CAD/CAM Oversupply?

I used to work for a company that, in the beginning, carved their
own waxes but sent out for molds and casting. After a while the
hassles associated with the occasional bad mold, bad casting, and
long delays, led them to the wisdom of doing casting in house. They
still had their share of bad molds and bad castings but these could
be addressed immediately and a lot time and money was ultimately

I think now, in the CAD/CAM age, the same thing may possibly be
happening with producing models from CAD files. My business model was
one of doing the design work but letting someone else have the
headaches of RP/CAM financing, production, and maintenance. And it
seemed to work for a while. Now, however, with the problems of bad
models, bad molds, and long delays I, and others I know or know
about, I’m beginning to think in house CAM milling machine.

With the arrival of the “affordable” milling machine there seems to
be a familiar refrain in the justification/rationalisation song which
goes: “I’ll save a fortune doing my own models and besides, when I’m
not running my own I can take in outside work from other designers”.

I’m very curious as to whether or not either of these assumptions
are valid. Will a craftsperson save a fortune (having started out
spending one) in machining their own models? Is it that easy now? Do
the learning curves, production activities, and maintenance routines,
require a negligible amount of time?

And, secondly, will the craftsperson make a bundle putting their
machine’s idle time to profitable use cutting models for the rest of

I don’t know, but I’d like to hear what others - people with mills,
people who send files to people who have mills, and people who are
still using the various commercial service bureaus out there - think
about this topic.

I hope others are curious as well.

Les Brown
L.F.Brown Goldwork
17 2nd St. East, Ste. 101
Kalispell, MT 59901

I'm very curious as to whether or not either of these assumptions
are valid. Will a crafts person save a fortune (having started out
spending one) in machining their own models? Is it that easy now?
Do the learning curves, production activities, and maintenance
routines, require a negligible amount of time? 

I have had a CNC milling machine for over 7 years.

I’ve been making models since the early 70’s, and CAD/CAM has
greatly broadened my range of model designs. I still fabricate and
hand carve waxes in addition to milling waxes. The addition is another
tool, though a very powerful one, that allows me greater latitude in
my model problem solving. Machining raised or intaglio fonts, rows of
precisely sized settings or shapes, reproduction of scanned drawings,
and the ability to re-size and reverse images and models speeds up my
model production. Depending upon the design and artwork, the finished
model can have a very loose, hand-carved, or machined look.

The maintenance on my mill has been minimal, the learning curve was
not daunting for ArtCAM, though training is recommended, as it gets
you designing and cutting models much faster.

CAD/CAM probably saves a good deal of time and money, I can often
produce a complete wax model in less than an hour- I’ve been working
with one designer for the past two months developing a line of
jewelry, and the models that we produced would have cost 3-5 times as
much if they had been hand carved. Errors can be corrected, and
design changes are easily modified for re-cutting much more easily in
CAD than re-carving by hand in wax. The mill and software began paying
for itself the first month that I purchased it.

Rick Hamilton


I was in the same position you are in. I was drawing my own models
and having someone else mill them. the guy I was using was very good
at milling, but I was spending all lot of money getting things
milled. I decided to buy a Roland MDX40 with the Protowizard
fixtures. it has been a great investment. I am only milling for
myself and I originally thought it would take about a year to pay it
self back but now I think it will be more like six months. plus
having my own mill has pushed me to do more work that I don’t have to
pay for. I only do retail redesigning for my clients. as for doing
work for other jewelers. there is plenty of work out there if you
want it. I have done a few jobs for jeweler friends but I really
don’t care to do it. I charged them $30.00 per milling time, which I
think is pretty cheap. as for the learning curve it took me about one
month to be able to really understand how to mill a piece good enough
to use. of course I am learning better techniques everyday. the best
thing about the mill is that it is a really good employee that will
not complain, doesn’t need health insurance, and it will work all
night when you go home. my mill is running about 20 hours a day. it
is the best and cheapest employee I have ever hired.



CADCAM for jewelry isn’t only about creating output by milling.
It’s in equal part about input! From 3rd party libraries you can
progress an idea or choose a starting point for a new design. From
photographs you can 2D-scan, outline, vectorize, then use CAD to
advance a new design, perhaps just wapping the 2D CAD art around a

Or from existing 3-dimensional objects, with 3D scanners you can
start with an object that is totally out of context (an original
carving, an inherited sculpture, a natural object like fruit,
industrial components …) and inhale it into 3D CAD. Then, remove
elements you don’t want/like, add elements, make a linear or circular
array of the objects, scale, rotate… use all the CAD tools. The
result can be something you could never have 3D-drawn in a year,
something more organic and less geometric than you may have created
from scratch, to form the basis for milling the wax investment (or
the silicate die) for casting an original masterwork.

