When it comes to 3D printing, jewelry and watchmaking are typically the realm of vat photopolymerization systems due to the very fine features involved. For that reason, laser powder bed fusion (PBF) is usually only used when some specialty micro-PBF technique has been developed, though traditional PBF use cases are not unheard of. However, AddUp, a joint venture between Michelin and Fives, is now working with Swiss watchmaker Kif Parechoc to use laser PBF to produce its parts.
The partnership has begun first with the 3D printing of a watch clasp, a standard feature that could be enhanced with additive manufacturing. The clasp was 3D printed from a 316L stainless steel with a low carbon content, chosen for its mechanical properties and corrosion resistance. Maria Averyanova, head of luxury market development at AddUp, spoke to the material’s benefits:
“This material, commonly used in the field of watch creation, is known for its good mechanical properties as well as its high resistance to corrosion, two essential elements in the making of a watch. From an aesthetic point of view, 316L steel does not lose its shine or tarnish over time, and it has the added advantage of being fully recyclable.”
To apply the advantages of additive to watchmaking, the partners combined multiple parts into a single 3D printed unit. “On the watch clasp, we have reduced the number of components to be assembled by a factor of two compared to equivalent products made using conventional techniques,” said Yoann Canon, industrial director of Kif Parechoc. Kif Parechoc is then applying its own surface treatments to the 3D printed parts.
AddUp claims that the fine grain size of the metal powders processed by its new FormUp 350 machine makes it possible to 3D print parts without support structures and while reducing overall surface roughness. Such capabilities are rare in the market. The only company known to 3D print metal parts with limited supports is the now-publicly traded VELO3D, which combines tight control over 3D printing variables with simulation software to achieve components without the need for such structures. AddUp is suggesting that similar capabilities can be achieved with fine powder alone.
“For this project, we started with a classic product but integrated new aspects, such as lattice structures, organic shapes and recessed markings,” said Yoann Canon. “We are now working on the development of new post-treatment processes, adapted to the requirements of our industry and our production volumes. At each stage of this project, AddUp was eager to collaborate. Between their mastery of the printing process and our knowledge of the products or their industrialization and our finishing operations, our companies complimented each other well.”
Kif Parechoc is not showing us what the resulting clasp looks like, likely for reasons of IP protection, but, if it really does demonstrate significant benefits over traditional manufacturing techniques, we may see increased adoption of additive in watchmaking and similar areas. AddUp highlighted the aforementioned advantages of its PBF technology as they apply to the world of watchmaking and micromechanics. The company believes that the microtechnology and micromechanics sectors will see a new array of applications for metal 3D printing due to the precision and surface finish possible with AddUp equipment.
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