Technology has been viewed as the harbinger of a new era of mankind, recently referred to or becoming well-known as the technological age. Over the past century and a half we have made astonishing improvements in our technology. In fact, just in the past four decades we’ve made leaps in progress on so many fronts, from academic, developmental, economic to technological. This is all proof to the ingenuity of the human mind and what we are capable of if we simply put our minds to it. Technological advancements have rewarded us with cars, planes, military might, the internet, computers and thousands more which affect us in our day to day lives. We can’t even imagine waking up and not having technology around us! Life would be nothing like we know it without technology! Our lights, microwaves, televisions and phones all come from the milestone developments that have taken place in the world of technology. Among this extensive list, 3D printing has now been included.
3D printing or rapid prototyping is the printing of products through a printer which adds layer on top of layer. It has made its way into virtually every industry and the phone industry was only a step away. After years of improvement on this technology and price cuts we now see rapid prototyping services being used more frequently and in more versatile ways. Most recently a factory in China has been working on a new kind of smartphone. They have been rapid prototyping antennas directly onto phones. While on the surface this may not seem like much, when we look deeper into the implications this has, we can understand why it’s such an exciting development for phone developers!
3D Printing Parts into Phones
The ability to 3D print components of a phone directly onto it at the speed provided by 3D printers is new to the smartphone industry. This doesn’t come as a surprise at all, considering the fact that there are continuous developments and innovations taking place in the phone industry. New phones and phone related products come out almost every month! With the rapidly moving economy and people’s constant demands for newer and better, this new efficiency is welcomed warmly. This creates the possibility to insert electronics in virtually everything. If the possibilities were endless with rapid prototyping services before, they’ve multiplied a thousand times over now!
Originally this technique was used by Optomec, a company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Optomec is working with Lite-on, a company in China, which makes phone components. Usually, parts such as the antenna are put onto the phone by scraping material away until the antenna can be fit in. The process by which the antenna is put in is called etching. Etching, due to the chemicals used in the process, can be harmful to the environment. This is obviously not an issue with 3D printing. In terms of benefits to the smartphone industry, the crucial advantage of using 3D printing can be found on the production line.
Factories can change the entire production line simply by rewriting the code used to control the printing system. This opens doors that were previously unopened and unexplored. We may soon see automated factories run by software. dfxMachina, a startup based in Silicon Valley, is helping this cause by developing software to monitor assembly lines constantly and then making any necessary changes to the software to help make it more efficient. Through this system of automated factories with machines keeping watch for any glitches, billions of dollars could potentially be saved.
This ability to print electronic components on such a grand scale is a sign of how much technology has matured. Consumers will even recognize the difference in their products. The money saved for phone manufacturers is also a giant plus and it means that we may see antennas and sensors in other products as well.
Optomec was able to successfully take 3D printing out of the lab and into the factory, a giant step forward for 3D printing. Even Woo Soo Kim, a student who studies printed electronics at Simon Fraser University in British Colombia, Canada, agrees that Optomec is really pushing 3D printing forward. According to Kim, Optomec’s process is “really cutting edge” and “can be adapted to all other tech.” Kim believes that 3D printing can really help out in the area of flexible electronics. Perhaps even a sophisticated battery that could fit the curves of a user’s body could be 3D printed.
One major implication of the information above is the ability to put sensors into everything. We can monitor everything from old people suffering who may need instant care to giant turbines in gas-fired stations that require attention. Money, time and more importantly, even lives can be saved. The power of rapid prototyping services is truly extraordinary and we are witnessing this historic technology progress before our very eyes.
Smartphones can have circuits 3D printed directly into them meaning we could be discussing a new gadget and within 48 hours have that very gadget printed out. A few decades ago this would be impossible. Simply imagine and then move onto create. Rapid prototyping services have allowed our imagination to run wild and as we open doors to more possibilities, it seems the potential continues to grow exponentially. There’s no telling where it will take us in the future but for now we are content with the knowledge of a future that is likely to explode with innovations of all sorts.
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