Title:
METHOD FOR DIGITAL MANUFACTURING OF JEWELRY ITEMS
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A method for digital manufacturing of a jewelry item includes printing a three-dimensional wax model on a substrate and printing a three-dimensional sprue, the sprue being adapted to support the wax model. A fixture for handling wax models includes a platform, a plurality of holders, a plurality of standoffs, and a tie. A method of manufacturing a jewelry item, comprises forming a first wax model for a portion of a jewelry item, forming a second wax model for a portion of a jewelry item using a rapid prototyping process, and performing one or more lost wax processes with the first and second portion to create the jewelry item.


Inventors:
Saarela, Tim (Lakeville, MN, US)
Abernathy, Kevin (Burnsville, MN, US)
Wells, Richard (St. Louis Park, MN, US)
Neyman, Lev (Maple Grove, MN, US)
Joriman, Jon (Little Canada, MN, US)
Application Number:
14/013305
Publication Date:
03/06/2014
Filing Date:
08/29/2013
Assignee:
Jostens, Inc. (Minneapolis, MN, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
164/35, 211/13.1, 294/81.5
International Classes:
A44C27/00; B65D85/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20090183525Cut Gemstone Exhibiting Excellent Optical BrillianceJuly, 2009Hasenfeld
20080083247Earring easing pain of earlobe and hard to slip off from earlobeApril, 2008Tsuruta
20090271958Hook and Loop Strap with Loop IndiciaNovember, 2009Kirshbaum
20090229308HIGHLY INCLUDED DIAMOND JEWELRYSeptember, 2009Mehta
20080264103LARIAT NECKLACE ASSEMBLYOctober, 2008Upton Young
20100031701DYNAMIC ITEM OF JEWELRYFebruary, 2010Livni et al.
20060010913AniMom jewelryJanuary, 2006Torres et al.
20090031757MODULAR TOY BRACELETFebruary, 2009Harding
20020139140Scented novelty productOctober, 2002Schaab
20040050097Enhanced diamond and method for making sameMarch, 2004Eisenberg
20060048541Earring hinge constructionMarch, 2006Khyvat
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Husch Blackwell LLP (190 Carondelet Plaza Suite 600 St. Louis MO 63105)
Claims:
1. A method for digital manufacturing of a jewelry item comprising: printing a three-dimensional wax model on a substrate; and printing a three-dimensional sprue, the sprue being adapted to support the wax model on a tree during a lost wax process.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein the sprue includes an identifying label for the wax model.

3. The method of claim 1, further comprising designing the sprue to optimize flow of metal into a void created by the wax model during the lost wax process.

4. The method of claim 3, wherein the designed sprue is a tapered.

5. The method of claim 3, wherein the designed sprue includes a feeder directed toward a portion of the wax model.

6. The method of claim 3, wherein the wax model includes a feature for acting as a feeder and the sprue is connected to the feature.

7. The method of claim 6, wherein the feature is a portion of the wax model for forming a stud on the jewelry item.

8. A fixture for handling wax models, comprising: a plurality of levels adapted to be arranged in spaced apart relationship, each of the levels comprising: a platform; a plurality of holders arranged on the platform; a plurality of standoffs adapted to maintain the spaced apart relationship of adjacent levels; and a tie adapted for securing the plurality of levels.

9. The fixture of claim 8, further comprising a carrier configured for carrying the plurality of levels.

10. The fixture of claim 9, wherein the carrier includes a base having a plurality of sockets, the sockets arranged to receive one or more standoffs from a level of the plurality of levels.

11. The fixture of claim 9, wherein the carrier includes a pair of handles for handling the fixture.

12. A method of forming a jewelry item, comprising: printing a wax model of a jewelry item having an inner surface, wherein printing the wax model includes defining a design on the inner surface.

13. The method of claim 12, wherein the design includes a block letter design.

14. The method of claim 12, wherein the design includes an icon.

15. The method of claim 10, wherein the design includes a spiral design.

16. The method of claim 10, wherein the design includes a recessed design.

17. The method of claim 10, wherein the design includes a raised design in a recessed area.

18. A jewelry item, comprising: a jewelry shank comprising a first material and having a recessed portion defining a side panel position; a substantially thin side panel comprising a second material and being adapted for placement at the side panel position of the jewelry shank, the side panel including customized designs.

19. The jewelry item of claim 18, wherein the second material is a precious metal.

20. The jewelry item of claim 18, wherein the first material is a precious metal and the second material is a precious metal and the first material is more cost efficient than the second material.

21. The jewelry item of claim 18, wherein the side panel is relatively trapezoidal in shape with a relatively long top edge, a relatively short bottom edge, and arcuate upwardly extending side edges.

22. A method of manufacturing a jewelry item, comprising: forming a first wax model for a portion of a jewelry item; forming a second wax model for a portion of a jewelry item using a rapid prototyping process; performing one or more lost wax processes with the first and second portion to create the jewelry item.

23. The method of claim 22, further comprising securing the first portion to the second portion before performing the one or more lost wax processes.

24. The method of claim 22, further comprising securing resulting portions of the jewelry item to one another after the one or more lost wax processes.

25. The method of claim 24, wherein the one or more lost wax processes includes two lost wax processes, one process for each of the wax models.

26. The method of claim 25, wherein the two lost wax processes are performed with different metals.

27. The method of claim 22, wherein the first wax model is for a ring shank and includes a side panel recess and the second wax model is for a side panel.

28. The method of claim 27, wherein the side panel recess includes a surface contour and the side panel is substantially thin with a contour matching the surface contour of the side panel recess.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present disclosure relates to digital manufacturing of jewelry items. More particularly, the present disclosure relates to tracking and associated fixtures for maintaining control of jewelry items in a rapid prototyping process. The present disclosure also relates to particular applications of digital manufacturing to the jewelry industry and advantageous applications of the same.

