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Commentary: The Business

Matthew Gross: CAD Can-Do



Jeweler Matthew Gross recounts how he became a CAD-CAM convert.IT ALL STARTED IN 2005 with a lecture at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI. A friend of mine, Prof. Phil Carrizzi, asked me to speak at Career Day for the college's jewelry department. 
This was not the first lecture I had done, so I was prepared with a speech and a lot of slides. My presentation emphasized the importance of creating a strong design portfolio, the need to master your skills, and the importance of hand drawing. I went on to tell the students it was better to hand make jewelry than to use a computer because customers would like it more.  
In short, I was telling them that CAD (computer-aided design) and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) were inferior.  
The lecture went as expected and ended with the usual questions: How long did it take to make that piece? How much money did you make on it? And so on. 
After the lecture, Prof. Carrizzi invited me to tour the school's new lab. As we entered the room, the first thing I noticed was the milling machines and about eight computers with students working at them.  
I was amazed that these students were designing jewelry on a computer screen. Functionally the pieces would not work. But give them a year or two, I thought, and they would understand the mechanics of making a piece of jewelry.  
It also struck me that if I didn't get into this, I would soon be making a living giving jewelry demonstrations at a museum.  
The next day I went to my local supplier, CR Hill Company, and spoke with one of the owners. I asked about CAD technology and he gave me an evaluation copy of some software and suggested I look up the website Click here, which contains 25 free lessons on modeling jewelry in Rhino. Being the obsessive-compulsive person that I am, I went straight home and loaded it onto my computer. Up to this point, the extent of my computer knowledge was checking e-mail and playing video games.  
I opened the program and was struck by the impulse to try to build something, although I was also overwhelmed by all those buttons. It took me about two hours to get through that first tutorial but I was having a great time.  
I still clearly remember the first thing I made in Rhino. It was lesson No. 1, a four-prong peg head. I was so proud of that head. I saved it and sent a picture of it to everyone on my e-mail list.  
Fast forward about six months, and a lot more gray hairs. I had averaged about four hours a day learning to master Rhino, spending countless hours on open forums on the Internet asking questions like: Why do I have these naked edges?  
After I felt comfortable with my drawing skills, I decided to speed up the modeling process and ordered a plug-in for Rhino called Matrix by Gemvision. Using Matrix with Rhino was like trading up from a pushbike to a motorcycle. Gemvision has all the tools that are needed to make jewelry in CAD. 
The next step was to have my first model built. Initially I had felt I needed to get into CAD to help my customers visualize the design better. I had no intention of using it to build jewelry.  
However, at this point, making the jewelry seemed to be the logical next step. After the model was completed, I was blown away. It was perfect; the finish, the proportions, everything. This presented a new challenge for me: “Get a mill!” 
I jumped into the car and headed over to CR Hill again. My friend showed me a small desktop mill called the Roland JWX10 and urged me to try it out.  
So, once again, we were back to the bottom of the learning curve. I didn't even know how to turn this thing on.  
Fast forward another three months and I was facing the agonizing decision of which mill to buy: Roland, Revo, Minitech or Model Master. I decided on the Roland MDX40 with the Protowizard software and fixtures.  
At this point I still was not getting the quality models that I was used to, but I believed it was just a matter of tweaking the mill and mastering that scary word, “calibration.”  
One week later, with a lot less money in my bank account, my mill arrived. It was very exciting. Technology wise, my studio had grown from a 256K computer to two high-speed desktops, one laptop and now a CNC mill.  
I immediately set my mill up and hoped to have three models done before day's end. All the models were awful. None were usable, and I was very frustrated.  
In the months that followed I would spend countless hours on Internet forums and in one-on-one conversations with Protowizard, asking questions and comparing problems and solving calibration issues.  
After about five months, I had overcome my last calibration issue. Meanwhile, I was becoming an on-line expert on the forums, answering modeling and milling questions.  
At that point my friend at CR Hill asked me if I was interested in doing some training to support the sale of his Roland machines.  
It seemed like a good idea: I could make some extra money and meet interesting people.  
Unfortunately, the training began evolving into something of a part-time business that was taking time away from what I loved — jewelry making. To be sure, the money from the training was good — $1,500 per day plus expenses, and there was no shortage of students because of the success the users were having.  
The solution to my bind was to put my knowledge on a 5-1/2-hour training DVD. It took three months with the help of my step- brother to organize all of my notes and videos to create the DVD and a website. The DVD is now sold all over the world and it gives me a great feeling of accomplishment to know it's helping people. 
After a long two years of reinventing how I run my business, I have a great tool that can increase the quantity and quality of my jewelry making.  
Plus, the best part is, I can now do what I love full time — jewelry making.  
— Matthew Gross owns MHG Jewelry Studio in Berkley, MI. E-mail him at [email protected] 
URL: Click here

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