Rapid prototyping technology has recently expanded from being a simple tool for rapid prototyping of different shapes to actually printing objects that are functional. These printed items include just about everything, from a basic enclosure for a circuit board that is printed to replacing an airplane part that was broken. With the development and advancement of multi-material 3D printers that are known to be sophisticated, it is now becoming more and more possible to move to the next step and produce not only mechanical components that are passive but electromechanical devices that are full on functional as well! The functionality and shape are designed simultaneously then produced through one step. Even though in the initial stages, research has shown that certain products can be fabricated through the use of additive techniques, it hasn’t been tried out on all kinds of items. However, with the continued advancement of novel materials in addition to 3D printing or rapid prototyping technologies, it is believed that the possibility of actually printing electrical circuits through rapid prototyping that are fully functional along with conductive electrode surfaces as an integral section of an object, is not far off. In fact, this process is quite within our reach.
The growing need for 3D printing techniques has been recognized and noted in the HCI or human-computer interaction community. There is a swiftly growing amount of work that explores and studies in detail the applications of this evolving manufacturing technology, incorporating the development of interactive tools for design, the likelihood of creating interface controllers from novel 3D printed material and of rapid manufacturing of interactive systems along with many others. These are all advancements in this sector that are still being explored upon. Many new discoveries and data is likely to be released from engineers and designers who are familiar with this sphere or work.
Many companies are in fact inspired by the dream of a future sphere where interactive devices are not simply assembled or manufactured from components that are mass produced, rather they are designed and then 3D printed locally as separate objects. The proper establishment of this nature of manufacturing technology can have an immense and lasting affect on the way the future edges out and the way in which interactive devices are developed and designed. It would also help to introduce an unprecedented amount of customization and personalization and a much greater level of interface components integration. This factor would in fact permit for greater variances in shapes and sizes. The physical aspects can also be designed and re-designed by the end user. This could possibly terrify professional designers, considering the implications in store from user ends. But it could just unleash much creativity and freedom at the hands of the user community. These are areas that are being considered and evaluated upon.
The mass manufacturing of the 3D printed electromagnetic speaker is grounded on principles of ESR or electrostatic sound reproduction, which were looked into in depth all the way back in the 1930s. However, irrelevant of the amount of information that has been found out and the amount of principles that have been coined, the 3D printed speaker has not been used broadly, except when it is used in high performance audio systems. Research has in fact discovered that there is a natural connection and fit between technology used for rapid prototyping speakers and the ESR speaker design. Due to the simplicity of the ESR, it permits the design and fabrication of speakers that are impeccably combined into physical objects of subjective geometries, including complex ones such omnidirectional shapes and spherical shapes. Not to mention, 3D printed speakers can produce both ultrasound and audible frequencies and hence help to provide object identification and tracking, as well as providing sound reproduction. These abilities are noteworthy.
A loudspeaker is considered to be one of the most crucial output devices under interactive systems. It is considered as a transducer, which helps to convert electrical signals that are input into audible sounds. The most used or common speakers are in fact based on piezoelectric and electromagnetic principles that have limitations; these limitations are also important as they help set guidelines. Electromagnetic speakers contain a magnet and a voice coil and the sound is generated due to the vibration of a paper cone, which is prompted by moving the magnet. Electromagnetic speakers are considered relatively large and comprise of multiple moving parts and materials. Even though mass-produced speakers are known to be comparatively cheap, designing and manufacturing custom speakers is quite expensive and necessitates a substantial effort from the engineers’ department. Taking these factors into account, it would be quite difficult, if not near impossible, to fully 3D print a functional or serviceable electromagnetic speaker that is of a subjective shape.
Many have also considered how we have to keep our options open for the different types of speakers out there and perhaps try to discover further enhanced uses of the already available speakers. Possibly in the near future, 3D printers that are capable of printing with the use of conductive materials will become ordinary and conventional, and thus the dream and vision of printing complex functional speakers that are finely embedded into different objects and with no human connection, will become a startling reality; one that many are eagerly waiting for.
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