The finer details of Google’s Project Ara have already been unveiled. But from a production standpoint, how does the search giant plan on engineering so many different replaceable parts? 3D Systems, which partnered with Google on the modular phone concept, said the process is being done through a “continuous motion” 3D printing system capable of handling “millions” of units. A lot of parts go into a single Ara phone, and this latest 3D printing breakthrough will allow production to keep up with what will hopefully be unprecedented demand. It’s how you can expect to replace parts at will when new specs are released.
According to 3D Systems, the traditional “reciprocating platform” of today’s 3D printers wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand because of their rapid acceleration and deceleration methods, adding to the overall print time. The continuous system, however, would use “racetrack architecture,” allowing the system to print shells uninterrupted. 3D Systems said the platform would use “off ramps for various finishing steps, including inserts and other module manipulations.”
In addition to creating a more effective platform, 3D Systems said it’s also advancing material strength, and developing conductive inks, which will allow for printing of functional components as well as shells; the modules, meanwhile, can be printed in the full CMKYKWT spectrum in both hard and composite materials—cyan, magenta, yellow, black, white and clear. This means, of course, that users will not only have the ability to swap out parts at will, but use a variety of colors to achieve their preferred aesthetic.
Project Ara devices still aren’t expected to hit the market until next year, so we’re still several months away from having one in our pocket. But the initiative is already shaping up into something truly exciting, and definitely has the potential to change how we see mobile today.