Have you counted how many different charging cables you have at home? Most devices and gadgets today recharge via USB, so limiting the cable clutter is almost impossible, and every device (smartphone, tablet, laptop, handheld video consoles) comes with its own charger. This does not only call for some serious cable management, but it also makes old, unused chargers a huge source of waste, generating more than 51,000 tons of electronic waste per year, according to European Union (EU) estimates. In early 2020, the European Parliament even voted in favor of choosing a common charging cable standard, likely to force tech giants, like Apple, to ditch its cables and adopt a universal phone charger.
Designing a universal charging cable for mobile phones and other devices will end up being efficient for everyone and better for the environment. This is why Italian design collective Metafora has recently developed a prototype of a versatile charging cable for the Australian startup Volta Charger. The prototypes for the ultimate cable product, called Volta Spark, were created using Zortrax 3D printers and materials. The cable, which is currently in mass production and will soon be available for regular online sale, can be ordered today through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that has already surpassed its original funding target. Interested backers can find “early bird perks,” such as a special deal for one Volta Spark for $28, regularly priced at $42, or $80 for a triple set that will otherwise go for $126. Almost gone is the jumbo pack perk, which includes 20 Volta Spark sets at a 52% discount, down to $397 from a regular price of $840.
Volta Spark’s mission is to “declutter your life” and save “hundreds of dollars every year from buying new but weak charging cables.” Although cables with interchangeable tips already exist on the market, manufacturers and designers have declared that none of them are truly resistant to damages. Instead, Volta’s innovative new universal magnetic design is expected to last a lifetime. Built with ultra-strong tangle-free military-grade nylon and improved physical features, the startup claims its cable is 10 times more durable than others on the market, capable of withstanding common tugs and snaps that destroy other cables.
Volta Spark was designed in just three months. The process covered a research and strategy phase, design concept, 3D modeling, and final engineering with an external company located in China. The Volta team came up with the idea in August 2019 and during the first two months of work with the Italian design studio, they finalized the design format incredibly fast thanks to 3D printing technology. Each version of the cable was printed and then tested with different devices to compare dimensions and meet industrial standards. In the initial stages of the design process, the creators at Metafora used a Zortrax M200 Plus system, and while testing the final prototype of the charger they turned to the Zortrax Inkspire Precision Resin UV LCD desktop 3D printer, which ensured microscopical printing accuracy.
“We knew that the use of a 3D printer is necessary to properly assess the proportions of the final product. When creating our first concept, everything seemed to be perfectly calculated, but printing the element revealed up to 4mm of oversize,” revealed one of Metafora’s co-founders. “This is a huge error for such a project. Initially, the client wasn’t inclined to print and test all the elements because of potentially high costs. However, printing prototypes for such type of a project can be completed on a desktop printer that minimizes the costs and provides an irreplaceable help in the design process.”
In fact, the designers made about twenty versions of the cable using 3D modeling software. Once the various versions of the design were ready, they were printed with Zortrax materials, Z-HIPS and Z-PLA Pro filaments, on the M200 Plus printer very quickly and at low cost, facilitating any further alterations to the project. After comparing the different prototypes and testing them for accuracy, Metafora chose a cable model that stood out due to its premium design and detail. As for the final prototype printed on the Inkspire, the material chosen was Zortrax’s epoxy-based resin BASIC material. Finally, before turning the prototype into a target project, the team needed to make sure that the cable fulfilled its purpose and met the necessary industrial standards.
According to Metafora, the key feature distinguishing Volta Spark from all the other chargers is its ability to adapt to many different devices, which is why the creators equipped the charger with an open magnet. The result is a charge and sync cable that’s a USB-C Power Delivery (PD) connector on one end, and an open magnet on the other. It works with three magnetic tips that can turn the open end into a USB-C, Lightning, or Micro USB cable, capable of charging any device, including Apple’s MacBook Pro and iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone, Google Pixel XL, and any micro USB devices.
The studio aimed to create a solution that would be both convenient and elegant, but due to the specificity of the project, they turned to 3D printing to create the prototypes, making it easier to assess the product’s functionality. The result was a new flagship cable for Gold Coast-based Volta. More importantly, the partnership between the Italian design studio and Zortrax proved invaluable for rapid prototyping and testing multiple design solutions, proving once again that 3D printing is an ideal tool for fast versatile products that require resourceful development processes.
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