Project Ara module maker explores 'conductive ink'

3D Systems is developing conductive ink for Project Ara's modular blocks, and also fine-tuning its manufacturing process

An ambitious new initiative from Motorola known as Project Ara may signal a pivot towards true device customization.

An ambitious new initiative from Motorola known as Project Ara may signal a pivot towards true device customization.

3D Systems, the company that will print the modules for Google's Project Ara smartphone, is exploring conductive ink as a way to create circuitry for the devices.

Ara is Google's attempt to turn smartphone manufacturing on its head and come up with a new type of device that users will be able to upgrade easily after they buy it, using 3D-printed parts.

The phone has a basic exoskeleton, and components like the camera, battery and memory are housed in plastic modules that snap onto the back. A user who wants new memory or a better camera, for instance, could order a new module and swap out the original.

3D Systems was enlisted by Google to print the modules, and this week it said it was working with Carnegie Mellon University to develop conductive ink, which can be used to print electrical circuits. It hopes to use the ink for components such as antennas, it said in a blog post.

Conductive inks are typically liquid metal and can carry an electric current. Microsoft is also researching the technology, and has shown how a silver nanoparticle ink can be used to print circuit boards with a conventional inkjet printer.

3D Systems is also working to strengthen the materials and improve both "aesthetic and functional features." It will be able to print modules in "full spectrum, CMYKWT color" -- meaning cyan, magenta, yellow, black, white and clear -- in hard and soft materials for "the optimum lifespan of parts and ultimate customization by the user."

3D Systems has said it expects to start mass producing parts for the US$50 smartphones later this year, in preparation for the devices to ship early next year.

3D printers have been used to make all kinds of objects, but their use in mass manufacturing is relatively new. So 3D Systems is having to come up with a faster, more efficient production process as well.

"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," it said in its blog post.

It's doing away with the existing "reciprocating platform" method, which requires the print head to constantly speed up and slow down, and developing a new "racetrack" architecture.

"For more productive print rates (of millions and hopefully billions of units), we'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," it 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 newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags smartphonesGoogleconsumer electronics3D Systems

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

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?