Following custom design, 62 percent of users implement CAD to design jewelry for high-volume production, while 53 percent use it as a sales tool to highlight strong technical expertise. “Other” uses for CAD shared by survey respondents include designing tools for jewelry manufacturing and experimenting with design. On the CAM side, model making techniques are largely split between those CAD users who have invested in a CNC milling machine (56 percent) and those who use service bureaus (47 percent). While one in 10 respondents both own a mill and use service bureaus (likely for pieces that require rapid prototyping), very few (18 percent) have invested in an RP system.
Olson believes that the number of CAD users who invest in machining options will continue to grow as those users become more proficient in CAD and their sales increase. “Many CAD users will rely on a service bureau until they have enough business to justify the purchase of a mill or RP system,” he says. “The downside of not owning a system is time. Instead of having your model back in less than a day, you may have to wait four or more days. In the end, the amount of work you do with CAD drives when you make the transition to owning your own machine.”
Leading the pack as the CAM system of choice in this survey is Gemvision’s Revo540 milling system, with 26 percent of respondents who use in-house systems reporting use of this mill. This is not surprising, considering that 43 percent of respondents use Gemvision’s CAD software, for which the Revo is the companion CAM system. The Solidscape T66 and TR66 systems were the most popular RP systems among survey respondents, with 13 percent reporting use of them.
Regardless of the choice of system, the ability to produce accurate models is key, with 69 percent of respondents indicating it as one of the top two benefits that CAD/CAM offers. Following not far behind is the speed of the design process, which 42 percent of respondents indicated was a main advantage of this technology.
“It’s very difficult to hand-carve a wax model that has perfect symmetry from side to side, and it’s tough to do full pavé in carved wax models with all of those little prongs,” says Olson. “For those who want to create intricate designs like these, CAD makes it fast and easy.”
Olson adds that, as more manufacturing retailers embrace CAD/CAM, the benefit of this technology as a sales tool for the jewelry industry will become clearer. “CAD brings so much to the table for people who want to make jewelry that is unique and special—and that speaks directly to the customer,” he says. “If someone walks into your store with a ring in mind, you can design the ring in CAD and e-mail them a rendered image that night of exactly how the piece will look. You can keep the sales conversation and relationship going after the customer has left the store. And even if they decide not to purchase the ring, you can add it to your virtual inventory collection online. Your design time and the rendering can be used for future Internet sales.
“Many 20- to 30-year-old Generation Y customers are graduating from either high school or college and are buying their first cars and engagement rings. They are plugged into video games, iPods, e-mail, and the Internet, so why not communicate with them using their preferred mediums?”