Sep 15, 2014

Dr Stephen Beirne demonstrates the capability of the technology: 3D-printed titanium rings.

A team of University of Wollongong researchers in Australia and a Scarborough designer are taking advantage of 3D printing to create bespoke jewellery and art pieces.

Illawarra-based metalsmith Cinnamon Lee was an early adopter of 3D printing technology and was using 3D modelling software to generate accurate technical drawings of her designs. She approached Dr Stephen Beirne at the UOW-headquartered Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) two years ago with an engineering challenge, asking for help to directly fabricate her increasingly complex creations.

ACES has been using 3D printing technology in biomedical research and device prototyping for medical implants, solar cells and batteries, but jewellery making is definitely a new field.

For Lee, 3D printing was a new way of being able to realise her creative vision. "Three-dimensional printing allows me to produce jewellery that combines geometric complexity with structural integrity that would be impossible to create any other way." Lee said.

To produce the rings, ACES research team used a 3D printing process called selective laser melting which deposits and fuses titanium in powder form layer-by-layer on a metal bed according to the 3D model. When the process is finished the excess powder is blasted away, revealing the final object.

The 3D printer, capable of fine details, with various metals as small as 0.15 millimetres (150 microns), allows the team to print out Lee's design accurately on a very tiny scale.

Cinnamon Lee's titanium rings 3D printed by Dr Beirne with assistance from UOW additive fabrication technician Fletcher Thompson. Photo: John Lee

The jewellery project was an example showing new ways of working with 3D printing to prototype and product a product.

"In many ways this is the perfect marriage, pun intended, of engineering and the creative arts," Dr Beirne said. "Three-dimensional printing provides a set of tools available to the engineer – and now the artist - that we can apply to design and build objects that are smaller, more complex than perhaps previously impossible to build using traditional methods.

"Three-dimensional printing hasn't so much thrown out the design and manufacturing rule book as torn out a few chapters," Dr Beirne said.

Lee also sees 3D printing, not as a replacement of older methods, but as another tool in her toolbox.

"I see myself as a traditional artist in the sense that all my work is motivated by the desire to express an idea and therefore always has a conceptual basis," she said. "In that sense 3D printing has not changed my view of my artistic practice, but it has certainly altered the way I am able to execute my ideas."


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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