Menu
Project Ara module maker explores 'conductive ink'

Project Ara module maker explores 'conductive ink'

3D Systems is developing conductive ink for Project Ara's modular blocks, and also fine-tuning its manufacturing process

An ambitious new initiative from Motorola known as Project Ara may signal a pivot towards true device customization.

An ambitious new initiative from Motorola known as Project Ara may signal a pivot towards true device customization.

3D Systems, the company that will print the modules for Google's Project Ara smartphone, is exploring conductive ink as a way to create circuitry for the devices.

Ara is Google's attempt to turn smartphone manufacturing on its head and come up with a new type of device that users will be able to upgrade easily after they buy it, using 3D-printed parts.

The phone has a basic exoskeleton, and components like the camera, battery and memory are housed in plastic modules that snap onto the back. A user who wants new memory or a better camera, for instance, could order a new module and swap out the original.

3D Systems was enlisted by Google to print the modules, and this week it said it was working with Carnegie Mellon University to develop conductive ink, which can be used to print electrical circuits. It hopes to use the ink for components such as antennas, it said in a blog post.

Conductive inks are typically liquid metal and can carry an electric current. Microsoft is also researching the technology, and has shown how a silver nanoparticle ink can be used to print circuit boards with a conventional inkjet printer.

3D Systems is also working to strengthen the materials and improve both "aesthetic and functional features." It will be able to print modules in "full spectrum, CMYKWT color" -- meaning cyan, magenta, yellow, black, white and clear -- in hard and soft materials for "the optimum lifespan of parts and ultimate customization by the user."

3D Systems has said it expects to start mass producing parts for the US$50 smartphones later this year, in preparation for the devices to ship early next year.

3D printers have been used to make all kinds of objects, but their use in mass manufacturing is relatively new. So 3D Systems is having to come up with a faster, more efficient production process as well.

"To bring the modular cell phone experience to the market by the anticipated 2015, we are creating a continuous, high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfillment system to accommodate production-level speeds and volume," it said in its blog post.

It's doing away with the existing "reciprocating platform" method, which requires the print head to constantly speed up and slow down, and developing a new "racetrack" architecture.

"For more productive print rates (of millions and hopefully billions of units), we're creating a continuous motion system around a racetrack architecture that will allow the module shells to move in a continuous flow, with additional 'off ramps' for various finishing steps, including inserts and other module manipulations," it said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com


Follow Us

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags smartphonesGoogleconsumer electronics3D Systems

Featured

Slideshows

EDGE 2018: Kiwis kick back with Super Rugby before NZ session

EDGE 2018: Kiwis kick back with Super Rugby before NZ session

New Zealanders kick-started EDGE 2018 with a bout of Super Rugby before a dedicated New Zealand session, in front of more than 50 partners, vendors and distributors on Hamilton Island.‚Äč

EDGE 2018: Kiwis kick back with Super Rugby before NZ session
EDGE 2018: Kiwis assess key customer priorities through NZ research

EDGE 2018: Kiwis assess key customer priorities through NZ research

EDGE 2018 kicked off with a dedicated New Zealand track, highlighting the key customer priorities across the local market, in association with Dell EMC. Delivered through EDGE Research - leveraging Kiwi data through Tech Research Asia - more than 50 partners, vendors and distributors combined during an interactive session to assess the changing spending patterns of the end-user and the subsequent impact to the channel.

EDGE 2018: Kiwis assess key customer priorities through NZ research
Show Comments