Google to 3D-print its modular phones in 2015

Google is set to start a mass-scale manufacturing facility capable of producing billions of customised parts for the company’s modular phone. And the key to its delivery is a production line of 3D printers inking out anything from touchscreens to antennas.

Google has involved 3D Systems in Project Ara to make the 3D-printed smartphone a reality. The phone modules (called ‘shells’) will travel from printer to printer in a racetrack-like motion system, coming off the main line and onto various ‘off ramps’ to get their custom shape, colouring and finish.

The modular phone revolution is driving 3D printing to unprecedented levels of scale and speed. In  collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University and X5 Systems, 3D Systems is also creating a new generation of inks to meet the demands of full-spectrum phone printing.

The robot that learns from human workers

Robotics has been reshaping manufacturing for decades – but programming a robot without actually programming it is a true breakthrough.

Rethink Robotics has delivered the 2.0 version of Baxter – a robot for manufacturers that perform volumes of repetitive factory work but lack the specialist programming required for robots to carry out their tasks.  

Baxter’s edge is his ability to learn from humans. His co-workers can programme the robot to do various tasks by moving his arms and selecting options from his user-friendly menu. Rethink Robotics claims that Baxter’s safety features make him widely deployable among his human counterparts. Sensors built into his arms, for instance, signal imminent collisions with external objects (like a head or torso of a human colleague) and instantly reduce the power of the robotic swing.

What’s more, Baxter has a face – his expressions showing where he’s focusing as well how well he understands tasks. And with his friendly appearance and attractive price combined, he could soon be winning over small to medium sized manufacturers worldwide.                

Japan’s incredible leap in hybrid manufacturing

At this year’s RAPID Conference in Detroit, MC Machinery made headlines with its new hybrid manufacturing device. Hybrid manufacturing has so far been a ‘yet-to-be-proven’ way of combining laser sintering and high-speed milling in one machine. The LUMEX Advance 25 shines at every stage of metal-part manufacturing.

The machine’s powerful laser sinters metal powder in successive, fine layers. These ‘additive’ stages are intercepted with phases of high-precision milling on the half-finished mould – which enables the production of highly complex metal components with internal structures. Experts claim the new technology reduces mould production costs by 50 percent and leaves no manufacturing waste.

The notion of ‘customised mass production’ used to be an oxymoron – but hybrid manufacturing is set to change that. 

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