London metal 3D printing company Betatype, which was founded in 2012, provides functional 3D printed components to customers in a variety of industries, including aerospace, industrial motor sports, and consumer. Recently, the company was involved in the design and development of an innovative watch strap for luxury watch manufacturer Uniform Wares. The two collaborated to make a unique, woven strap out of 3D printed T5 titanium alloy, which is a complement to the newly launched PreciDrive M-Line watch collection.
“While we are always taking prompts from heritage and traditional processes in the watch and other industries, we also like to push things forward,” Michael Carr, the Creative Director at Uniform Wares, said in a Betatype case study about the technical side of this collaboration.
Uniform Wares set out to build a brand that embodies character and distinction through intelligent design, which resulted in a new breed of premium contemporary timepieces. In the company’s drive to continually embrace innovative technology and new materials, it began working with Betatype.
Previously, Uniform Wares had used more conventional manufacturing methods to make a mesh bracelet. But Betatype helped the company 3D print the ‘woven’ mesh bracelets in any texture or grain, which used less material and made the process simpler.
“We used a huge, cumbersome machine to weave steel cable into the mesh pattern, which we then had to cut to size and weld working parts onto it,” Carr explained.
“We were already using 3D printing to develop plastic – and some metal – prototypes, so when Betatype explained that they could help us to achieve more accurate and intricate designs [with 3D printing as the production method], we were interested.
“The idea that Betatype was using a new technology that would mean less waste and new materials was hugely appealing. We also liked that they were London-based and could produce the bracelets locally.”
The resulting 3D printed watch strap, made of 4,000 interlocking links, is made using laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) technology and is strong, yet lightweight it almost feels like fabric. Because the links are asymmetric, each side of the strap has a differing bend radius, which makes it easy to fit over the the wearer’s hand but flexible enough to secure around their wrist.
The 3D printed watch strap, weighing in at 10.5 grams, so has a new kind of directional clasp design, which has integrated microscopic teeth inside that interlock with the weave itself. This design element, which could only be economically achieved with 3D printing, makes it possible to make very fine adjustments, while still ensuring a secure hold and easy removal.
“Every element of the [watch] bracelet has been engineered exactly as it needs to work. The radius at which it curves, the flexibility and stiffness at each point – every link incorporates fine adjustments. It represents bespoke engineering at every point,” said Carr.
Betatype and Uniform Wares worked together to create a design for additive manufacturing (DfAM), which allowed them to blend 3D printing with the brand’s aesthetic requirements. By using Betatype’s optimized LPBF process to manufacture the T5 titanium strap, little to no waste was produced, as the method uses the least amount of material possible.
The company exerted greater geometric control over the 3D printing process by applying its unique multi-scale approach, which enabled the company to achieve the right feel, look, and strength for the watch strap design. Betatype can control, down to the micron, the laser’s scan path, exposure settings, and material microstructure for each individual link to get the best mechanical performance and fit.
In addition, Uniform Wares can now also streamline ordering and won’t need to request thousands of straps five months in advance.
Carr said, “We can now place an order for 60 pieces and they can have them ready in under a week; this is a real gamechanger for us.”
Fabrication and finishing for the T5 titanium strap is completed at Betatype’s East London design and manufacturing facility.
Uniform Wares and Betatype are already discussing additional collaborative projects for the future.
“We plan to incorporate what we’ve learned into other aspects of our products. Whatever we decide to do next, we’ll start with the design based on the knowledge of the additive process,” said Carr.
The 3D printed T5 titanium alloy watch strap will be available in a natural matte finish, with selected references from Uniform Wares’ new PreciDrive collection. It will cost £250 to purchase the strap on its own, while the M-Line watches with the titanium strap will be available for £500-£800, sold via the company’s website and select retailers, which include Nordstrom and Mr. Porter.
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