Motorola looks to 3D printing for user-customized smartphones

Motorola inks deal with 3D Systems to supply parts made using 3D printing for user-customized smartphone

Motorola Mobility is tapping into 3D printing as a way to make parts for user-customized smartphones, a concept being chased by the company under an initiative called Project Ara.

Motorola has signed a deal with 3D Systems, which will use 3D printing to make smartphone enclosures and other modules for the highly modular smartphones. 3D Systems, which makes custom parts using 3D printing, did not respond to a request for comment on the other parts it will supply.

With Project Ara, Motorola hopes to provide a configurable smartphone in which users can add desired features by simply attaching modular parts. A skeleton frame of the phone will be provided, after which Lego-like blocks with different features can be attached or swapped out. For example, users will be able swap out a wireless antenna with a battery for longer run time.

The user-customized smartphone is still mostly just a concept; Motorola has not said when it would be released. Motorola has partnered with Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, who envisioned the open-hardware smartphone platform and called it Phonebloks.

3D printing involves taking a plastic filament, melting it and spitting it out -- much like an inkjet printer -- to make parts. That will be useful for cases, enclosures and perhaps printed circuit boards, but not for electronics, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"It's great if you want a phone case the shape of New York City, and someone will be willing to pay for it," Gold said.

Making chips with complex circuitry or batteries with chemicals requires wires, metals and liquids, which calls for an array of advanced manufacturing technologies.

But bringing 3D printing technology to Project Ara is cool, Gold said. It points to a future where off-the-shelf products may go out of vogue in favor of highly customized products.

"But the technology is not there yet," Gold 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

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags consumer electronicsMotorola Mobility3D Systems

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



Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >

Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?