XYZ-3D-in > rotary-out transformation -or- Rotary-3D-in > XYZ-out
transformation -on and on- the artistic possibilities just on the
INPUT side are a life’s work alone.


Rick ( & Matthew (,

You both make a great case for having a cnc mill on the premises -
and also, I think, for targeting your own work for “compensation”
rather than counting on outside work to pay the mortgage, so to


L.F.Brown Goldwork
17 2nd St. East, Ste. 101
Kalispell, MT 59901


Your posting gives a whole 'nother side to the CAD/CAM process I
hadn’t realized. So now we “assume” the mill, but do you own your own
3D scanner or send that work out?


L.F.Brown Goldwork
17 2nd St. East, Ste. 101
Kalispell, MT 59901

Successfully integrated CAD/CAM systems for small scale jewelry
manufacturers / retailers is not unusual.

In Seattle there are two custom jewelry retailers named Green Lake
Goldworks and The Goldmine. Both have hired students from either the
University of Washington’s Metals program or from the industrial
design program at the Art Institute of Seattle. Using the student’s
training with Rhino and RP machines they are able keep the CnC mills
producing new designs. Both retailers also depend on the strong
metalsmithing and/or people skills the student hires possessed. You
can contact either of these companies directly to ask more

Nanz Aalund
Associate Editor / Art Jewelry magazine
21027 Crossroads Circle / Waukesha WI 53187-1612
262.796.8776 ext.228

Hi Les,

I’m so glad you grasp the 'nother side grin - the input side of
CAD/CAM - so often glossed over.

What I have done is to look at 3D laser scanners, generally faint at
the pricing and the spot size (both too large)! Then, picking myself
up from the floor, I looked at ball-probe scanning attachments for
mills, again fainting at the huge probe dimensions (useless for fine
structures and textures).

Last, realizing the scan process needs to be ROTARY as often as XYZ,
I conceived very high resolution rotary drives that fit into existing
Roland machines down the low-price end - MDX-15/20 and PIX-30. My
rotary drives make them all into rotary scanners. In the case of
MDX-15/20 the milling function is also well supported. The rotary
pricing is over $1000 but you can leave these things running
unattended, yet never have to edit the scan output for quality. In
answer to your question, most of my clients can therefore justify
in-house rotary scanning for input. For technical interest peek at my
website and click on Model 15, Model 20 and Model
30. Then it will all make sense.



I’ve been involved in Cad and Cam for about seven years, first as a
Rhino user when it was still in BETA, then SolidWorks, then Matrix
as a Beta tester and user, also as Sales Manager for Gemvision Corp
for two years, owner of Matrix and a Revo Mill. I bought the very
first Revo. Many jewelers partially justify the purchase of a milling
machine by thinking they can take in outside “work” to offset the
cost. Most find that dealing with the details of the "outside work"
can be frustrating and time-consuming, not necessarily profitable.
Best advise is to formulate a business plan and a business model and
stick with it. If you do custom work, the mill on premises will
enable you to do more work, better and faster. You will soon find
the “outside work” an irritant and an interruption to your regular
work. I’ve seen it over and over and over.

The up-side is that you will get busier as customers learn about
your new-found expertise and the great things you can do with it.
You simply won’t have time for outside work.

There are, of course, quite a few other business models which work.
Taking in design work, cutting the waxes and casting (or not), and
finishing (or not), all can be successful. But it is usually a
mistake to mix business models…you don’t have to. Also note that
one can lease such equipment rather than buying it outright, if cash
flow seems to be a problem. Your accountant can fill you in on the
deductible situation, but, if you pay for it outright, you can write
it off in the year that you buy it. Other deduction methods may be
advantageous, too. Even in a lease situation, the entire cost of the
item may be deductible in the year of purchase under certain

Another reason that taking in outside work is not a great idea is
that more and more of the people getting involved in the CAD end are
moving to the CAM end, limiting your market substantially. I
predicted this five years ago, and we are seeing it now.

Keep in mind that it is possible to create a modeling CAD and
outsource the milling or growing overseas at low cost, although
other problems often accomany THAT business model.

Good luck in your venture,