It’s been over six months since I contributed a post to The Studio, and our blog editor recently asked for “something cool” from manufacturing. “Something cool in manufacturing?” I asked. “Manufacturing is cool—what are you talking about?”

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I had never been to Chicago before so I had to take the touristy photos like this one off the Navy Pier at sunset.

But seriously, I found it pretty awesome that Rio sent me to IMTS in Chicago in September. Actually, awesome may not be a strong enough word—I was totally stoked and speechless at the opportunity to go! What’s IMTS, you ask? The International Manufacturing Technology Show, of course! It’s a manufacturer’s dream! Eddie Bell, a couple of engineers, findings developers, a fabrication guru, and a couple of machine operators from Rio were also there. We all roamed around the McCormick Plaza like a bunch of gearheads in a car shop, a bunch of techies in the Apple store, a bunch of tool people drooling over the latest in every kind of technology—plasma welding, hydroforming, automated production systems, gear generations, three-dimensional printing on a massive scale—the list goes on and on!

What’s all this have to do with jewelry, you ask? Well, there’s our mass production of sterling silver beads (made here at Rio by yours truly), or the millions of jump rings also made here at Rio (by my teammates), or the millions of ear wires made by machines that were actually conceived here at Rio! That’s some manufacturing for ya!

Needless to say, the show was everything I’d hoped for and more. One of the best things I saw was this GIANT crankshaft! Every car engine has one, but those average around two feet long at most. Can you imagine the size of the engine this bad boy runs? Think mining bulldozer—you know the ones with the tires taller than a pick-up truck!

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A gigantic crankshaft (thrilling for a gearhead like me!)

We spent a lot of time in the Abrasive Machining, Sawing and Finishing Pavilion where we got some new ideas for our mass finishing methods. We’ve already started to put some of these ideas into play here at Rio by increasing our use of ultrasonic technology. We’ve been using ultrasonics forever, but now we’re taking it to an even larger scale.

Speaking of sawing, check out the cutting-edge technology from this GenSwiss cutting tool. It actually has coolant running through the cutting edge. Brilliant! Currently, we have to shoot it out ourselves when we’re making jump rings.


This GenSwiss tool pours out coolant like a fountain. This could be a real time saver!

My teammate, Joshua, and I were awed by this humungous vibratory finisher that allows media to fall through a screen making it easier to separate out parts. Of course, most of our jewelry parts are too small, but wouldn’t it be great if we could make this work?

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“How’s this for a vibratory bowl?!” thinks Joshua (right).

For the most part, the IMTS show was a “Candyland” experience for us gearheads. Joshua and I had never been to a trade show of this magnitude before. (Wear comfortable shoes!) It was an eye-opening and inspiring week. Most of this technology doesn’t really apply to jewelry, but so what! The creative challenge now is to find ways to make these options work to our advantage in jewelry making. This stuff was just too COOL!


You don’t see one of these old Packards every day!


“Do or do not, there is no try” (had to send this photo to my sister!). 3D CAD/CAM software is so nifty!

And as an interesting side note: Here in Albuquerque, hot air balloons are a common sight because we host the world’s premier balloon event, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We’re pretty much a mecca for balloonists. But I certainly didn’t expect to see a hot air balloon in Chicago, tethered on the lawn of McCormick Plaza to celebrate the IMTS show! A month after the show, I saw the very same balloon at the Balloon Fiesta. How about that?! I find connections everywhere. . .


Left: The IMTS Balloon right in the center of Chicago’s urban density. Right: The same balloon at the Balloon Fiesta with our beautiful Sandia mountains in the distance!