The survey found that 42 percent of respondents use some form of in-house CAD/CAM, either strictly design software or a combination of design and model making. When asked about their primary line of business, about half of all respondents who use CAD in-house described themselves as designers (26 percent) or retailers (23 percent).
“The dynamics of CAD/CAM implementation in the jewelry industry is almost identical to its penetration of other industries such as aerospace and automotive,” says Olson. “From 1980 to 1990, these industries replaced drafting tables with computers—and by 2000, 3-D CAD could be purchased for as little as $900. Today, it is the standard [for both industries]. By 2010, we can expect to see the same in the jewelry industry: 3-D CAD is trickling down into smaller companies and becoming a technology of the masses.”
But what about the mass of survey respondents that isn’t interested in CAD? Of the 58 percent of respondents who don’t use in-house CAD, half have no plans to invest in it in the future. (Of the 29 percent of respondents who are considering future use of CAD, 7 percent reported expectations to invest in the technology within the next year.) Olson suspects that much of the 29 percent that has no interest represents the “traditionalists” in the jewelry industry. “Some older business owners in the jewelry industry are wedded to selling out of the case—they don’t see customization and innovation as important to the business,” he says. He adds that there are also older business owners who “are actually using the appeal of technologies such as CAD/CAM to get their children into the family business—and that’s the audience that is embracing technology. The younger generation sees CAD as a shortcut to high quality that doesn’t require years of hand skill.”
Of the jewelry-specific CAD software programs on the market, Rhino and Gemvision’s Matrix were the most popular with survey respondents, with 43 percent reporting use of each system. Olson speculates that these mirror percentages are no coincidence, guessing that many Gem-vision Matrix software users likely re-ported that they use both Gemvision and Rhino because they know that the Matrix program is built on Rhino. Among the “other” CAD programs used that were not listed as survey choices were Monarch, AutoCAD, Autodesk Maya, and even Photoshop. “Jewelers are a creative and resourceful bunch,” says Olson. “For example, you can take Photoshop, scan in a ring, and explore remounts in 2-D.”
Regardless of the program they use, more than half of all CAD users rely on vendor training to become proficient, with 43 percent reporting vendor training as the sole training method used. The fact that this percentage matches that of those reporting use of Gemvision is not surprising, says Olson, since Gemvision strongly recommends the five-day training session that comes with the purchase of Matrix. Of the 26 percent who reported their training method as “other,” a majority wrote in a combination of vendor-supplied training, schools, and in-house learning.
While about half of all CAD users received the same method of training, the amount of time it took users to become proficient varied greatly: from less than three months to one year or more. When proficiency is compared between training methods, there is no significant difference in the length of time needed to become proficient.
“You’d have to be brilliant to master CAD in three months,” says Olson. “If you use it daily, you might be proficient in six months. But if you use it two or three times a week, it will likely take you a year. It all boils down to how much time you spend with CAD daily.”
Once proficient in CAD, users maximize their use of the software, with nearly four in five respondents (78 percent) indicating that they use CAD for multiple tasks in their shops. The most popular use of CAD is for creating custom designs for individual customers, with 88 percent reporting this use. “This is an encouraging number,” says Olson. “Manufacturing retailers are realizing that if they want to differentiate themselves from the big boxes and online jewelry sellers, they need to offer customization. All of the companies that gross under $1 million in sales that need to stay viable must offer the customer something different.”