JCK Spotlights: LaserStar Technologies & TechForm Advanced Casting

Custom jewelry designed and laser assembled.

Custom jewelry designed and laser assembled.

LaserStar Technologies

According to LaserStar Technologies Corporation, 10 years ago a laser welder was considered a luxury in the jewelry industry. Nowadays, it is a necessity.

It comes down to helping jewelers save time and money while still ensuring the highest-quality product. That’s what LaserStar aims to do for the jewelry industry, and it has already revolutionized the way jewelers can design and repair pieces.

LaserStar will be making its JCK Tucson debut in the MJSA Pavilion, ready to educate and unveil new technology. We chatted with Communications Director Gail Farias to learn a little bit more about the workings of the company and how it is affecting today’s ever-changing jewelry industry.

Why are you excited to be a part of JCK Tucson this year?

It has been a while since we’ve done a jewelry show in this part of the country. It will be nice to visit Tucson again, and we look forward to seeing friends both old and new. We have new machinery that we will be unveiling at the show and look forward to showing off our new technology at this event. It will be our first show with this machinery that was designed with the jewelry industry in mind. We’re also hoping the attendees are there and planning to buy capital equipment to help improve their business model.

Describe some of the services that LaserStar offers to jewelers.

Laser welding systems for jewelry repair and design. Laser marking and engraving on precious alloys for serialization, personalization, and design. Our advanced laser engraving systems now have the ability to create deep engravings with our proprietary StarFX Laser Engraving Software. We’re seeing great results in 2D and 3D engravings on precious metals which is exciting. Laser cutting of thin metals for monogram and name necklaces as well as designs for necklaces, pendants, bracelets, earrings, etc.

Also laser education is a big part of our business. We believe that education is key to success and promote this in the jewelry industry. We have both on-site training and classes available at any of our three LaserStar centers in Rhode Island, Florida, and California. We also have international strategic partners for other parts of the world. We continue to hold Advanced Workshops for our customers so they can keep learning even years after they originally buy their machines.

How important is the relationship between jewelry and technology in today’s industry?

We are a technology company, so technology is important to us in every industry. However, the jewelry industry has seen many changes in technology over the years. Laser technology is just one of the changes, but it has been a big one. Lasers can provide a new profit center to jewelry retailers—whether it’s a new repair center for fixing jewelry or a new line of custom laser-engraved rings being brought to market. Also lasers can do things faster, more economically, and more accurately than older technologies, which helps in the manufacturing process. We believe that lasers have become a necessity in the jewelry industry for many companies to stay competitive in business. The higher production efficiencies offer capabilities that help manufacturers survive against the lower priced items coming from off-shore. We also have seen many older companies that do not want to embrace technology retiring and the younger generations that do are making a solid business impact.

Where do you see the company five to 10 years from now?

Our company is constantly evolving as technology changes. We’ve been working with the jewelry industry for 60 years, and a lot has changed in that time. When we started selling laser systems to jewelers, we had just one line of laser welders. Fast-forward to today and we have several different welding models and platforms. We also have a very robust line of laser engraving and laser cutting machines.

We continue to manufacture our laser products in many industries as well as the jewelry industry. Anyone who has a use for welding, engraving, or cutting metals can take advantage of laser technology. We also continue to manufacture all of our products in the USA, which gives us an advantage over other laser companies that import their machines from other countries.

We have grown from a laser welding company to a laser technology company. We like to refer to ourselves as a laser solution provider. If you have a material processing problem we are here to provide you with a solution. We would love to see jewelers turn to us as a technology leader and education partner. We consider ourselves The Laser Experts and we love to share our knowledge. It is one of the other things that sets us apart from other companies.

We look forward to seeing everyone in Tucson in Booth No. 908.

Custom ring engraving with a FiberStar Laser Engraving System

Custom ring engraving with a FiberStar Laser Engraving System.

TechForm Advanced Casting

TechForm first entered the jewelry world in 1994 by “pure serendipity,” as company president Teresa Frye puts it. It all started when a representative from Heraeus Precious Metals reached out to the firm after hearing it was casting medical and aerospace components using a jewelry-casting machine. According to Frye, the rep came with a pocketful of platinum and the castings turned out beautifully. Fate took over from there. TechForm launched into the jewelry industry after the representative brought them along to the Santa Fe Symposium, and now they are all in with platinum-group metal casting.

