Dec 27, 2014

If you've heard about Project Ara, you might know that Google plans to release this first modular smartphone in January 2015, which will allow users to personalize their own device via miniature components and 3D printing.

Project Ara was originally announced last year. According to 3D Systems, Google took a quick move by signing a deal with the company in February 2014 to create a continuous high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfilment system in support of Project Ara. The next generation 3D printer is capable of printing enclosures for Ara modules in volume. It will be able to print 600-dpi color images on module enclosures made out of multiple types of materials. 3D Systems also claims that the printer is about 50 times faster than current additive manufacturing machines on the market.

However it seems that 3D Systems' continuous high-speed fab-grade printer will no longer be used as part of Ara's initial debut.

During an interview with Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, Paul Eremenko, head of Project Ara, indicated that 3D Systems' "racetrack" 3D printer isn't ready for creating the shells in large volume that meet Project Ara's standards.

"We did in fact look at making the shells using 3D printed materials that offer an extra degree of customization," explained Eremenko. "As it turned out, there is a little ways to go in the 3D printing space. So for now we are using polycarbonate with dye sublimation as the aesthetic elements of the device."

Despite his lack of enthusiasm to use 3D printing for Project Ara for the time being, Eremenko is still positive about 3D printing's "exciting prospects":

"I do think that 3D printing offers some really exciting prospects and I think the costs in the long run will diminish as it gets to maturity in scale," stated Eremenko. "That strikes me as an industrial-based domain that will follow something very close to Moore's law in terms of advances. So I am not too concerned about the long term costs of 3D printing, and the capabilities are pretty staggering."

Eremenko believes that 3D printing may eventually be used for all smartphone customization:

"One of the things we have looked at doing was embedding the antenna in the shell, and creating the antenna custom from shell to shell using conductive ink layers," Eremenko said. It is a very exciting technology and one day I think it will be pretty cool if you could have a machine that is a combination of Additive and Subtractive manufacturing […] It will be pretty cool to have a machine that you can say, 'Here's the phone I want, here's the features I want,' and it just makes the phone, and I do think that day will come."

According to Stacey Witten, 3D Systems' vice president of investor relations, 3D Systems' 3D-printing racetrack platform was already in development before working with Google on Project Ara. If Google decided not to use its racetrack platform for Project Ara, the 3D printing company will continue to bring the platform to the market and they believe the new system could generate revenue already in 2015.

In the video below, Eremenko discusses their ambitions and explains his reasoning why 3D printing is not used for Project Ara for the time being. The relevant segment starts at around 56:20.


Posted in 3D Printing Company


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Pieter wrote at 12/27/2014 3:28:23 PM:

Yet another situation where 3d systems reality cannot meet their own hype.

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