CAD/CAM: The Basics
6 Minute Read
What if you could sit down at your computer, spend a little time manipulating the mouse, keyboard or electronic pencil and create a piece of jewelry; then send that electronic creation to a small, desktop machine which would carve your design in wax, ready for casting and finishing?
A few years ago this would have been a far-fetched dream, today it's a reality. The technology of CAD-CAM (Computer Aided Design-Computer Aided Manufacturing) has developed to the point that it is now available and cost- effective for jewelers, jewelry designers, manufacturers & model-makers to use it in their day-to-day business.
Because of the great interest in CAD-CAM within the Jewelry Industry many new versions of 3D modeling software, with the emphasis on jewelry design, are now available.
While some of these programs are quite technical and time-consuming to learn, others are quite user-friendly and will have you designing pieces in the first two or three hours of instruction.
While we're on the subject of instruction: the MOST important aspect of any of the CAD-CAM systems is the training you receive in the individual software, instruction in the proper machining methods to suit your particular mill, and after-purchase technical support.
Because most of us are jewelers, designers & business people, and not computer nerds, the instruction you receive should be tailored to your particular needs, and the needs of your business. i.e. If your main business is cutting out name-plates, learning the use of the rotary table to make rings (at least initially) is not cost effective nor efficient.
How long does all this take?
Now that you have decided to buy a CAD-CAM system, you're wondering how long the learning curve will be to produce your first part and how long it will take to be comfortable with your new tool.
Under proper instruction, the first day of training will see you machining your first part.
We have found that a minimum of three full days (8+ hours each) of instruction is necessary to enable you to retain the important information you need to know.
When you finish your initial training, you should be able to effectively design salable pieces, create a tool path for those designs, properly set up the carving material in the mill and machine a completed part.
This sounds like a lot of information to digest, but with the right instruction, you should be able to accomplish this and be comfortable with most of the steps required to make your CAD-CAM system work for you.
Should you have a problem along the way, tech support, by the providers of your system, should be able to answer any questions you have.
How will CAD/CAM make money for me?
Now that you have a CAD-CAM system and are able to use it to make "things", how can you make money with all this new equipment and knowledge?
Each of us has a different answer, depending on how you presently make money in the jewelry industry.
For a model-maker, it will enable you to create very accurate models, store them digitally, then send them to a carving mill or printer to be created in wax.
Each of these designs can be recalled from the computer files, changed and redesigned. Each change you make then creates another design to be included in your digital library.
In a relatively short period of time you will have a selection of digital designs you can modify to create new pieces for the same or different clients.
One of the most wonderful aspects of this technology is the ability of the computer to manipulate designs with just a keystroke.
For instance, you have just designed an earring. Using traditional methods, you would have to carve both a left and right. By designing in CAD, you can now flip the piece over, in the computer, to create a mirror image and send it to be carved.
You are also able to infinitely adjust the size, so the same design can be incorporated into a neck-piece, bracelet, pin, etc. No more hand carving for each different size model… how much is that worth?
For a jewelry designer, all the above is true with the added benefit that you can now email your renderings, complete or incomplete, over the internet to your customers. Changes are very easy to make, and your clients can email the design back to you with the changes they want.
There will be little excuse for them to say: "I didn't think it was going to look like that!" when they see the completed design in its' 3D form before the model is made.
For a retailer, the ability to design and create a model to show a customer is worth a premium for the finished piece. If your customer wants to make a change in the model, not only is it easily done; but they then have the emotional and intellectual benefit of helping to create the finished piece.
Because of this, they will be looking forward to the completion of "their" piece, and you will work on it with the knowledge and security that your customer has already seen and approved the model.
This will also allow you to charge a fair price for the model work; as we all know, sometimes it gets buried in the finished price and we never charge the proper amount of money for it.
What does it all cost?
The cost of the hardware, software & training vary a great deal, depending on the complexity and accuracy of the mill or printer and the sophistication and user-friendliness of the software.
One of the least expensive 3D modeling software, which is quite sophisticated, yet user-friendly is RHINO. It has been around for quite a while, in many different industries, with a large user group and more available training than other software Packages.
It costs $795 for the full version, and the next update, RHINO 2.0 is due out in September/October. Student copies are only $195.
Because RHINO does not generate a tool path, the other piece of software you'll need is RAMS, which takes a completed RHINO file and creates a tool path for the milling machine or printer to read. This is new software and costs $995.
Some other popular relief modeling software packages, such as Type3, Cimagrafi, ArtCam, etc. depending on their complexity and completeness range in price from $7500 to $12,000 and up.
3 Axis milling machines, depending on their speed and accuracy, start at less than $1400 and run in excess of $50,000.
Printing and prototype machines run from $65,000 to over $150,000.
What does all this mean?
- You can put a complete system together, software & hardware, for less than $4500 with no training. This is not a state-of-the-art system, but will enable you to design and carve very salable pieces… slowly.
- An accurate and fast mill with wonderful software and, most importantly, expert instruction will cost between $12,500 and $14,500.
- A mill capable of truly and long term accurate machining steel, along with the appropriate software, will cost from $32,000 to $50,000 and up.
- Stereolithography and 3D printers will produce true 3 dimensional models (although some of the negative aspects of such equipment include; initial cost, maintenance fees, build time, surface finish of completed models, and the complexity of the equipment) and are designed primarily for large production facilities with large budgets.
In the next issue, we will show you how to create a design in CAD-CAM from start to finish as well as introduce you to some of the hardware presently available in desktop machining.
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