Google’s Project Ara pushing the limits of 3D printing

Google is one company that is always at the forefront of innovation. The company came up with lots of break through innovations like Google Glass, Google Maps and so on that have far reaching effect across the world. If such a company announces partnership with one of the largest 3D printing company to produce custom products, it can be considered a landmark event in the evolution of 3D printing. And it is an understatement if we talk about 3D printing evolution as pre Google’s Project Ara and post Google’s Project Ara. Read to find more information on Project Ara.

When Google announced that they are teaming up with 3D systems to launch “Project Ara”, an initiative to print millions of smart phone modules, many within the industry were confused. Given that 3D printing speeds are incredibly slow, they are confused how 3D systems can print millions of modules for smartphones.  But last month 3D systems announced that they are creating a continuous, high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfillment system to accommodate production level speeds and volume. They informed that such a process was made possible by creating a continuous motion system using a racetrack-like architecture that would “allow the module shells to move in a continuous flow with additional ‘off ramps’ for various finishing steps, including inserts and other module manipulations.”

In the current 3D printing methods, the print head / platform slows down and speeds up as and when it changes the direction. This creates major speed impediment and that slows down the whole printing process. To overcome this challenge, 3D systems will create a very large scale print bed thereby allowing extremely fast straight line printing of a lengthy area before the printer head begins a directional change. It is estimated that the printing speeds used within the manufacturing of modules for Google’s Project Ara will increase by approximately 50X over current 3D printing methods.

Google’s Project Ara is expected to begin production in the first quarter of 2015. This project is a major test for 3D Systems new manufacturing capabilities. If everything goes as intended, we could see other manufacturers adopting 3D Systems high speed, mass production 3D printing set up.

Image Credit: Carlos Luna (flickr handle: carlosluna)

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