Last November, we covered a story about a broad UK initiative to develop 3D printing for the jewellery industry. The Precious Project is charged by funds from the UK government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Technology Strategy Board and is led by five key industry players that include CAD developer Delcam, recently acquired by Autodesk. The initiative only recently got under way and already it’s making progress with its first quarterly meeting.
Before additive manufacturing can be properly infused into the already existing jewellery supply chain, the Precious Project has to establish where the jewellery sector stands at the present moment. And so, the Jewellery Industry Innovation Centre (JIIC) collected questionnaire responses from over 340 different members of the industry describing what gaps and opportunities lay in jewellery manufacturing for 3D printing technology. You can find that survey, which is still open, here.
Additionally, Technical Director of Cookson Precious Metals, Tony Staniorski, introduced project members to the company’s facility including their gold laser sintering machines. You can see some of the laser sintered pieces, and their finishing processes, above. Impressive as those machines may have been, 3D printing with precious metals still offers room for improvement and requires a good deal of post-processing. Therefore, Delcam is working to optimize additive manufacturing, with the proper generation and removal of support material, and post-processing techniques, enhancing surface finishing and polishing techniques. To demonstrate the current state of post-processing for sintered gold, Richard Ainsworth of Finishing Techniques brought several 3D printed gold pieces from different stages in the post production process, displayed below. The goal is to remove the need for manual finishing so as to automate the finishing process as much as possible.
Finally, Lionel T Dean, a designer specializing in 3D printed precious metals and partner in the project, described the gamut of customization that he sees taking place in the 3D printed jewellery world, using three categories: Individualisation, Personalisation and Full Customisation. At the individualization side of the spectrum, customers seek only some level of input in a design, while at the full customization side, customers want complete control over the design of a 3D printed piece of jewellery.
The project seems to be making headway towards refining the 3D printing process for manufacturing jewellery. As its members continue to meet on a quarterly basis, 3D printed precious metals will make their way into the jewellery supply chain. We’ll keep you updated as to when you will be able to purchase a printed engagement ring for your sweetie.