Google and 3D Systems to 3D Print “Millions and Hopefully Billions” of Smartphone Modules

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The 3D printing space is progressing rapidly. If you were to map the general progression of the industry, in only the last five years, it would look something like a chart of wave heights. Generally the heights of the waves are ara-1all around the same, indicating equal rates of change, but every now and then a storm comes along and you get a massive wave; a wave that overpowers everything in its path. About three or four years ago, the last big wave came through. This was when competition within the consumer based 3D printing space began to heat up, creating a price war, and ultimately a significant drop in overall pricing in general. The next wave is about to hit, and it may be bigger than anyone could ever imagine.

Currently manufacturers are using 3D printing as a form of prototyping, with  a small minority using it as a means of actually producing finished parts. Those using it for finished parts are usually companies dealing with extremely intricate or specialized products; ones which do not have to be mass produced, as printing speeds drastically reduce output rates. This is all about to change, thanks to a partnership between Google and 3D Systems, which could be worth tens of billions of dollars in the long run.

Google’s Project Ara seeks to 3D print smartphone modules which can quickly and effortlessly be swapped in and out of a base. Google’s vision for this project is to allow consumers to only buy new modules as needed, rather than an entirely new phone each year. It’s basically an a la carte of smartphones. If, for example, you don’t need a camera on your phone, then maybe you want to leave that module out, and instead increase the battery size.

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Google aims to begin selling these phones next year, and hopes to sell “millions and hopefully billions of units,” annually. The amazing thing is that all these modules are expected to be 3D printed by 3D systems. Can you imagine printing out millions or billions of parts in a mass production format with current technologies? Probably not, because it is virtually impossible. This is why 3D Systems has come up with a new technique of mass production, via additive manufacturing. 3D Systems explained the system they are working on in a passage from a company update provided last week,

To bring the modular cell phone experience to the market by the anticipated 2015, we are creating a continuous, high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfillment system to accommodate production-level speeds and volume. This methodology breaks away from the “reciprocating platform” of many contemporary 3D printers. “Reciprocating” refers to the coordinated motion of the print platform and the print head, leading to frequent acceleration and deceleration, which ultimately adds to the overall print time. For more productive print rates (of millions and hopefully billions of units), ara-2we’re creating a continuous motion system around a racetrack architecture that will allow the module shells to move in a continuous flow with additional “off ramps” for various finishing steps, including inserts and other module manipulations.

Basically they are rethinking the way 3D printers can work in a high speed, manufacturing environment. Whether Google’s Project Ara works out and becomes a consumer hit or not, it has already had a massive impact on the 3D printing industry as a whole. If 3D Systems’ mass additive manufacturing system works like they hope it will, just about every manufacturing company could soon be adopting the technology, leading to growth within the 3D printing space, which even the most optimistic predictions would fall well shy of.

3D Systems understands this and therefore their CEO Avi Reichental made the following statement during their first quarter conference call last week, “We expect to be able to apply the benefits of these developments into many, many other industrial and consumer goods applications.”

The next industrial revolution may finally be about to explode onto the scene.  Discuss 3D Systems’ and Google’s plans to turn smartphone manufacturing into a high speed 3D printing manufacturing revolution at 3DPB.com

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