The audio-visual equipment industry is a large and growing industry that provides an excellent opportunity for the 3D printing industry. A graph illustrating the industry growth is presented below. In numerous industries, audio and visual equipment are used regularly and require replacement. Some items that can be 3D printed include speakers, headphone stands, mixer knobs and switches, lens caps, lens hoods, glide cams, etc. 3D printing is a popular and practical solution for creating new and for producing a myriad of audio visual accessories. In the U.S., research and development tax credits are available to support audio visual innovations.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- New or improved products, processes, or software
- Technological in nature
- Elimination of uncertainty
- Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.
The A/V industry continues to achieve meaningful year over year growth as projected below:
Crestron electronics is a leading electronics and audio/visual product manufacturing company that is at the forefront of technological innovations for numerous industries, including audio and visual equipment for distribution. Crestron is one of the few companies to retain their motherboard manufacturing, and other products in the United States, instead of outsourcing their production. The company’s innovative nature led them to build a dedicated R&D center located at Rockleigh, New Jersey, equipped with an industrial 3D printer for prototyping and a RF Chamber. Without a doubt, Crestron is a pioneer when it comes to top-of-the-line audio/visual equipment.
Creator KontinuumLAB designed a 3D printed glide cam and uploaded it to3D printing community Thingiverse. Thingiverse is a website that encourages designs on an open-source platform for anyone to use. As the designer notes, “A glidecam is a hand-held camera stabilizer, which, through a 3 axis gimbal and a counter weight system, separates the movements of the camera operator from those of the camera, providing smoother motion for the viewer.” KontinuumLAB had to design the camera carriage, 3-axis gimbal and a handle sturdy enough to carry the weight of the device. KontinuumLAB says the whole prototype is surprisingly effective, but there are still some problems with the central gimbal assembly. This glide cam prototype is a remarkable example of what 3D printing can do in the audio/video industry.
Thingiverse has provided people with access to a wide range of CAD models capable of being 3D printed. Many music producers use sound boards to create music and fader knobs may need to be replaced. Thingiverse has a wide range of items that can help creators, such as headphone stands, cable holders, custom mixer knobs, custom faders, and even a small sound board. Thingiverse is a great website for anyone who likes to 3D print and is interested in creating things instead of buying things.
The Aleph1 is a 3D printed speaker concept that explores the potential in the audio industry. By forgoing traditional manufacturing, additive manufacturing allows for new designs that considerably affect the sound quality of the speaker. The speaker prototype was printed by Stratasys on a Connex series 3D printer that can use several different materials on a single part and can print layers 16 microns thick, producing an ultra-smooth surface. The speaker consists of a ridged interior which promotes acoustic reflections, flexible core that neutralizes cabinet response, and an outer layer that provides structural integrity to the speaker. The unique shape of this speaker solves the problem of back-wave reflection. Back-wave reflection is the sound that comes out of the rear side of the speaker that can distort audio quality. The Aleph1 speaker reduces back-wave reflection to just 13% of the original sound wave. Although not available for consumer sale, the Aleph1 speaker explores the potential designs that were not previously able to be created due to the limits of traditional methods.
3D Printed Vinyl Records
Amanda Ghassaei, a Research Engineer at Adobe, created a technique that converts audio files into 3D printable vinyl records. Ghassaei printed these records on a UV cured-resin printer called the Objet Connex500. This printer creates items at a surprisingly high resolution, 600 dpi in the X and Y axes and 16 microns in the Z axis. Even though the Objet can print at such a high resolution, audio quality is still behind a real vinyl record.
Hand Cranked Vinyl Player
Creator Oana designed a hand-cranked-vinyl player and uploaded it to Thingiverse for public use. It is a very simple design that is easy to put together in just five minutes. The device can play all kinds of records but 78rpm records are recommended due to the fact that it is hard to crank the lever at a slower speed.
Arkon creates sturdy camera mounts but recently their prices have gone up. Creator SketchPunk Labs decided to design a camera mount that would have the same functionality of an Arkon mount, but at a fraction of the cost. This mini tripod is compatible with most smartphones and action cameras.
Sonos, the high-end-speaker company, with projected sales of $1 billion, recently filed for an IPO and is expected to raise $100 million through its initial offering but is subject to change in future filings. Sonos pride themselves with the fact that if a customers buys one of their speakers, odds are that customer will buy another one. Customers who want to customize their speaker-wall mount can 3D print their own speaker mounts using the various designs that Thingiverse users have created. User ADDPrint created a Sonos speaker mount that can be rotated 45 degrees for sound optimization.
Audio and visual equipment have an important role in society, whether it be for professional or recreational use. 3D printing can help the audio/visual industry by enabling people to create their own instruments and tools. 3D printing is more commonplace than ever in today’s society and open-source platforms, similar to Thingiverse, will make it even easier to create anything that comes to mind. Finally, Aleph1 speaker gives us a peek into what the future of 3D printing in the audio/visual industry could look like; with its sleek but functional design, the Aleph1 speaker is a pioneer in the 3D printing world.
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Charles Goulding and John Chin of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed AV equipment.