Researchers for the first time have used 3-D printing to make a consumer electronic device, a loudspeaker ready for use almost as soon as it comes off the printer.
The work by roboticist Hod Lipson at Cornell University and his colleagues suggests 3-D printing might soon be mature enough to let people manufacture complete devices on demand.
"The exciting part of this project is that it paves the path to 3-D printing of consumer electronics and active systems," Apoorva Kiran, a Cornell mechanical engineer tells Txchnologist. "A good thing about 3-D printing inks that we developed at our lab is that even though they are for advanced applications, they are not hazardous chemicals, and their recipe is so simple that people can tinker with them even in their garage. With this work we hope that 3-D printing starts an era of open innovation."
Many people still struggle with the idea of “printing” things by adding one layer of material on top of another, but Michael Idelchik, who runs GE’s advanced technologies research, is already talking about “printing large portions of jet engines.” GE Aviation, for example, is using lasers to print fuel nozzles for next-generation jet engines. The nozzles are 25 percent lighter and as much as five times more durable than the existing model welded from 20 different parts.
“We already know that it can be done, we’ve been playing with it for a while,” Idelchik says. “Now we want to develop an ecosystem of designers, engineers, materials scientists, and other partners who can learn with us. We have a number of products that we are going to be launching and we want to challenge people to get into business with us. If the ecosystem grows, the entire industry will grow.”