SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Robert Coppage, owner of Three Pines Fine Jewelry, will use a 3D printer in February to design and produce enough inventory for Valentine’s Day sales.
Coppage and his wife Madeline took over Aylen & Son Jewelers’ location on Main Street in Southwest Harbor in 2017 and have recently rebranded the business. “We wanted to focus more on our work rather than Peter and Judy Aylen’s stuff. We wanted a smoother transition because I was taking over a business that was a staple,” Coppage said.
Before he realized that using a 3D printer could save him time, Coppage made everything by hand. “It takes me about two hours to get 20 to 30 rings of different sizes and caps [for beads] that I can very easily screw up by hand, whereas on a full bed with the 3D printer, I can print 30 to 40 of them, which allows me to do other things,” he said.
Under computer control, a 3D printer can deposit, join and solidify material such as plastics, liquids or powder grains that are fused together, layer by layer. Spools of “filament” made of plastic, metal or even carbon fiber are loaded and spit out on top of each other. “It’s basically like a hot glue gun on an arm that’s controlled, and the products are built up from there,” said Coppage.
About 10 years ago, Coppage bought an FDM (fused deposition modeling) printer for $200, which he said is the most common and cheap 3D printer used to make bigger items with less detail, such as toys. He soon upgraded to a high-quality SLA (stereolithography) printer for his jewelry. The SLA printer uses a light emitter to cure several layers that get coated multiple times with a resin base. “The (SLA) printer hardens each layer of the mold. It goes up, goes back down and hardens, which is the print style that is seen in my advertisements that is more advanced,” Coppage said.
Coppage uses a computer program called Rhino 3D that designs files to print ring bands, ring prongs and other metalware for his jewelry. With its wax injector, the printer makes a vulcanized rubber mold of his designs that is then coated thousands of times with a plaster filament to add structure. He then puts the product in an oven until the wax is completely burned off. Rare elements are then poured into the empty cast, creating a 3D-printed gold or silver item. In the last step of this process, Coppage polishes and finishes the item manually. Depending on the product, he sometimes sets gemstones.
During the winter months, Coppage prints action figures and toys. In late January, he posted on the Facebook group Bar Harbor Barter & Swap to offer his printing services. “If someone wants to get started with 3D printing, I don’t mind helping them. People can either send me a file and I will just print it out for them, or I can make something custom for them,” he said.
Coppage’s work is for sale at his shop on 322 Main St. in Southwest Harbor or by visiting www.threepinesfinejewelry.com.