Dec.13, 2013

Researchers at Cornell University have 3D printed a working loudspeaker. Using two of the lab's Fab@Homes 3D printers originally developed at Cornell, a team of graduate mechanical engineering students managed to seamlessly integrate the plastic, conductive and magnetic parts, producing an electronic device ready for use almost as soon as it comes out of the printer.

Graduate student Apoorva Kiran holds a 3-D printed, fully functional loudspeaker. Credit: Jason Koski/University Photography

"Everything is 3-D printed," said graduate student Apoorva Kiran, as he launched a demo by connecting the newly printed mini speaker to amplifier wires. For the demo, the amplifier played a clip from President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech that mentioned 3-D printing. Watch the demo below that assistant professor Hod Lipson explains the process:

A loudspeaker is a relatively simple object, Kiran said: It consists of plastic for the housing, a conductive coil and a magnet. The challenge is coming up with a design and the exact materials that can be co-fabricated into a functional shape.

But it will be a while before consumers are printing electronics at home, said Lipson. Because most printers cannot efficiently handle multiple materials, and it's also difficult to find mutually compatible materials – for example, conductive copper and plastic coming out of the same printer require different temperatures and curing times.

Apoorva Kiran observes the 3-D printer's progress. Credit: Jason Koski/University Photography

The lab's Fab@Homes is a customizable research 3D printer that allows scientists to tinker with different cartridges, control software and other parameters. For the conductor, Kiran used a silver ink. For the magnet, he employed the help of Samanvaya Srivastava, graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering, to come up with a viscous blend of strontium ferrite.

This is another small step towards 3D printing whole systems at once. "It's a little bit like a color printer," Lipson explained. "With multi-material 3D printing we'll be able to combine lots of different materials to create new things, new functionalities, and new material properties we haven't seen before."

Creating a market for printed electronic devices, Lipson added, could be like introducing color printers after only black and white had existed. "It opens up a whole new space that makes the old look primitive," he said.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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