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

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags consumer electronicsGooglesmartphones3D Systems

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?