The virtual world of 3D CAD allows us to do some amazing things, but creating completely virtual versions of a piece of jewellery can only ever tell us part of the story. In order to get a proper feel for the size and shape of an object, a physical form is required. During the prototyping stages of our product development, we use 3D printing to create these physical forms of our jewellery iterations.
There is often a lot of hype around 3D printing and how it is the future of manufacturing, however, this is not entirely true. Basically, 3D printers are able to manufacture objects by printing them layer by layer. This is very time intensive and can take hours, if not more than a day for some very large models. Compare this to an injection moulded piece of plastic which can be produced in a matter of seconds for a few pence and you start to see a large time difference, and time is money.
But where 3D printing does make a lot of sense is when your designs are not final. You see, most manufacturing processes only become affordable when you can place a large batch order of hundreds or thousands, but 3D printing prices remain pretty much the same regardless of volume. For example, the pieces you see below cost around £15 combined when 3D printed, but when we placed an order for the first set of mental Noti prototypes (which were CNC precision machined) they cost more than £230 each. That's a massive difference, especially when you know you're going to make multiple changes to your models at this stage of the design process.
This is why we opt to use 3D prints as our physical reference along side our CAD models when iterating through different jewellery design changes. These physical models let us see problems that virtual models often cannot, like part walls that are too thin and flexible, or clearance issues that stop pieces from going together correctly. They also let us fine tune things like how a button clicks so we can make the most enjoyable products to look at and feel in your hand.