Aug 11, 2016 | By Alec

When you look at what industries are most strongly benefiting from industrial-level 3D printing, the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors are often top of the list. But as British diamond expert De Beers revealed, the diamond industry can also greatly benefit from 3D printing technology. After their first Stratasys 360mc 3D printer became a huge hit in their R&D department for the development of diamond testing equipment, the company even took the step to adopt a Stratasys Dimension 1200es 3D printer as well.

No company in the world’s diamond industry can benefit from these technological breakthroughs as much as De Beers, which is currently the world leader in diamond exploration, mining, processing and retailing. With its roots in the South African diamond rush of the 1880s, the company has grown into a renowned diamond company known for bringing the finest 100% conflict-free the diamonds to the market.

But doing so requires a lot of technological power, and not just for cutting the diamonds themselves. At the De Beers Technologies UK research and development facility in Maidenhead, Berkshire, engineers develop and manufacture machinery for, among others, diamond verification and grading, diamond sorting and treatment, as well as synthetic diamond detection.

This is done at breakneck speeds of up to eight diamond per second, and thus requires immensely advanced equipment that operates with unparalleled efficiency, flexibility and consistency. The company is also always looking at accelerating those processes. And of course when it comes to something as valuable as diamonds, there’s no margin of error.

That’s where 3D printing comes in. To cope with the R&D demands of the modern diamond industry, De Beers first adopted a Stratasys Fortus 360mc 3D printer – after previously outsourcing most of the 3D printing work. “Until recently we did all of our 3D printing through a bureau service,” explains Technical Manager Trevor Poulter. “However, we soon discovered that the amount of printing we were doing would soon justify buying a 3D printer of our own.”

It was a huge hit almost immediately, and is currently running almost non-stop. In particular, it has proven itself as a huge cost-reducing innovation that breaks through the barriers of traditional diamond processing equipment. Especially for machining and casting equipment, 3D printing has become invaluable at De Beers and introduced new levels of design freedom. “The machine is available 24-7 for our engineers to use on a daily basis,” says Poulter. “With the Fortus 360mc in place, we can fit R&D parts between production builds to produce prototypes or test pieces in a much quicker fashion.”

Senior Mechanical Engineer Andrew Portsmouth discovered this for himself, as 3D printing gave his team the ability to 3D print brand new ideas overnight. “So that the next day we are testing it, assessing it, and figuring out any limitations. We can then modify the design and put it back on the 3D printer overnight. The following morning we are testing the next iteration. In terms of reducing development time, it’s impossible to put a value on what 3D printing has saved us,” he explained. “The Fortus 360mc has changed the way we work as engineers and designers. In fact, we are now designing parts purely to take advantage of 3D printing, and forgetting the restrictions that conventional processes such as machining or casting bring.”

Though the company did look at different 3D printers, they eventually found that Stratasys offered the best package. The Fortus 360mc itself 3D prints in production-grade thermoplastics at incomparable accuracy levels. It also features a build envelope of 355 x 254 x 254mm and an automated material changeover feature for uninterrupted production for long periods of time.

The optical measurement cell housing, visible above, could not even be developed without 3D printing. And according to Mr. Portsmouth, the technology is also proving itself as a significant cost-reducing opportunity. “Today, it feels like we print anything and everything: it’s the flexibility and the change in the way we innovate that’s really made the difference here. I would also say that the Fortus has helped us create more innovative products because of the design freedom it allows – making parts that were simply not possible before,” he says.

As a result, De Beers’ engineers have started using 3D printing so extensively, that it became necessary to purchase a second 3D printer (a Stratasys Dimension 1200es) to alleviate capacity limitations. They purposefully chose a different machine to bring different material and production options to the table. The Dimension 1200es 3D prints in ABSplus thermoplastic at differing layer thicknesses of 0.254 or 0.33mm. It also features a larger build envelope at 254 x 254 x 305mm. “As a result, we can better react to specific requirements, and in a very quick time,” Poulter added. 3D printing is thus quickly becoming indispensable at De Beers.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Hans wrote at 8/20/2016 4:55:24 PM:

I agree with Jeff, anyone that thinks diamonds are recovered by using slaves has it wrong.

Jeff wrote at 8/13/2016 3:58:12 PM:

John Dee - that makes no sense, De Beers doesn't deal in carrots. Carats maybe, but not carrots. In addition your "point" is ignorant, poorly thought out, and just plain wrong

John Dee wrote at 8/11/2016 8:47:47 PM:

De Beers, which is currently the world leader in diamond exploitation & slavery, known for bringing the finest 100% conflict-free the diamonds to the market. SO find a diamond at the side of the road and debeers would do their damnedest to tell you it wasnt worth a Carrot

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