery Industry
When we think of how lasers play a role in the jewellery industry, we typically think of them being used to clean the jewellery or to engrave and mark it. However, another process which is gaining in popularity in this sector is additive manufacturing.
Want to find out more about this method and just what it contributes to the jewellery market? Read on below.
What is additive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing, also referred to as 3D printing or rapid prototyping, is the process of building up a component or object by depositing layer upon layer of a material until completion. 3D printing isn’t a completely new technology, with its history dating back to the 1980s, but it has grown in prominence in recent years.
This is partly down to the fact that the scope for what can be 3D printed seems to have no limits; or at least it does until someone pushes those limits even further. For example, in 2017 someone was able to print a full 3D house in just 24 hours!
While that is amazing enough, what further makes additive manufacturing a process to keep an eye on is that this house can last for up to 175 years, and it only cost $10,134 to build. Given these huge benefits, which can be passed down to the customer, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see this process disrupting many sectors around the world.
How does it work?
The process starts by first creating a design on a computer using CAD software. This is essentially a digital blueprint, and is what your additive manufacturing laser setup will create an exact replica of.
This blueprint, which will be converted to a file, will then be created step by step, a layer at a time. These layers are typically around 0.1mm in thickness, but you will find that you can also create bigger and smaller layers too.
No intervention is required, and the process will simply continue by itself until the object is complete. Some processes can take days to complete, so periodic checks every now and again could be useful!
However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be needing to wait days for jewellery to be 3D printed. Instead, the benefits that additive manufacturing brings to this industry are its ability to create delicate and intricate shapes. Just how is this process used for jewellery? We’ve examined this in greater detail in the sections below.
3D printing in the jewellery industry
As we examined earlier, the scope for additive manufacturing seems almost limitless. Not only have houses been printed, but so too have engine parts for NASA rockets, and even human limbs and organs using biological tissues.
When such complex and intricate parts can be created, it’s unsurprising that many have turned to the process to create simpler, yet elegant, products. Designers in particular have taken a high degree of interest in using additive manufacturing to make their thoughts come to life.
Using CAD software, in many ways one is only restricted by their own thoughts. There are millions of varieties of jewellery in the world, and additive manufacturing allows for new types to be created with ease.
The technology is extremely capable of working with precious metals, the core components of jewellery. It creates joints which are stronger as jewellery is often created from one continuous piece of metal, rather than several pieces which have been welded together.
It also results in designs which are more accurate and intricate than those that have been created by hand, and, as mentioned, these designs can be a whole new range of 3D products that have previously been impossible to create.
Some larger name brands, such as Chanel, have begun to realise the benefits of using this technology, and so have adopted forms of additive manufacturing for some of their products.
As Georges Amer, the Chanel Purchasing and Development Director, said
”3D technology is a tool to help interpret a complicated design, for example, a very intricate clasp or a perfectly symmetrical piece.“
One of the other huge benefits to using this type of process in the jewellery industry is the level of efficiency that it brings. One company, Graff, have found that using this method they can print 500 pieces at any one time, while losing nothing in terms of quality.
Other uses in the jewellery industry
It’s not just for the whole printing of jewellery pieces that additive manufacturing is used. In some cases, and what the majority of jewellers do, is to instead 3D print moulds of the models that they would like to create. These moulds are typically made from wax or resin.
The moulds will be placed into a cast, and then the molten metal will be poured in. This dissolves the wax and leaves behind the solid metal jewellery.
Some in the industry aren’t happy about the use of additive manufacturing, as they believe that a focus must remain on hand-crafted products. But, with the capabilities of the technology rapidly increasing, jewellers know that they must turn one eye to using this process.
In many cases, some pieces of jewellery are still hand-crafted in order to maintain that level of authenticity and uniqueness. But, in a world where consumers are after products quicker and where industries need to be more efficient, additive manufacturing is the perfect solution for creating a whole range of intricate products.
How SPI Lasers can help
Our fiber lasers are the perfect solution for this process within the jewellery industry. Our redPOWER® QUBE fiber laser is particularly great at working with delicate and intricate designs, which is why additive manufacturing is so popular in this industry.
If you are in the jewellery industry and want to find out more about how our fiber lasers can help, or if you have another query, then we’re ready to assist you. You can find a list of our contact details here.
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