BACKGROUND

Manufacture of jewelry can be done using a lost wax process. In such process, a plurality of wax patterns, also referred to herein as wax models, are formed, each representing a jewelry item to be manufactured. The wax patterns are aggregated to form a tree and the tree is placed in a flask. The flask is filled with investment (a plaster-like material) and the wax melted out to form a mold. The mold is filled with a metal alloy that forms the jewelry items. After the metal alloy hardens, it is removed from the mold and each jewelry item removed from the tree.

There are several ways to manufacture wax patterns for use in the above described lost wax process. Commonly, wax patterns have been made by forming a mold and then putting molten wax in the mold to harden to form the wax pattern. Forming wax patterns using a mold can have inherent limitations. For example, the mold may be limited to geometries that allow the wax pattern to pull away from the mold while the mold remains intact and without damaging the wax pattern. Because of limitations in formation, the pattern may need to be designed without undercuts, thin wires, filigree, beads, hollow areas, etc.

Alternative methods for manufacturing a wax pattern include carving a wax pattern from a wax blank or using a rapid prototyping (RP) process. In rapid prototyping, a digital image is converted into a physical product by printing layers of wax on a substrate using a solid wax modeling machine or other similar RP technology. The digital image may be a CAD (computer aided design) image. In the past, it has been difficult to apply rapid prototyping to mass produced personalized jewelry items such as class rings because automation software needed to meet production capacity requirements does not readily exist, level of detail requirements cannot be met, and RP materials are typically polymer-based. Polymers do not perform as well as wax-like materials during the lost-wax burnout process.

SUMMARY

A method for digital manufacturing of a jewelry item may include printing a three-dimensional wax model on a substrate and printing a three-dimensional sprue. The sprue may be adapted to support the wax model on a tree during a lost wax process.

In another embodiment, a fixture for handling wax models may include a plurality of levels adapted to be arranged in spaced apart relationship. Each of the levels comprises a platform, a plurality of holders arranged on the platform, a plurality of standoffs adapted to maintain the spaced apart relationship of adjacent levels, and a tie adapted for securing the plurality of levels.

A method of forming a jewelry item may include printing a wax model of a jewelry item having an inner surface. Printing the wax model may include defining a design on the inner surface.

A jewelry item may include a jewelry shank of a first material and having a recessed portion defining a side panel position. The item may also include a substantially thin side panel of a second material. The side panel may be adapted for placement at the side panel position of the jewelry shank and the side panel may include customized designs.

A method of manufacturing a jewelry item may include forming a first wax model for a portion of a jewelry item and forming a second wax model for a portion of a jewelry item using a rapid prototyping process. The method may also include performing one or more lost wax processes with the first and second portion to create the jewelry item.

While multiple embodiments are disclosed, still other embodiments of the present invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art from the following detailed description. As will be apparent, the invention is capable of modifications in various obvious aspects, all without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention. Accordingly, the detailed description is to be regarded as illustrative in nature and not restrictive.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION

FIG. 1 illustrates a method for digital manufacturing of items, in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 2 illustrates a formed mold and an associated model for forming the mold;

FIG. 3 illustrates a process for forming a digital model of an item, in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 4 illustrates a method for digital manufacturing of items, in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 5 illustrates a sample map showing placement of merged data sets, in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 6 illustrates a solid wax model comprising a build wax and a support wax, in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 7 illustrates a fixture suitable for receiving small items, in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 8 illustrates a fixture suitable for receiving large items, in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 9 illustrates a fixture map, in accordance with one embodiment; and

FIG. 10 illustrates a sample fixture showing placement of wax models in a position on the fixture corresponding to the position of corresponding merged data sets on the digital substrate of FIG. 5, in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 11 illustrates a wax model having a design feature for receiving a sprue;

FIG. 12 illustrates a method for tagging a cylindrical mold in a lost wax process;

FIG. 13 illustrates a method of labeling a tree trunk and/or sprues of a tree in a lost wax process;

FIG. 14 illustrates an exploded view of a fixture according to some embodiments;

FIG. 15 illustrates an assembled view of the fixture of FIG. 14;

FIG. 16 illustrates feeders extending from a sprue, according to some embodiments;

FIG. 17 illustrates studs being used as feeders, according to some embodiment;

FIGS. 18A-18C each illustrate a design on the inside surface of a jewelry item; and

FIG. 19 illustrates a jewelry item having an overlay panel according to some embodiments.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

In various embodiments, digital manufacturing of items, such as customized jewelry items, is provided, including a physical process and software automation for implementing the physical process. Further, models (also referred to herein as patterns) formed during the process, as well as the resultant items, are provided. It is to be appreciated that the digital manufacturing process may be used to manufacture other items or products.

FIG. 1 illustrates one embodiment of a method 10 for digital manufacturing of items such as jewelry items. As shown, the method 10 comprises forming a digital model of a customized item [block 12], forming a physical model of the customized item based on the digital model [block 14], and manufacturing the customized item in a lost wax process using the physical model [block 16]. The physical model may alternatively be referred to as a physical pattern.

Forming the digital model of the item may include creating a 3D digital model of a generic item, creating digital representations of a plurality of customization components (referred to as digital models), and combining the 3D models of the generic item and the 3D digital models of the customization components to create a 3D model of the customized item. Because the digital models may be based on the same CAD (Computer Aided Design) data used for traditional manufacturing, creation of the 3D models may leverage existing production technology. The 3D models are typically represented as STL (STereoLithography) format, which is commonly used in the RP industry. STL formatted files describe the surface geometry of a three-dimensional object.

