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Computer aided design


I have been a modelmaker and designer for twenty-three years
working in 18kt and platinum, (Tiffany, Bulgari,
Kieselstein-Cord),with most of my time working in product
development. For the past seven years I have been involved in
computer aided design. I made the choice to abandon traditional
tools, and now earn my living working in a digital format. It is
interesting to see the debate heat up concerning CAD
applications in the jewelry industry. If there is one thing I can
be certain about, pencil and paper although not dead, will take a
back seat to the computer concerning design and modelmaking.
Whether a company employs six or six hundred, it does not make
economic sense to ignore the technology. Spreadsheet and
accounting software have changed the way companies conduct
business. The provided by accounting software helps
with planning and forecasting in ways never envisioned twenty
years ago.

Visual computing offers similar power and flexibility. It is the
design process and the database which is generated that should be
emphasized. From conceptual sketching to 3D models, the issue is
creating everything in a digital format. This path allows for
control and editing not possible with traditional methods, and
more choices regarding manufacturing.

The computer is first and foremost a communication tool. Selling
an idea to a customer or to a VP of marketing is a communication
issue, especially when that person cannot interpret a pencil
sketch or rough model. Computers are a tool that help with
visualization and compress the product development time,
something all companies need to address to remain competitive.

I am currently an instructor in the Jewelry Design Department,
at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I teach
Mechanical Drafting, which includes spatial visualization and an
introduction to computers. I am concerned with the jewelry
industry’s approach to educating itself in regards to computer
aided design. I feel there is a dumbing down of the technology
and too much emphasis placed on turnkey modelmaking and milling
systems. I also do not believe in niche specific software. It
would be like Braun requesting software to specifically design
coffee makers. It is unnecessary and limiting to the end user.
There are about 150 CAD programs on the market, not including
graphics programs. I see jewelry as part of industrial design,
and a good CAD system should allow the user to design anything. I
use SDRC I-Deas Master Series as my main modeler, but also use
other software when designing. Photoshop, Illustrator,
CorelDraw, Rhino and 3D rendering software should be included
when discussing computer aided design. There is not just one
software solution and companies need to choose a suite of
software programs tailored to their process. Modelmaking is only
one small part of product development. When working as a
consultant I need to examine how each customer develops and
manufactures product, then create a solution based on their
needs. Again I want to emphasize the design process and the
integration of appropriate software packages.

Concerning the learning curve associated with computer design,
without intending make the issue trivial, I can only say it takes
as long as it takes. It took me at least 10 years to feel
confident and gain credibility as a modelmaker in the industry.
There is a learning curve attached to everything, from learning
Exel to learning how to work with platinum. It all depends on the
individuals ability and commitment. A comment was made on an
earlier posting stating that you can’t talk to jewelers about
NURBS surfaces. Well why not? Five years ago I did not know what
NURBS were, but I learned. This kind of is part of
what is essential in understanding how the technology can be used
effectively. The language of any discipline is key to developing
the skills. Understanding the definitions between
wireframe,surface,and solid modelers is important. As an educator
I see this understanding defining the difference between the
hobbyist and the professional. Anyone who is interested in
pursuing a CAD implementation for themselves or their company
needs to look at other industries for Industrial
design, automotive and aerospace are just a few .The jewelry
industry should not be the clearing house for learning CAD when
there are resources that have used the technology for the past
twenty-five years. In addition, publications such as Computer
Graphics World, 3D Design, Computer Aided Engineering and Desktop
Engineering offer invaluable insight.

I would like to say a few words about rapid prototyping and CNC.
I have been certified on the Sanders machine and used it everyday
for close to a year. The machine is a wonderful tool and
certainly has its place in the jewelry industry, but it is not
without its problems. This is to be expected with any new
technology. While the machine gives the best resolution in the RP
industry, it is also the slowest. For fashion accessories and
large format work it would lead into long build times.
Stereolithography is also a viable alternative in some
instances. I have to disagree that SLA was not providing jewelry
quality models five years ago. I have models close to five years
old and was very pleased with the results. Although there is some
slight stair stepping, a light emery created a smooth model. All
RP systems will produce some stepping. The quality of the model
is directly linked to the operator’s experience, which is why
evaluations should be made based on models from several service
bureaus. As in CAD, using the appropriate RP tool needs to be
considered when applying the technology. CNC is an area that
takes a much larger commitment. It can be done on the desktop
level, or all the way up to large milling centers. What is your
process? Some companies are using desktop machines to do wax
roughs for prep work, adding the detailing by hand. I know of
several manufacturers that run large milling centers cutting
metal core and cavity molds. Others are cutting finished pieces
directly in gold and platinum.

The principles of jewelry design and manufacturing have remained
the same for hundreds if not thousands of years. A generation in
computer technology is less than five years, which guarantees
that any CAD implementation will be a work in progress. Before
making the commitment thoroughly research the technology, and be
certain that all options have been considered.


Dominic Ventura


Hello Dominic:

Okay…okay! So…just what design program would you recomend
for me? I’m a solo operation doing one-of-a-kind pieces in gold
and platinum. I run an Apple and would be interested ONLY in
this for the design stage. I still maintain however, that without
the mind to invent and visualize a design, all your electronics
are useless.

Best wishes;