Everyone has been asking me what the future will bring for CAD/CAM ……so here is a peak at what we will be doing. An industry professional once asked me for a machine that he could insert a cocktail napkin jewelry sketch and have a finished gold ring come out the back. While that may not be possible right now, we may not be to far off
For the most part, the jewelry industry has been tied to investment casting to develop the complex geometries that designers create in CAD. In the years to come we will able to skip that casting step altogether. There are two technologies that show promise for melting and forming precious metals directly from our CAD designs. They are Selective Laser Sintering and Electron Beam Fabrication. Both technologies use a focused beam of energy to melt powdered metals or wire to form complex geometries
For this blog, I want to focus on the Electron Beam method because of the quality and versatility I think we can anticipate. We have been melting metals for many years using an electron beam in a vacuum or argon vessel. It provides the highest quality metal possible for all sorts of medical and industrial applications. In recent years, engineers have begun to control the beam and use it to sinter powdered metals in an additive fabrication process. The leader in this field is Arcam of Rothenburg, Sweeden which has focused its work on higher melting temp metals like Titanium and Cobalt-Chrome for medical and aerospace. Coincidentally, these same temps ranges will be suitable for Platinum and Palladium. This technology is available today although costs are extremely high ( USD 500K ) not to mention the cost of precious metal powder. I do expect however costs will come down quickly as the technology becomes more competitive. Click on the image below for a promo video that describes Arcam system.
An even more exciting process I have been supporting at NASA is dubbed EBF3 ( Elecetron Beam Freeform Fabrication ) which utilizes electron beam melting with a wire feed instead of a powdered metal. The wire feed system would allow up to 5 different types of metal to be combined to created a new desgin. Imagine that you could create a ring that had platinum, with 18K yellow, 18K Red, and maybe even Titanium all at the same time and none of the elements would need to investment cast or even be soldered together……While this technology shows great promise, it will be some time before we can get the micros-focus beam size and precision mechanical systems needed to feed the small wire we need to produce jewelry. For more info and video of the process click on the link
One of the objections to these new additive CAM technologies is the surface finish which is usually rougher than we would like. In this realm, electron beam technologies can be even more exciting. The beam can be used to mill and polish after assembly. A new technology from Sodick uses Elecrton Beam technology for mirror polishing and has shown quality similar to EDM used on hard steel molds…….
So what is next for CAD/CAM will only be limited by our imagination and motivation to find the right technology. If you have something you think is worth investigation, I hope you will pass it along here in the form of comment or Email me your thoughts……is there an E Beam in your future…?