Creation of the digital models of the customization components may be done in a variety of ways. In one embodiment, the digital representation may be created by taking a plurality of CAD curves and surfaces, then using CAM (Computer Aided Machining) software to create a toolpath from those curves and surfaces, and finally computing the surface of the volume that would be removed by a cutting tool following that toolpath.

In another embodiment, the digital representation may be created directly from the CAD geometry, This comprises extracting a plurality of curves and surfaces from a CAD model, extruding them, and calculating the surface geometry of the volume created by that extrusion.

The digital models of the generic item and the customization components may be combined using several different boolean operations, most commonly the union, subtraction, and intersection operations.

Forming the physical model of the item based on the digital model [block 14] may comprise using a rapid prototyping process.

Manufacturing the item in a lost wax process using the physical model [block 16] then follows. Lost wax processes commonly known for forming rings may be used. The lost wax process used to form the physical item may include any suitable steps known or later developed. In one embodiment, a lost wax process as described in U.S. Pat. No. 3,964,915 may be used. The teachings of this patent are herein incorporated by reference.

Each of forming a digital model of the jewelry item and forming a physical model of the digital model will now be described in more detail.

FIG. 2 illustrates a formed mold 20 of a jewelry item and an associated model 22 for forming the mold. In current techniques for manufacturing a mold, a tool path is digitally created by which a block is cut by a tool to form the mold. When the tool path is used by a physical machine having a tool, the tool removes a portion of the block (the model) such that the remaining portion is the mold. The model substantially reflects the form of the intended jewelry item and can be used to manufacture a physical model. U.S. Pat. No. 7,069,108 describes one method for digitally creating a tool path and is herein incorporated by reference. As previously described, in one embodiment, a tool path may be used to create a digital model generally corresponding to a model for use with methods described herein.

Accordingly, in one embodiment, the process described herein leverages the current technology used for digitally creating a tool path to form a digital model of a customized jewelry item. More specifically, the digitally created tool path can be combined with a digital model of a generic (or stock), non-customized jewelry item using boolean operations to form a 3D digital model of the jewelry item. While discussion is specifically made to using the digital model for manufacturing an item such as a jewelry item, it is to be appreciated that the digital model may alternatively be used for other purposes. For example, the digital model may be used to create a high resolution image of a jewelry item for showcasing the customized jewelry item—such as for creating a poster of a custom championship ring—or may be used to create an illustration of a proposed jewelry item during design of a customized jewelry item.

FIG. 3 illustrates an example of the process 30 for forming a digital model of the item. For the purposes of illustration, an item is described that is a jewelry item and, more particularly, is a customized class ring. Accordingly, in various portions herein, specific reference may be made to a class ring. Generally, digital 3D models of jewelry are either generic jewelry items, referred to as generic components, or customization components. Generic components may include, for example, the generic structure of the item, such as a ring shank of a class ring. A customization component is a customized item for combination with the generic component, such as a school mascot for placement on the ring shank, to form a customized item.

A generic component may be modeled in CAD and converted to STL format for use in digital manufacturing as provided herein. Custom components typically come from two sources: a tool path converted to STL and offset geometry stored in STL format, both described above. To form a digital model, generic components may be combined with customization components.

As shown in FIG. 3, a digital model of a customization component is digitally created [block 32]. It is to be appreciated that the digital model of the customization component may be a 3D digital model. One or more 3D digital models of generic components, such as a stock class ring, is provided [block 34]. It is to be appreciated that one or a plurality of generic components and one or a plurality of customization components may be used in designing the customized item and that corresponding digital models—to each of or to a combination of—components may be formed.

In some embodiments, each of the digital models of generic components and the digital models of customization components are created in or converted to a format suitable for merging with other digital models, such as STL format. The digital model of the customization component [from block 32] (in some embodiments a converted tool path) is combined with the digital model of the generic component [from block 34] to form a digital model of the jewelry component [block 36].

Using current manufacturing technology, a tool path is physically applied to a block of material to form the mold. The mold is typically a generically sized ring such that the wax model is cut down or up to size after injection of material into the mold. In contrast, the process 30 for forming a digital model of the jewelry item may be used to create a sized digital item. This digital model is then converted into a physical model. Thus, the physical model may lead to a sized physical mold and the resultant manufactured jewelry item may be a sized jewelry item that does not require cutting down or up to resize. Accordingly, in some embodiments, a sized wax model is provided. In order to provide such sizing at the digital model stage, it may be useful to have stock 3D digital models of sized jewelry items such that the boolean operation combines the tool path with the sized jewelry item.

FIG. 4 illustrates a method 40 for digital manufacturing of items. More specifically, FIG. 4 illustrates a method 40 for mass production of customized jewelry items using digital means. One advantage of the method 40 described is the ability to track a plurality of items throughout the process.

As shown, order data is received [block 42]. In certain examples, that order data includes information relating to one or more customized jewelry items. The order data thus may comprise a plurality of orders, each associated with a single jewelry item. Each order is assigned a single-unit tracking number [block 44]. This single-unit tracking number may comprise a scannable bar code, a number associated with an RFID device, or other.

