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Is it time to add manufacturing technology to your store?

Shifting gears

The Laser Welder Evo with on-board camera and wide entrance for restriction-free access.
The Laser Welder Evo with on-board camera and wide entrance for restriction-free access.

There’s also the potential for new business opportunities. Camgozlu notes that with a laser welder, jewellers can do work that wouldn’t be possible with a torch, such as fixing eye glasses.

Even repairs that are possible with traditional methods take a fraction of the time with a laser welder, says Daniel Kundakci at European Design Jewellery.

“The laser welder more than pays off the initial investment,” he says. “The time and money saved… is incredible.”

John Tufenkjian, president of Sassounian Montreal, says most jewellers looking to buy an entry-level rapid prototype machine are making anywhere from three to five custom pieces a week. With service bureaus charging up to $150 for each job, a $24,000 machine can pay for itself in about a year.

Although the interest is there, Tufenkjian says, jewellers of all ages seem to resist technology, preferring instead to do things old-school. It’s a mindset he says he encounters all the time. He is quick to point out, however, those who embrace the techie side to making jewellery are likely building their businesses at a faster pace.

“Nowadays, when you’re in neutral, you may be actually going in reverse,” he adds.

For any retailer, the ability to control their own repairs and save the cost of outsourcing is a major plus, says Kundakci. It’s also more efficient, allowing a retailer to take on more jobs and pay off the machine. He uses the example of re-tipping a claw with heat-sensitive stones, which can take an hour or more with a torch, but just two minutes with a laser welder. A retailer can also weld all types of metals, including titanium and steel, Kundakci adds.

Putting in the time and effort

Before purchasing any expensive machinery, a retailer must consider cost versus long-term gain.
Before purchasing any expensive machinery, a retailer must consider cost versus long-term gain.

Yet, even proponents of manufacturing technology acknowledge incorporating machinery and software into a business can be a challenge. “The learning curve is quite steep,” says DaCosta. “It’s not something you can just sit down and do instinctively. It takes some time.”

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However, nearly all machine technology companies offer extensive training and say it’s a skill that can be mastered with practice. “Any goldsmith can learn how to use a laser welder,” says Kundakci. “The transition is a lot easier than what some goldsmiths may be concerned about.”

Most operators can be trained in one to two days, he says, adding the company ensures a customer is comfortable before stepping back.

NS CNC Manufacturing in Vancouver also offers training for its milling machines. Jennifer Robinson, director of business development and planning, says if a client has already learned to use 3-D drafting software, “it gives them an edge.”

For a jeweller who is technically savvy, training can be easy, she adds, noting most don’t need to hire extra staff to work the equipment.

“It is unusual for us to sell a five-axis mill to an experienced jeweller who still makes models by hand,” explains Robinson. “Most of our clients are somewhat experienced, at least in design, so it makes using the technology easier.”

However, all agree that when it comes to new technology, the longer a jeweller spends learning the intricacies of a program and working on designs, the better the outcome.

“The learning curve is a little bit different for each person,” says Plunkett, explaining ArtCam usually takes two to three days to train a client on its software. However, it can be a challenge for some craftspeople to adjust to dealing with a 3-D design on a monitor.

“Humans are creatures of habit,” explains Plunkett. “Some people are used to working with their hands—it’s just learning and adapting.”

Nicole MacIntyre is a journalist and freelance writer based in Burlington, Ont. She has covered breaking news, politics, and lifestyle issues for nearly a decade. MacIntyre has received multiple nominations and awards for her work, including an Ontario Newspaper Award.

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