Some would argue the growth and adoption of CAD/CAM technology is the dictionary definition of the Rogers Bell Curve. First described by Everett Rogers in the mid-1950s, the concept describes the rate of adoption of new technologies and products. And when it comes to the use of CAD today, you’d be surprised which industry some would consider is part of the early majority.
Primarily used in the engineering industry, CAD software was developed in the mid-1960s to early ’70s by General Motors and IBM. Called Design Augmented by Computer (DAC-1), it was one of the first commercially available CAD programs. The system was primarily used by designers to build 2-D line drawings using a capacitive touch-screen panel, what might be considered the precursor of the touch screen found in today’s smart devices. DAC-1 allowed the user to take a series of 2-D line drawings and convert them into 3-D shapes that could be milled into a solid object.
For the most part, only large corporations in the automotive, aeronautic, and electrical industries that could afford large-scale computers used DAC-1. Fast forward 50 years or so to what I see as the middle of the early adopters’ phase. By that I mean we have entered the stage in the evolution of CAD software where I believe its use will increase 100 fold over the next 10 years or so. And it is the change happening in CAD software that will drive this growth.
The core of the matter
Everywhere you turn, CAD software companies and 3-D printing firms are ramping up efforts to capture their piece of the design-world pie. To gain the biggest market share, however, they will need to shorten the learning curve substantially. As larger software giants, such as Google and Microsoft, start to create and implement simplified tools in anticipation of this new growth, CAD software companies will build more easy-to-use platforms, allowing a greater number of people to use their tools. Consider AutoCAD—which is a key figure in engineering design—and its A360 Drive, a platform that provides users with cloud storage and file-sharing capabilities for a variety of devices other than a desktop. Similarly, to engage young people in the world of design, AutoCAD introduced Tinkercad, which is the cloud-based software we currently use in our CAD training academy run in conjunction with Toronto District School Board (TDSB). As the platform changes, so do the applications and by extension, the users. All this encourages more people to enter the design and creative space.
When my brother, Kamal, and I joined the CAD and 3-D printing industry seven years ago, the majority of computer-aided design software available for the jewellery industry, and in fact most others, was based on building through core features. In other words, to build a component, the user had to create the part through a series of lines (i.e. the core features). If the user wanted to build a setting, he or she created the object by tracing the claw’s path and cross section. Next, they set the software to sweep the lines, meaning, move the cross section along the path they had set. Today, most commercially available CAD software provides users with a library of ready-to-use component parts, allowing designers to spend less time building their designs. However, core-features software required users possess a good understanding of building using lines, since the vast majority of objects they needed to complete a project were built in this manner.
The ability to design parametrically is a new addition to CAD design. This tool was initially developed for architects, although it has found its way into jewellery design. I was first introduced to parametric design in 2012 by one of our CAD instructors, Ralph Schroetter. This software allows users to build CAD designs using simple logic code and varying input values. Take a cup, for example. The software allows you to break down its design features into any number of key design elements, including height, the thickness of the inside wall, degree of curve on the upper edge, and angle of flare from the bottom to the top. To build parametrically, each of those features is related to an input field, which is entered in a number box. Quite simply, the designer types in all the values regarding each of the cup’s key design features. With a couple of simple key strokes, the user can build their own cup. And so in the case of the architect, they can build a series of parametric objects, such as a door, windows, door frames, etc., by changing the input values.
Though this is a simplified example, the applications are enormous, since designers can now build parametric designs allowing them to make a wide range of objects that share similar design features. As we began introducing parametric design to our classes, we noticed students were finding new ways of reducing design time, since many features were simply a repetition of similar elements. Through parametric designing, users have found they are able to explore a wider range of organic design. The big-picture application for parametric design is the use of code to create a web-based application for e-commerce sites. Though in its infancy, this is expected to be the new way e-commerce sites will engage clients who want to participate in the creation of their jewellery.
Ahead of the curve
Perhaps the biggest growth we see on the horizon is the expansion of CAD software based on modular building, which provides a wide assortment of 3-D objects in a software library. We have seen first-hand through our CAD and 3-D printing academy how quickly students of varying ages can become very fluent in modular CAD design. The tool has also made its way into the jewellery industry through simplified CAD software allowing retail sales staff to design a wide range of items using pre-designed components that can be put together on a computer screen while the clients waits. Though modular building is the quickest way to bring sales staff up to speed with CAD design, we have found users usually find it limiting soon enough, and eventually want to upgrade their skills by learning how to design through core features.
Perhaps the design style that has intrigued me the most of late is digital sculpting, which is widely used in gaming, principally in the area of building and creating characters. Though digital sculpting is starting to be used in jewellery design, it does require the user explore a completely different artistic skill set. Starting with a ‘lump of digital clay’ that has been segmented into smaller parts, the user can move, deform, reshape, and erase them to create the design. Digital sculpting does not require the designer to methodically plan out his or her object, creating instead multiple versions of their design until they achieve the desired result. Rest assured, it is usually well worth the wait.
As my brother and I explore the use of 3-D printers in other industries, we are always curious to determine how far along they are in the adoption CAD technologies. And the answer always amazes us.
Over the last 50 years, CAD and 3-D printing technologies have been primarily a business-to-business (B2B) venture. In the last few years, Kamal and I have discovered many professionals either don’t truly know how CAD/CAM is being used within their industry or they are in the process of fully understanding the extent to which they are. Though steeped in tradition and old-world business methodologies, it is the jewellery industry, oddly enough, that has been amongst the first to convert CAD and 3-D printing from a B2B model to business-to-consumer (B2C). This push has primarily happened through the growth of various formats of CAD designing incorporated at the retail level. I guess you could say the jewellery industry is well on its way to becoming the early majority.
Hemdeep Patel is head of marketing and product development of Toronto-based HKD Diamond Laboratories Canada, an advanced gemstone and diamond laboratory with locations in Bangkok, Thailand, and Mumbai, India. He also leads Creative CADworks, a 3-D CAD jewellery design and production firm. Holding a B.Sc. in physics and astronomy, Patel is a third-generation member of the jewellery industry, a graduate gemmologist, and vice-president of the Ontario chapter of the GIA alumni association. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.