An operator enters the number for each order into a computer and the computer retrieves information relating to the customized jewelry item for that order. Specifically, a merged data set for a customized jewelry item of each order is retrieved [block 46]. Entering of the number may comprise scanning a bar code. The information relating to customized jewelry item may be referred to as a merged data set. The merged data sets are then arranged onto a digital substrate to form a matrix of jewelry items [block 48]. It is to be appreciated that while jewelry items are specifically referred to herein, any other suitable type of item may be manufactured using the disclosed process and the matrix thus may layout other types of items. The digital substrate represents a matrix of jewelry items that is used during the rapid prototyping process. Accordingly, the merged data sets (each representing a jewelry item) may be arranged on the digital substrate to maximize usage of the area of the substrate. The matrix of jewelry items is associated with a multiple-unit tracking number [block 50]. The multiple-unit tracking number may comprise a scannable bar code, a number associated with an RFID device, or other. The matrix of jewelry items may be printed on a sheet of paper to provide a map for an operator in the manufacturing process, the map showing a layout of the placement of each merged data set (represented by a single-unit tracking number) on the substrate. FIG. 5 illustrates a sample map 80 showing placement of merged data sets 81 on a digital substrate 83.

Returning now to FIG. 4, as the manufacturing process begins, the matrix of jewelry items is sent to the solid wax modeling machine [block 52]. A physical substrate, associated with the multiple-unit tracking number, is placed in the solid wax modeling machine. Association of the multiple-unit tracking number with the substrate may be done using a tag. Solid wax models, each associated with a merged data set, are then printed on the substrate by the solid wax modeling machine [block 54].

FIG. 6 illustrates a solid wax model 82 comprising a build wax model 84 and a support wax 86, the build wax representing the physical model for forming a jewelry item and the support wax supporting the model wax on the substrate. It is to be appreciated that, while FIG. 6 shows a solid wax model 83 with a hollow middle through the build wax model 84, in some embodiments, the hollow middle may be filled with support wax during printing. The solid wax models are printed on the substrate in a layout matching the layout of the map.

Returning to FIG. 4, each solid wax model is moved into a fixture [block 56]. The fixture is associated with the multiple-unit tracking number, for example, using a tag. The fixture may be configured such that the solid wax models may be placed in a manner substantially reflecting the placement of the models on the map. A variety of fixtures may be used having different sizes, different orientations, and other characteristics. FIG. 7 illustrates a fixture 88 suitable for receiving small items such as jewelry components. FIG. 8 illustrates a fixture 90 suitable for receiving large items such as jewelry items containing integrated components. FIG. 9 illustrates a fixture map 89. The fixture map 89 may be used to guide placement of the patterns formed on the substrate in positions as indicated by the map of FIG. 5 onto the fixture of FIG. 8. As shown, each position 81 in FIG. 5 is reflected by a corollary position 91 in FIG. 9. FIG. 10 illustrates a sample fixture 85, also referred to as a build tray, showing placement of wax models 87 in a position on the fixture 85 corresponding to the position of corresponding merged data sets on the digital substrate. A fixture map may be generated for each multiple unit tracking number.

Returning again to FIG. 4, the solid wax models are treated to remove the support wax and expose the build wax model [block 58]. In one embodiment, removing the support wax is done by placing the fixture in an ultrasonic tank having a solvent therein. The solvent acts to remove wax from wax. A suitable solvent thus is isopropyl alcohol based therein. In a specific embodiment, the fixture is placed in the ultrasonic tank for approximately 20 minutes. In another embodiment, a modified or standard vapor degreaser may be used. The solvent may be cleaned such that it may be reused during further implementations of the method. Alcohol is a solvent that is highly flammable so precautions generally must be taken in a production facility to minimize any associated risk. Other less flammable solvents may alternatively be used.

The exposed build wax can then be treated to strengthen the build wax models [block 60]. After treatment in a solvent to remove the support wax, the build wax may be weakened. One manner of treating the build wax to strengthen comprises placing the fixture in a tank holding alcohol and a wax additive. One suitable wax additive is a glass polymer. The fixture may be dipped, for example, for 20 second with the strength of the build wax being doubled.

Generally, during treatment of the wax models as shown in blocks 58 and 60, temperature of the liquids for receiving the wax may be kept at a temperature ranging from room temperature to approximately 130 degrees Fahrenheit. It is to be appreciated that while specific discussion is made to placing fixtures holding the wax models in tanks for treatment, the wax models may alternatively be placed in the tank, such as by individual placement or dipping.

As discussed, the wax models may be used for manufacturing customized jewelry items using a lost wax process. For lost wax manufacturing, the wax models to be converted to jewelry items are aggregated to form a tree. In order to aggregate the patterns, each pattern includes a sprue that is affixed to a main sprue to form the tree. The sprues are typically affixed to the wax model using a heat stake. Wax models formed using a rapid prototyping process may be temperature sensitive such that use of a heat stake on the wax model can be difficult. Accordingly, a sprue may be affixed to the wax model.

In some embodiments, the 3D digital model may include design features for receiving the sprue. Such design features may include concave features. Returning to FIG. 4, a sprue may be affixed to the build wax model [block 66]. FIG. 11 thus illustrates a wax model 92 having a design feature 94 for receiving a sprue 95.

After fixation of the sprue to each build wax model, the resultant physical structure comprises a fixture having an associated multiple-unit tracking number with build wax models placed thereon, each having an associated single-unit tracking number.

Each wax model is then placed on the main stem or sprue of a tree [block 68]. The tree is then used in a lost wax investment process to form a plurality of jewelry items [block 70]. It is to be appreciated that other means for affixing the build wax models to the tree may be used and may not include affixing a sprue to the build wax model.

As can be appreciated, the ability to continue tracking the wax models (which may each be unique and include distinct personalization and/or customization) can become difficult when the construction of the tree begins for the lost wax process. The previous steps of the overall process may be more amenable to tagging or labeling the wax models to keep them organized. For example, at the model printing stage and at the stage where the wax models are placed on a fixture, maps may be used together with single unit tracking numbers and multiple unit tracking numbers to keep track of where particular wax models are located.

