Jewelry manufacturing is one sector that sojourned into 3D printing quite late. However, there’s always a time for everything, and it appears that the last few years have been the right time for jewelry-makers to try 3D printing. Numerous jewelers are now utilizing technology to upend the way things have been done for hundreds of years. 3D printing is now used to generate investment casting patterns and directly print jewelry.
Advantages of 3D Printing Jewelry
There are numerous advantages to 3D printing jewelry. These include the following:
It is possible to make highly intricate designs. Historically, patterns for jewelry casting were carved out of wax using CNC machines. 3D printing is not constrained by the constraints of CNC machining and can produce things that were previously impossible to fabricate. Additionally, designs can be changed.
Multiple patterns may be created simultaneously and in a concise amount of time using 3D printing. Compared to standard pattern-making procedures, this significantly reduces lead times and costs (wax CNC, aluminum molds for casting, etc.).
Additionally, 3D printing enables the production of many designs in a single print. This translates into highly cost-effective pricing for small manufacturing volumes (a vital issue for jewelry where customers typically want a one-off piece).
Techniques For 3D Printing
Typically, 3D printing is used to manufacture jewelry in two ways: investment casting and direct printing.
Investment casting is a top method of making jewelry using 3D printing. Investment casting is a procedure that consists of eight steps:
1. Historically, developing patterns was accomplished by pouring a special casting wax into a metal mold. Now, 3D printing enables the way to be produced directly from wax or a castable resin.
2. The molded or printed pattern is assembled on a “casting tree.” This enables the casting of numerous pieces concurrently. Specific 3D printing techniques bypass this phase by producing part patterns and the tree in a single pass.
3. The complete assembly is dipped in slurry numerous times. After drying and solidifying, the slurry coating is removed, forming an outer layer over the design.
4. After placing the building inside a furnace, the original wax/resin structure is melted/burned away, leaving a harmful hollow mold.
5. Once all of the pattern material from the harmful mold is removed, the final casting material is poured into the mold. It is then allowed to solidify while cooling. Frequently, brass components are cast and then electroplated with precious metals at the last step.
6. The outer ceramic mold must be removed. Typically, this is accomplished by vibrating the mold to remove the outer shell.
7. After thoroughly removing the ceramic shell, the individual cast objects are cut from the mold tree.
8. The cast components are subsequently finished using traditional jeweler techniques.
3D Printing Prerequisites
There are various prerequisites for a 3D printing technique to make investment casting jewelry molds properly. These include the following:
The technology must create highly complex components with minute, complicated characteristics.
The pattern-printing substance must be entirely vaporized during the burnout/melt step. The remaining scraps of the original pattern material have a deleterious effect on the final cast part’s quality. As a result, most 3D printed castable resins include tight burnout methods.
The two most acceptable technologies and accompanying materials for manufacturing 3D printed patterns for investment casting are summarized below based on these requirements.
DLP and SLA/DLP SLA nd are both vat photopolymerization techniques that utilize UV light to cure a UV-sensitive resin layer by layer to create a solid object. SLA and DLP can manufacture smooth, high-detail pieces from castable resins that retain a minimal amount of ash after burnout. However, both SLA and DLP require help to print pieces accurately. In general, support material harms the surface of a print with which it comes into touch and must be removed once it is complete.
DOD or Drop-on-demand printing is a material jetting process that employs two print jets: depositing a wax-like material over the build surface and depositing dissolvable support. The wax is poured layer by layer until a solid portion is formed. DOD printers produce excellent detail and have various advantages over SLA/DLP printers.
Dissolvable support means that post-processing is minimized, and the pattern surface smoothness is improved. In addition, patterns are printed with a wax-like material, which means that the design is melted rather than burned off, avoiding the concerns of resin ash.
A considerably less common approach of 3D printing jewelry is directly printing components from metal powder. Parts can be printed in gold, silver, or platinum alloys and then require substantial post-processing to get the desired finish. However, direct printing jewelry is typically more expensive than investment casting, even for one-of-a-kind items, and demands an extremely high level of precious powder management.
DMLS/SLM DMLS (direct metal laser sintering) and SLM (selective laser melting) are powder bed fusion processes used to manufacture metal objects. To make correct components using DMLS/SLM, a large amount of support material must be added to the part during printing. In addition, due to the increased tension caused by high temperatures, components are frequently prone to warping or deformation. This necessitates extensive post-processing to remove the support and finish the surface on which it was mounted.
Limitations of 3D Printing Jewelry
Correct burnout is vital in any investment casting method that results in a high-quality cast item. For example, a rapid burnout might cause the resin to expand and ignite, compromising the investment’s surface and, consequently, the detail of the finished castings. On the other hand, a burnout that does not achieve sufficient temperatures may leave resin or ash inside the investment, impairing metal flow and surface polish on your metal product. Therefore, the provider should obtain information on the recommended burnout technique for 3D printed pattern materials to increase the likelihood of a successful cast.
Support is crucial for all processes mentioned in this paper since it enables printers to manufacture components precisely. In addition, any surface that the approval comes into contact with will require further post-processing to obtain a smooth finish using these technologies.
There is some resistance in the jewelry-making industry to the adoption of 3D printers since some believe it takes away from the profession’s “handcrafted” component. Jewelry is frequently an intimate and personal product, and the automated manufacturing of components has discouraged numerous large jewelry producers from adopting the technology.
The Future of 3D Printing Jewelry
Digital tools and 3D printing have made it easier to design and manufacture jewelry and they are also making it easier to mass-produce complex jewelry designs. For example, while vulcanized rubber molds are used to create large quantities of wax patterns for lost-wax casting, the “master” pattern is generally created from an investment cast, hand-carved wax pattern.
3D printers can create master models that can be used to create molds for room temperature vulcanization (RTV) or even for robust high temperature vulcanized rubber. With the quality that SLA 3D printing provides for printing these jewelry items, you can proceed directly from the 3D printed component to a master mold. The surface finish is already extremely smooth, necessitating minimal polishing. That can serve as the rubber mold for the final wax parts produced.
When new technology is ultimately made available to the general public, it is sometimes accompanied by a hefty price tag and a convoluted interface, limiting its use to those with vast money and technical know-how. For example, earlier generations of jewelry 3D printers required extensive maintenance and a professional operator in addition to thousands of dollars of investment, limiting their use to the most significant jewelry producers and casting companies. Nonetheless, 3D printing has grown far more affordable, opening new possibilities for independent jewelry producers.
The reduced cost and higher-quality 3D printing technology for jewelry have made the digital workflow a viable manufacturing approach. In the future, we’ll see an increasing trend in that category, with smaller jewelers adopting these technologies and decentralizing their operations.
As the industry gains familiarity with castable resin 3D printing, this trend toward highly competitive freelance jewelers will continue. Historically, 3D printing jewelry was dominated by sophisticated and expensive wax 3D printers. With the introduction of affordable desktop jewelry 3D printers such as the Form 3, the technology is becoming more accessible to jewelers, even small and independent ones. However, due to the historically high cost of large-scale 3D printing and the perceived barrier to entry associated with digital jewelry creation, 3D printed jewelry currently accounts for a relatively small portion of the industry, despite its promise. Nonetheless, with 3D printing technology becoming more user-friendly and accessible, the market for 3D-printed jewelry is primed for growth.