A leading and historic producer of ceramic tiles, Craven Dunnill Jackfield is using new technologies including 3D scanning to boost production without compromising on its long-held traditions.
Craven Dunnill Jackfield, one of the most prestigious tile producers and manufacturers worldwide. Contemporary projects for the firm include ambitious restorations at the Houses of Parliament in London, as well as its Australian equivalent. Other work include decorations seen at Harrods Food Halls and at over 60 London Underground stations.
The introduction of new technology into the workflows of a company that has been employing traditional methods for centuries might have raised concerns for workers and customers. Instead, Craven Dunnill Jackfield stands as a glorious example of what happens when you successfully marry technology and craft, modernity and tradition.
The first piece of equipment that Jed Hammerman, the companies’ technical lead, introduced was the 3D scanner. This was particularly convenient for restoration projects. Previously, clients were forced to remove tiles and send them to the factory to be restored. Now, the team can visit the site in person and scan those tiles that need restoring.
The team selected a handheld scanner that can be easily transported and manoeuvred on scaffolding, while providing high resolution and accuracy. Once tiles have been scanned, they are imported into CAD for a design phase. At this stage, the project is passed to a modeller, who will intervene manually to create the initial mould, using the organic lines typical of handmade production.
Creating moulds this way is much faster. A mould maker only needs to create half of the mould, which is then 3D scanned and mirrored in CAD, before CAM programming software is used to create toolpaths for the CNC mill. This offers a couple of key advantages. First, jobs can be completed overnight, as there is no need for workers to supervise the machine. Second, it allows the team to produce everything inhouse, instead of commissioning external mould makers.
Working with 3D scanning and producing the moulds with a CNC machine also reduces the margin of error that results when producing pieces entirely by hand. In this way, significant time and material waste are saved. “After I’ve redesigned something, we can just cast it and we know it’s going to be right. No one has to measure anything. No one has to even look at it,” says Hammerman, picking up a small rectangular tile.
Moulds, for example, were previously created by hand by artisans. With production levels being so high, they would often make a single mould for each project. In short, there were no spares. Now moulds can be 3D scanned redesigned in CAD. So, if a mould breaks or gets damaged again, the project is saved on a hard drive and can be milled as many times as needed.
By building this database and adding digital technologies to the workflow, Craven Dunnill Jackfield has been able to scale its business, shifting from being a symbol of the first industrial revolution to embracing the technologies that are defining the fourth.
(Adapted from an original 3D Develop article.)