In contrast, at the stage of the process involving construction of a tree for the lost wax process, it can become difficult to keep track of the several wax models. For example, the three-dimensional nature of the tree may make it difficult to reflect wax model locations on a map. In addition, due to the shape of the wax models and efforts to arrange the wax models efficiently on the tree, the arrangement of the wax models on the tree may vary from batch to batch, making it difficult to consistently map the wax model locations. Other difficulties may be encountered when attempting to diagram or otherwise keep track of the wax models placed on a lost wax tree.

It is noted that individual wax model tags may be used when the tree is constructed, but once the tree is placed in a mold for placement of investment material around the tree, the tags may need to be removed to avoid affecting the shape of the molded parts. For example, FIG. 12 shows a tree 100 having been placed in a forming cylinder 106 and having investment material 104 poured therein. (Note that a portion of the side wall of the forming cylinder has been broken away in the figure to reveal the tree for purposes of clarity) It can be appreciated from this figure that physical tags associated with the wax models would affect the forming process of the elements being formed. While a multiple unit tracking number tag 102 may be used on the outside of the forming cylinder 106, such tag may not be effective to identify any of the individual wax models on the tree. Moreover, after the metal tree is formed (i.e., investment material is cured, wax is melted away, molten metal is poured or flowed into the voids, and molten metal cures or hardens), the forming cylinder 106 may be removed and the investment material 104 may be broken away from the hardened metal tree. As such, the removal of the forming cylinder 106 and the destruction of the investment material 104 may cause a tag on the forming cylinder to be damaged, lost, or otherwise limited in its ability to identify the multiple wax models in the batch.

In light of the above, the rapid prototyping process may be used to provide single unit tracking numbers, multiple unit tracking numbers, bar codes, or other identifying marks on portions of the tree 100 as shown in FIG. 13. For example, single unit tracking numbers may be provided on sprues of the tree that support the wax models. In some embodiments, the sprues may be formed at the wax model printing stage together with the wax models and may remain attached to the wax model throughout the process up to an including formation of the tree for the lost wax process. As such, where the sprues are printed with the wax models and include identifying marks, separation or disassociation of the identifying mark and the wax model may be avoided and a substantially continuous ability to identify a wax model and a corresponding formed metal part may be provided. In still other embodiments, multiple unit tracking numbers may be provided on the trunk of the tree or on branches of the tree having multiple sprues extending therefrom. Still other groupings and types of tracking numbers may be provided.

As suggested, the identifying mark on the sprue may include a tracking number, bar code, or other identifying mark. The mark may extend along the sprue or it may be arranged to extend around the perimeter of the sprue. Still other locations and arrangements of the identifying mark may be provided. The identifying mark may be an etched or a recessed mark or it may be a raised mark. In still other embodiments, the mark may be a raised mark set in a recessed area on the sprue or a recessed mark in a raised area on the sprue. Still other approaches to providing an identifying mark on the sprue may be provided.

Accordingly, using the method herein described, customized items, and more particularly customized jewelry items, may be created in a mass production manner. The method is suitable for a high volume, mass customization environment and elements created during the method can withstand the rigor of a production facility. The jewelry items can have elements that may be difficult to achieve using standard jewelry design and manufacture. For example, common mass production using rapid prototyping may include printing a plurality of identical wax models on a substrate, treating the wax models to remove the support wax, and then forming the respective parts using the wax models. As such, since the printed parts are identical, the individual parts in a given batch may not be identified separately. In contrast, the present system allows for printing a plurality of customized wax models on a substrate, treating the customized wax models to remove the support wax, and forming of the respective customized parts while tracking the individual customized parts within the batch. As such, several customized parts may not only be identifiable, but matched up with a jewelry order and where a jewelry item comprises more than one part, the tracking may allow for identifying those parts that make up the jewelry item and regrouping them once they are formed.

While the present discussion has presented systems and methods for creating jewelry items, several modifications to the devices and methods may be provided and remain within the scope of the present invention. For example, modifications to the fixture may be provided to increase the efficiency of the process or the usability of the process. In still other embodiments, optimizations may be provided relating to the flow of the metal in the lost wax process. In still other embodiments, the rapid prototyping process may be leveraged to allow for methods of jewelry creation and physical jewelry assemblies not previously available. Several examples of such modifications are provided below. Other modifications or alternatives may also be provided and remain within the scope of the presently claimed invention.

In some embodiments, a fixture 118 similar to the fixture 88 shown in FIG. 7 may be provided, but may be stackable, for example, to allow for additional layers of wax models 114 to be treated in one session thereby improving the efficiency of the production process. For example, as shown in FIG. 14, a plurality of same or similar fixture levels 116 may be provided. Each level 116 may be adapted to receive and hold a plurality of wax models 114 during treating (i.e., for removing support wax and/or hardening the build wax).

In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 14 and 15, the fixture 118 may include one or more levels 116. Each level 116 may include a platform 120 in the form of a plurality of beams, plates, or other cross members 122, for example, forming the plane of the level 116. In other examples, the level 116 may include perforated plate or other arrangements allowing the treating solution to flow through and around the wax models 114 supported by the level 116. The levels 116 may each include an array of model holders 124 arranged on the platform 120 for supporting the wax models 114. The holders 124 may be particularly adapted for a particular type or shaped wax model 114, or the holders 124 may be more universal in their ability to hold and support a wider range of wax models 114. The holders 124 may be arranged on the surface of the platform 120 in a rectangular array, radial array, or other arrangement.

