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Time-Saving Imaging Solutions(HKTDC Jewellery, Vol 02,1999)

Vol.2 1999

Time-Saving Imaging Solutions

Time-Saving Imaging Solutions

THE development of solid imaging technology is helping a growing number of Hong Kong companies produce items such as toys, consumer products and jewellery in less time and at lower cost.

The US-based company that pioneered the technology, 3D Systems Corpn, employs patented stereolithography (SLA) and 3D printing processes to quickly construct solid physical objects from three-dimensional computer designs.

The SLA system literally builds a physical prototype -- layer by ultra-thin layer -- using a resin that is hardened by a laser to precise CAD-generated specifications.

Myer Jewelry Mfr Ltd, one of Hong Kong's largest jewellery exporters, uses the stereolithography system developed by 3D Systems. The company creates all of its jewellery designs on CAD/CAM. Models are no longer produced by hand, but by stereolithography's rapid prototyping.

"It's very fast. We can produce an epoxy model in eight hours. To make it by hand would take 10 days. We skip the mould-making and go right from the machine to a wax model," explains general manager for production Patrick Chun.

The system has allowed Myer to reduce its model-making costs significantly and the number of its model-makers from 70 to three. Myer produces more than one million pieces of jewellery per year, with diamond jewellery accounting for more than half of sales.

3D Systems, founded in 1986, is a world leader in solid imaging solutions. Its SLA systems combine polymer chemistry with laser, optics and computer technologies. New units range in cost from US$140,000 to US$600,000.

Each system includes an ultraviolet laser, an optical scanning system, a vat of photosensitive resin, an elevator platform and software that controls exposure and the position of the laser and the elevator.

Lee Dockstader, managing director, Asia-Pacific region, for 3D Systems, says: "For the companies, there's a savings in cost, but mostly the saving is in time. What [SLA does] is let companies improve their product turnaround time."

Another 3D Systems customer is Hang Fung Jewellery Co Ltd, which uses SLA for its "3D Gold" process: a laser scans the facial features of a living subject and the SLA generates a prototype. The finished statuette is made of 24K gold.

Hang Fung also uses the system to make prototypes for most of its jewellery. Lam Sai-wing, chairman of the company, which is recognised as one of Hong Kong's most aggressively hi-tech jewellery firms, says: "It's faster and more accurate than by hand. We can make about 20 bracelets at a time."

At about US$60,000, a less-expensive option for jewellery manufacturers is the multi-jet modeller, from 3D Systems, which makes wax model prototypes. Dockstader says: "It produces wax models without the need for a silicon mould, so it saves a couple of steps."

However, the underside of objects produced by the multi-jet modeller is not as smooth as those made with the SLA system, so it may not be suitable for all types of jewellery.

In the US and Europe, 3D Systems markets its products primarily through an internal sales force. In the Asia-Pacific region, the company works with distributors, which handle sales, system installation, customer service and support. For the Greater China area, the company has its own service team headquartered in Hong Kong and its distributor is Ying Feng Precision Machinery Co, a machinery trading firm established in 1998.

Written By Andrea Pawlyna


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