Motorola looks to 3D printing for user-customized smartphones

Motorola inks deal with 3D Systems to supply parts made using 3D printing for user-customized smartphone

Motorola Mobility is tapping into 3D printing as a way to make parts for user-customized smartphones, a concept being chased by the company under an initiative called Project Ara.

Motorola has signed a deal with 3D Systems, which will use 3D printing to make smartphone enclosures and other modules for the highly modular smartphones. 3D Systems, which makes custom parts using 3D printing, did not respond to a request for comment on the other parts it will supply.

With Project Ara, Motorola hopes to provide a configurable smartphone in which users can add desired features by simply attaching modular parts. A skeleton frame of the phone will be provided, after which Lego-like blocks with different features can be attached or swapped out. For example, users will be able swap out a wireless antenna with a battery for longer run time.

The user-customized smartphone is still mostly just a concept; Motorola has not said when it would be released. Motorola has partnered with Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, who envisioned the open-hardware smartphone platform and called it Phonebloks.

3D printing involves taking a plastic filament, melting it and spitting it out -- much like an inkjet printer -- to make parts. That will be useful for cases, enclosures and perhaps printed circuit boards, but not for electronics, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"It's great if you want a phone case the shape of New York City, and someone will be willing to pay for it," Gold said.

Making chips with complex circuitry or batteries with chemicals requires wires, metals and liquids, which calls for an array of advanced manufacturing technologies.

But bringing 3D printing technology to Project Ara is cool, Gold said. It points to a future where off-the-shelf products may go out of vogue in favor of highly customized products.

"But the technology is not there yet," Gold said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags consumer electronicsMotorola Mobility3D Systems

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?