The platform 120 of each level may include a plurality of engaging standoffs 126 arranged around the perimeter and/or within the boundary of the level 116. The standoffs 126 may include columnar elements extending away from the platform 120 in one or more directions for engaging adjacent levels 116 and maintaining the levels 116 in spaced apart relationship. In the embodiment shown, the standoffs 126 may include cylindrical posts arranged substantially near the corners of the levels 116 extending from the platform 120 in a direction opposite that of the model holders 124. In other embodiments the standoffs 126 and holders 124 may extend in the same direction. In some embodiments, the standoffs 126 may have a height measured substantially perpendicularly to the platform 120 that is substantially equal to and/or slightly greater than a height of the model holders 124. In other embodiments, the standoff height may be different than the height of the model holders 124. The standoffs 126 may include an engaging nub or recess on an end thereof for engaging a corresponding nub or recess on an adjacent level 116 so as to resist relative lateral motion of adjacent levels 116. It is noted that one of the levels 116 may include a starter level 116x that includes standoffs 126 extending each direction from the platform 120. One set of standoffs 126 may be adapted for engagement with a carrier 130 and the other set of standoffs 126 may be adapted for engagement with an adjacent level 116 of the fixture.

In some embodiments, the several levels 116 may include threadable openings 128 for receiving ties 132. That is, in some embodiments, each level 116 may include one or more threadable openings 128 arranged in a same or similar location on each level 116 such that when two or more levels 116 are stackably arranged, the threadable openings 128 of each level align with one another. Accordingly, a tie 132 may be provided that may be threaded or slipped through the several aligned threadable openings 128.

The tie 132 may include a tension resisting element in the form of a rope, string, rod, spindle, or other tension resisting element. In one embodiment, the tie 132 may include pin 134 having a stop 136 on one end and an engaging tip 138 on an opposing end. The pin 134 may be placed through the threadable openings 128 of the levels 116 coming to rest when the stop 136 engages the outer most level 116 and the engaging tip 138 protrudes into or beyond the opposite outer most level 116. A keeper 140 may be installed on the engaging tip 138 in abutting relationship with the opposite outer most level 116 thereby compressing the standoffs 126 between the levels 116, which maintain the spatial relationship of the several levels 116 and resisting relative motions of the levels 116 in a direction perpendicular to the platforms 120 thereof. The keeper 140 may be a screw threaded element and the engaging tip 138 of the pin 134 may include screw threads for engaging the keeper 140. In some embodiments, a detent, cotter pin, or other engagement may be provided between the keeper 140 and the pin 134.

As also shown in FIGS. 14 and 15, a carrier 130 may also be provided. The carrier 130 may be configured to hold or carry one or more of the stackable levels 116. The carrier 130 may include a base 142 and a handle or handles 144 for lifting and moving the carrier 130. The base 142 of the carrier 130 may include a platform 146 similar to the levels 116 of the above-described fixture 118. That is, the platform 146 may include a plurality of cross members 148, beams, or bars, or a plate-like element may be provided including perforations or holes allowing treating solutions to flow therethrough. In some embodiments, the platform 146 of the base 142 may be more porous than the platforms 120 of the levels 116 by having fewer cross members or more/larger perforations, for example. The base 142 may also include one or more sockets 150 for receiving the standoffs 126 and extending portions of the tie 132 as shown. That is, for example, the base 142 may include a socket 150 for alignment with each of the cylindrical post standoffs 126 of the fixture 100 and may also include a socket 150 for each of the keepers 140 as shown.

The handle or handles 144 of the carrier 130 may be arranged along the side edges of the base 142 as shown. In other embodiments, for example, a more central single handle may be provided that is adapted to be fed through the openings or perforations in the levels of the fixture. Still other handle arrangements may also be provided. The handles 144 shown may include U-shaped bars secured to the base 142 of the carrier 130 and extending upward from the base 142 so as to be arranged alongside and adjacent to the levels 116 when the carrier 130 is used to pick up the levels 116. The handles 144 may thus offer some added resistance to lateral motion of the several levels 116 of the fixture 118 relative to one another.

In use, the several levels 116 of the fixture 118 may be populated with wax models 114 that are in need of treatment. The wax models 114 may be placed on the holders 124 of each of the levels 116. The several levels 116 of the fixture 118 may be stacked by way of the standoffs 126 and the several levels 116 of the fixture 118 may be tied together by slipping the tie 132 through the threadable openings 128 in each level 116 and securing the levels 116 to one another by engaging the tie 132 with the keeper 140. The series of stacked levels 116 may then be placed on a carrier 130 by engaging the sockets 150 on the base 142 of the carrier 130 with the standoff posts 126 and the keeper 140. The carrier 130 may then be lifted using the handles 144 allowing the fixture 118 with its several levels 116 to be dipped into a treatment solution, lifted out of the treatment solution, and otherwise handled to remove the support wax from the wax models 114 and also harden the build wax. Further handling of the several wax models 114 may be provided by the fixture 118 with the carrier 130. Where a multi-level fixture is provided, each fixture level may include a map for tracking of the models on that level and the multi-unit tracking number may be associated with all of the models on the fixture. In other embodiments, a separate tracking number or a variation on the overall tracking number may be provided for each of the levels of the fixture.