This year TechForm will be joining us in JCK Tucson, also making its debut in the MJSA Pavilion. Frye took some time to share with us why the company is excited to attend, and she dug deep into the industry, TechForm’s casting process, and where she sees the company headed in the future.

What are you most excited about for JCK Tucson?

I was very enticed by the idea of a custom-manufacturing element at the show, combining the expertise of MJSA member companies with retailers that serve the custom consumer. I believe there is great synergy in bringing together manufacturers and retailers in an intimate setting such as JCK Tucson, where discussions can explore present technologies and future opportunities for growth in a very interesting and rapidly changing sector of our industry.

What does TechForm bring to the MJSA Pavilion that will help make this year’s show unique?

We are affectionately referred to as “the science geeks” of platinum casting, but our knowledge also applies to other metals including gold, silver, and even stainless steel. We hope to serve attendees with a heaping plate of knowledge that will not only give valuable scientific context to their future work with castings, but also help their businesses thrive through understanding advanced technological options and the benefit that superior-quality cast mountings bring to their bottom line.

What kind of impact does TechForm have on the jewelry industry today?

Aside from providing aerospace-quality platinum castings to the jewelry industry, TechForm has published a great deal of research on manufacturing methods and casting behaviors for a wide variety of platinum-group metal alloys. Our research has gone far to assist casters worldwide in embracing the challenges of casting with platinum. Prior to our work, little in the way of scientific studies had been published on the platinum casting process, and we sought to fill that void by sharing our results in a number of groundbreaking studies that were published through the Santa Fe Symposium. We are confident that our research has helped platinum as a brand by increasing the ease of manufacturing in the most challenging of metals.

TechForm also hosts the annual Portland Jewelry Symposium, an educational conference tailored to the needs of designers and manufacturing retail jewelers. Unlike trade shows, the symposium is more educational in format than commercial, with a full day of presentations on topics ranging from business to technology to bench.  It really is a unique environment for learning and networking with other like-minded individuals who place emphasis on the custom-jewelry market as well as designer lines.

What is it exactly that sets your casting process apart from others in the field?

Put simply, our background in quality-critical industries such as medical and aerospace led us to a process that is quite different from standard jewelry casting operations. We are fairly obsessed with the internal quality of the cast piece because typical density requirements for medical and aerospace components are in the 99.9 percent range. When we decide how to cast a piece, we are visualizing not only an optimal surface finish but a pristine interior density as well.

Can you briefly describe this process for us?

We use a ceramic-shell investing system versus a standard solid-mold method used by most jewelers. We also employ a post-casting densification process called hot isostatic pressing, or HIP, as a means to eliminate and/or minimize subsurface porosity.  Overarching all of this is a highly engineered, tightly controlled, and well-documented manufacturing process. Such controls are required in the medical and aerospace industries, but strictly voluntary in the jewelry industry.  We consider such controls necessary to maintain consistent quality, and we believe any added costs of maintaining the system are more than rewarded in the quality of the final product.

You have been offering your casting services for over 20 years; where do you see TechForm headed in the next five or 10 years?

I see us as continuing to grow, particularly with the high-end design houses and custom jewelry. All jewelers must seek to minimize the amount of human labor they employ in the production of handcrafted designs, and therefore quality of the metal plays a strong role in that equation.  Technology in the casting process also plays a role, and we have always remained at the forefront of the market in this regard.  For example, if a new machine or novel process is identified by one of the TechForm staff, I ask two questions:  Will this increase quality, or will it reduce touch time?  If the answer to either of those questions is yes, we will move forward, so long as we can determine that the return on investment is there.

Within the next five to 10 years I also think we will see 3D metal printing slowly creeping in as a viable technology at TechForm. At present it is far too costly for platinum (low return on investment), and the metallurgical quality of the product still needs further improvement. Having said that, we are keeping a very close eye on the advancements and will surely be among the early adopters once it makes economic sense and produces a product that is equal or superior to cast product.

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