Belgian technology enables automatic diamond cutting

For many years, automatic diamond cutting has remained a holy grain for the industry. A revolutionary technology, developed by the Belgian Scientific and Technical Research Centre for Diamond (WTOCD), finally turns the impossible dream into reality. The first appliance to benefit from the amazing technology is Fenix, a brand new machine that is a godsend for Antwerp’s diamond industry.

The development of the new technology is a milestone for the diamond industry. Yves Kerremans, managing director at WTOCD’s: “Automatic diamond cutting was a holy grail for many years, but it remained technically unfeasible. Semi-automatic diamond cutting did exist, but fully automatic systems remained a distant dream. The new technology is a real breakthrough for the industry.”

Fenix, the brand new cutting machine developed by WTOCD, can cut diamonds independently of the grain. Yves Kerremans: “Every diamond has its grain, a property that defines the most effective direction for cutting. Diamond can only be cut with other diamonds or processed with laser light. When you’re cutting a diamond with another diamond, you have to find the least hard cutting direction for every facet. This takes time and makes the cutting process more complex. If you can cut a diamond in all directions, indepentently of the grain, the proces becomes simpler and faster.”

Cold cutting

A second, even more important aspect of the new technology is the temperature. Yves Kerremans: “Our new technology enables cold cutting. With traditional cutting, the diamond heats up very quickly to a temperature of a few hundred degrees Celsius. The heat is dissipated quickly to the metal holder that clamps the stone. Because the holder expands due to the heat, you can’t measure anything on it without errors. As a consequence, automatic cutting without errors becomes impossible.”

The new technology finally solves the problem. Yves Kerremans: “With the Fenix, the temperature of the diamond does not exceed 30 to 35 degrees Celsius during cutting. That’s an even more important breakthrough than being able to cut diamonds independently of the grain, because measurements on the holder will no longer be faulty. Therefore, you can finally cut diamonds automatically without errors.”

Important time savings

The new machine brings about spectacular time savings. Yves Kerremans: “Thanks to the cold cutting process and the ability to cut diamonds independently of the grain, the Fenix is 10 to 20 times faster then the traditional approach, with perfect results.” Will cutting diamonds in Antwerp using the new technology be economically more viable than it is now? Yves Kerremans: “Automation reduces the impact of labour costs. I expect the Fenix to stop the decline of cutting activities in Antwerp, even reverse it. The machine is not cheap, but it will pay for itself in a relatively short period of time.”

The Fenix can be likened to a robot cutting diamonds. Yves Kerremans: “The technology has been developed and patented by WTOCD. To build the Fenix, we are working together with a machine building company. The Fenix can perform the same movements as a human diamond cutter, who puts the holder with the stone on the cutting wheel and moves the diamond over the wheel. De Fenix executes the same actions, along three linear axes and using two rotations.”

Innovation and return

The new technology highlights the importance of innovation. Yves Kerremans: “Innovation is always the ultimate goal for WTOCD. We’re not interested in reinventing the wheel. If an available solution is fast and accurate enough, we’re not going to reinvent it. But if an existing technology’s speed or accuracy falls short, we see reason enough to embark on a new project.”

For Antwerp, the Fenix can be instrumental in meeting the ever-growing requirements relating to cut diamonds. Yves Kerremans: “Customers increasingly expect triple excellent: perfect proportions, perfect symmetry and perfect polish. You have to be able to cut and evaluate diamonds according to these demands. The Fenix enables you to do that, without the high labour costs that are inherent to conventional cutting on this level.”

Another aspect is the pursuit of the highest return. Yves Kerremans: “Diamond is a very expensive material. The Lesotho Promise, weighing in at 603 carat, yielded no less than 26 flawless diamonds. Without technology, this would be impossible. It takes months to plan the division of such a large stone, using 3D models and dedicated software. But new technology wil not replace the diamond expert. The hardware and software enables you to see the possibilities, but the expertise of connoisseurs remains indispensible to make the right decisions.”

Tools for trade and industry

WTOCD, located in Lier and closely related to the diamond industry in nearby Antwerp, has a strong track record. Yves Kerremans: “We have developed numerous tools for all the players involved in the sector, from industry to trade. That’s our mision. The Avalon Plus is another example of a tool we have developed for the industry. It’s a device that enables a diamond cutter to evaluate the surface of a cut diamond without removing the stone from the holder. The Avalon Plus displays the magnified facets of a diamond on a monitor and indicates the zones where imperfections are still present.”

Other technologies were developed to cater for the diamond trade. Yves Kerremans: “With the M-Screen, a trader can examine a batch of small cut diamonds to see whether or not it contains synthetic stones. The M-Screen examines up to five diamonds per second and automatically picks every stone that might be synthetic. This way, the trader only has to send a small part of the batch to a lab for further examination, saving both money and time.”

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