Continuing the discussion of the modifications to the system, in some embodiments, one or more of the sprues or sets of sprues used to support the wax model 114 on the tree 100 may be printed with the wax models. In addition to or separate from printing the sprues with the wax models for the purpose of providing tracking numbers, the sprues may be printed with the wax models in an effort to optimize the associated sprue for strategically controlling the flow of metal into the void created when the wax model 114 and wax sprue 112 are melted away in the lost wax process. That is, the rapid prototyping process may allow for higher levels of detail and control to be instituted in the size, shape, arrangement, and/or orientation of the sprues. For example, current sprues are often provided as discussed briefly above, by attaching a wax sprue to the wax model with a heat stake. However, in this process, the shape of the sprue may be relatively standard and may not be particularly adapted for the wax model it is being attached to. That is, the wax sprue may be generally spindle like or it may be slightly tapered, but additional features, shapes, or arrangements to help control the flow of metal in the lost wax process are generally not readily available. As such, where particular flow patterns are desired, an inefficient and time consuming process of trial and error is often used to try various sprue arrangements to get the metal in the lost wax process to effectively flow into the void left by the melted out wax model. These various sprue arrangements may involve using one or more generally stock wax sprues, and/or fragments thereof in assemblies that are tedious and time consuming to create and may result in wasted material through the trial and error process.

In contrast, the rapid prototyping process allows the sprue to be designed ahead of time with substantially any shape that is desired to allow for metal to flow into a void or particular portion thereof and from a particular direction, angle, or other aspect of the part. Generally straight or tapered sprues can be printed. Additionally, curves, slopes, branches, and other shapes and features can be provided by printing the sprue with the rapid prototyping process. In some embodiments, such printed sprues may be printed alone and in other embodiments, such printed sprues may be printed together with an associated wax model.

For example, in some embodiments, one or more of the wax sprues 112 may be tapered. That is, a wax sprue 112 may be wider near the trunk 108 of the tree 100 and narrower near the wax model 114 creating a sort of nozzle effect on the molten metal when it approaches the respective model cavity. Other narrowing or widening optimizations may be provided to control the flow of the molten metal in the lost wax process.

In another example, curved and/or branched sprues may be printed to provide a particular routing of the molten metal. For example, where a jewelry item may be particularly difficult to form by flowing metal into a void from a single point or in a single direction, multiple sprues 112 may be provided or a single sprue 112 may include one or more branches directed toward other portions of a jewelry item. In some embodiments, the one or more branches may be substantially straight and arranged at an angle to a main sprue or the one or more branches may be curved and may extend at an angle to a main sprue. For example, as shown in FIG. 16, a feeder or feeders 152 may be provided to branch off of a sprue 112 and feed a particular portion of a jewelry item that may otherwise be blocked or restricted from free flow of molten metal. In FIG. 16, for example, curved feeders are provided that extend from a main sprue 112 at an angle and curve toward a portion of the wax model that may otherwise be difficult to form if only sprue 112 had been used. That is, wax model 114 includes a relatively thick main portion and two side portions that are set apart from the main portion by a generally necked down area. As such, were sprue 112 used alone, molten metal may not flow into the two side portions effectively. As such, the feeders 152 may allow for a more direct path for the metal to flow into the side portions. Other shapes of wax models and other feeder arrangements may also be used to supply molten metal to all or a portion of a wax model.

In some embodiments, particular portions of the jewelry item may be designed to function as feeders 152. For example, a crest of a ring that is adapted for placement on top of a center stone of a ring may include studs extending from the bottom of the crest for engagement with holes bored in the center stone. As shown in FIG. 17, a wax model 114 of the crest 156 may include wax studs 154. When the wax model 114 of the crest is printed in the rapid prototyping process, a branching sprue may be printed with the wax model leading to the wax studs to act as feeders 152 to the cavity formed by the wax model 114 of the crest 156. Still other arrangements of printed sprues 112 and feeders 152 may be provided during the formation of the wax model to optimize the flow of the molten metal in the lost wax process thereby reducing the number of defects in the lost wax process that may result from unsuitable flow of molten metal that may create voids or imperfections in the resulting metal pieces.

The use of rapid prototyping to print the sprues for formation of the wax models for jewelry items may be advantageous in more suitably creating the sprues because it may allow the sprues to be analyzed before being used in a lost wax process. For example, the upfront modeling of the sprues for use in the rapid prototyping process may allow such an analysis to be performed. For example, a mold flow analysis may be conducted on a modeled sprue to determine its effectiveness at allowing molten metal to flow through its associated pathway and into a cavity created by an associated wax model. This analysis may allow the sprue to be modified or adjusted to more suitably create a flow path for the molten metal while avoiding tedious and time consuming trial and error efforts as well as avoiding wasted material.

Continuing the discussion of the modifications and advantages of the system, in some embodiments, designs that are internal to the jewelry item may be provided by the disclosed system. For example, in the case of a ring having a substantially cylindrical internal surface, designs may be provided on the internal surface thereof. It is noted that designs on the inside of a ring have been provided previously. However, such designs may have been provided previously using an engraver or a laser engraver, for example. Such an approach, however, can be limited by the accessibility of the surface that is being engraved. For example, on the inside of ring, the inner cylindrical surface, with a diameter adapted for placement on a human finger, can be difficult to access with an engraver without approaching the surface at an angle. As such, for example with a laser engraver that engraves in a region surrounding the focal length of the laser, the engraver may be more effective near the edges of the inner surface than it is near the mid-length of the ring causing the engraving to not be uniform in depth, but instead, deeper near the edges and shallower near the mid-length of the ring. Still further, the use of an engraver may limit the portion of the inner surface that the design can be created on. For example, the design may be limited to ⅓ of the inner circumference of the circular ring and as such spiral designs that extend more than 360 degrees around the internal circumferential surface of the ring may be difficult. Still further, the use of a laser may be limited to a generally fixed width and depth. Still further, since the engraving takes place on the finished metal jewelry item, errors or mistakes may cause the jewelry item to be replaced leading to inefficiency, waste, and excess costs.

