“With the help of TIC, we invested in HyperCAD/HyperMill CAD/CAM software and a Cybaman six-axis CNC milling machine originally to make patterns for casting silver giftware - on the basis that if it was useful we could use it for the gem set jewellery side of the business too. It's been so good that we're now using it for a new range of diamond set gold bands and bespoke items.'So good in fact that the company has now bought 3 Cybaman machines as new business from bespoke rings and collections goes through the roof. 'We've gone from no diamond set bands collection to having 90 to 100 pieces in just two years,' says Banks.
'That kind of development would have taken a decade before this.” And Kasler adds that while the firm has seen a considerable reduction in the volume of its earlier commodity business, the high value added, semi-bespoke new products have been responsible for “a significant increase in profitability.”
Banks' description of what's now the new product development process is mouth-wateringly sophisticated but uncomplicated. 'Creating a new design is very quick. We work with the customer to design the ring, whether that's different diamond sizes or positions, or styles. Once that's done, we output an STL solid model or IGES file. The STL file goes into OpenMind software for [Hypermill]() which provides the six-axis CAD/CAM we require to create the CNC tool path. Then that goes to the machine to cut the holes from the gold blank. The CAD system also creates all the ring sizes for us just by changing the 'G-Code'.
Cybaman Replicator: “It's cut out a huge amount of work. It means we can go from a new design to a sample in a day and the cost is about £50! ” And hence the transformation to what most of us would generalise as engineer-to-order, as opposed to make-to-order or to-stock manufacturing.
And as for the lean influence, Banks continues: “It's so flexible: there's virtually no set-up time. It takes about one minute to get the machined product off and put a new blank on, press 'go' and run the program.' His enthusiasm is palpable: “The beauty is, we're nowhere near the limits of the system or the machine; we've still got an amazing ability to make more intricate, more interesting designs,” says Banks. 'We could even go further and automate other processes too.” It's all still used for making patterns for Alfred Terry's earlier giftware ranges through the usual route of investment casting, but it's the system's new-found ability for bespoke gold ring design and machining that has brought this business along so far and so fast. Indeed it may well not be long before diamond set band specials become the company's mainstay.