In an era where if you can dream it, you can build it, 3d printing has become one of the most effective ways to quickly design and prototype a product before sending it off to a manufacturer… not to mention avoiding four weeks of potential lead time. For us, knowing that we’ve got things right the first time makes paying those invoices a whole lot easier, and in the fast paced world of artisanal startups, time is money. But, does that type of technology belong in a world where quality is everything? I’d like to talk about the relationship between handcrafted goods and 3d printing, and how our company, Vortic Watches, has used 3d printing in conjunction with handcrafted quality to create a better product.
One at a Time Means Custom
The per unit cost of 3d printing is significantly lower than traditional methods of manufacturing. So, in essence, every piece you get from a 3d printer could be unique and custom, without being any more expensive. This is where the world of one-of-a-kind, handcrafted, custom goods and 3d printing can work in tandem. Vortic uses 3d printing to convert 100+ yr old vintage pocket watches into wristwatches. As you can imagine, each of these pocket watches is extremely unique, making it almost impossible to standardize the case for traditional manufacturing methods.
To solve this problem we use metal 3d printing to manufacture our custom cases. We prototype each part on our own Form 1+ stereolithographic 3d printer, which produces a hard resin plastic, until we are happy with the results. Next, we send the 3d file to our metal printer. Our printer has a few weeks of lead time, but we know exactly what we’re going to get before we even order it. We then finish our watches with a beautiful handmade leather band to make a truly unique, handcrafted timepiece.
Artisans Becoming Engineers
3d printing metal eliminates many considerations of manufacturability, questions surrounding which machine will be used, and the need for seemingly complicated fixtures. Anyone, including tech-averse artisans like myself, can learn to use a simple 3d modeling program. In this way, everyone, engineering degree or not, can begin designing and manufacturing a product of their own. Try Tinkercad for an easy way to get started designing, or visit Makerbot’s Thingiverse to see an open source of 3d files designed by other makers for public use.
Beauty in Science
Printing in metal is not only technologically fascinating, but also remarkably beautiful. The sintered layers of powdered 316 stainless steel produce a distinctive pattern on the surface, and the cases for Vortic’s American Artisan Series are then infiltrated with bronze. This small amount of bronze allows the exterior of the case to slowly oxidize over time, and combined with a variety of rustic patinas, creates a unique look for each customer.
3d printing is a huge part of our custom, handcrafted watch business, and I believe that it can be an aid to artisans everywhere. Let us know what you think about the relationship of 3d printing and handcrafted goods by leaving a comment below. Advances in technology have put a limitless power to create within the grasp of every maker, and we cannot wait to see what will be made!