In some embodiments, the present process may include the creation of internal designs (e.g., on an inward facing surface such as the inside circumferential surface of a ring) on jewelry items. For example, when the wax model 114 is printed on the substrate 80 above, the wax model 114 may include an internal design. In contrast to laser engraved items, the internal design may be created with a wider range of width, depth, shape, and size. That is, the rapid prototyping process may allow most any design with a selected width and depth to be provided on the internal surface of the jewelry item and may not be limited by engraving tool limitations. For example, block recessed letters may be used such as that shown in FIG. 18A, or raised letters set in a recessed area may be created as shown in FIG. 18C. In some embodiments, the full internal circumference of the internal surface of a ring may include designs. In some particular examples, spiraling designs 158 such as that shown in FIG. 18B may be provided that extend greater than 360 degrees along the internal circumferential surface of the ring. In still other embodiments, designs other than text may be provided. For example, pictures, icons, shapes, and designs may be provided. The use of the rapid prototyping process for providing internal designs offers more flexibility and opportunity for creativity than an engraving tool and allows substantially more portions of the jewelry item to be utilized for customization and personalization. For example, designs may now be provided on substantially all of the exterior surfaces, but also all of the internal surfaces.

Continuing the discussion of the modifications and advantages of the system, reference is made to FIG. 19. In this embodiment, a jewelry item may be created using a multi-piece system. The multi-piece system may be implemented at the wax model stage or at the formed metal stage. For example, using the multi-piece system at the wax model stage may include forming a first portion of a wax model for a jewelry item out of wax, forming a second portion of a wax model for a jewelry item out of wax, securing the two portions together, and using the assembled portions in a lost wax process to form a jewelry item. For example, as shown in FIG. 19, a wax model 162 of a ring shank may be formed with a recessed area 164 in the side of the ring. In addition, a wax model side panel or chip 160 may be formed. While not shown, the chip 160 may include personalization and customization such as text, school icons, mascots, sporting designs, music designs, arts designs, and the like. Still other designs may be provided on the chip 160. The chip 160 may be arranged on the side panel of the wax model 162 and secured thereto with an adhesive, for example. In other embodiments, hot wax may be used. Still other methods of securing the chip 160 to the wax model may be provided. The assembled wax model may then be used in a lost wax process to create a metal jewelry item. In some embodiments, the wax model 162 of the ring shank may be made from a mold, while the chip 160 may be created using the rapid prototyping process, for example. This approach may be advantageous where, for example, the wax used in the rapid prototyping process is more expensive than more conventional waxes and may allow a highly personalized customized ring to be created while controlling costs associated with creation of the wax models.

Using the multi-piece system at the formed metal stage may be similar to the approach at the wax model stage. At the formed metal stage, a first portion of a jewelry item may be created, a second portion of a jewelry item may be created, and the two portions may be secured to one another to create a finished jewelry item. In this embodiment, like the wax model stage, separate wax models for the portions of the jewelry item may be created. However, rather than securing the wax models to one another before the lost wax process, the wax models may be put through the lost wax process separately. Once the portions of the jewelry item are created, the portions may be secured to one another, with an adhesive for example, to form the finished jewelry item. This approach may be advantageous because it may provide flexibility regarding the metals used for each of the parts of the jewelry item. In some embodiments, a dual tone ring may be created where different colors of metal, for example, are used for the separate portions of the ring. In other embodiments, varying qualities of metals may be used for different portions of the jewelry item allowing for adjustment to the overall price of the ring. For example, in some embodiments, a relatively inexpensive metal (e.g., illustrium, silver, or stainless steel) may be used for the main shank 162 of the ring, while a more expensive metal (white gold, yellow gold, or platinum) may be used for the side panel or chip 160. Still other metal combinations may be provided to create a ring with an attractive look as well as a cost-effective price.

It should be noted that in both of the listed approaches (i.e., the wax model stage or the formed metal stage) two or more portions of the ring may be created at the wax model stage. That is, while the examples above discuss a first portion and a second portion, third, fourth, fifth, or more portions may also be provided and the multi-piece system is not limited to two portions.

In both of the above multi-piece approaches the wax model of the main shank 162 may include a side panel recess 164 and may be created using a rapid prototyping process or it may be created using a more historical and potentially less expensive process such as an engraved or mold-formed wax blank followed by a lost wax process, for example. Using a previously created mold or engraved wax blank to create wax models may be more cost-effective than using a rapid prototyping process for the shank 162.

The wax model side panel or chip 160 may be a relatively thin, sheet-like panel, having raised or recessed portions creating a design thereon. The panel 160 may be curved to match the contour of the side panel recess 164 and may have a substantially thin thickness ranging from paper or tape-like thickness to 1/16″ thickness, for example. In areas of the design, the thickness may be thinner or thicker accordingly. The overlay panel 160 may be created using the rapid prototyping process and the overlay panel 160 may be sized to fit within the side panel recess 164 of the main shank 162. The overlay panel 160 and the corresponding side panel recess 164 may be sized to extend over a large majority or substantially all of the side surface of a ring, for example, or a smaller area may be covered. In some embodiments, as shown, the shape of the overlay panel 160 may be relatively trapezoidal when viewed from the side of the ring. The top edge may be longer than the bottom edge and the upwardly extending sides may be arcuate and concave with respect to the front and back edges of the ring. While the present embodiment has described the overlay panel 160 as being arranged in a side panel recess, in some embodiments, the recess may be omitted, for example. Moreover, in still other embodiments, the panel 160 may have a different shape and/or be arranged on the bezel, internal surface, or other portion of the ring.

Although the invention has been described with reference to various embodiments, persons skilled in the art will recognize that changes may be made in form and detail without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.