Could anything be more Zeitgeisty than a 3D printer that can produce things to fit into the Internet of Things?
The first generation of 3D printers are mostly used for producing small items. But Jennifer Lewis of Harvard University has helped create a new kind of 3D printer, one that can print electronics.
The Voxel8 printer
Voxel8 only bega developing a product last year, but the printer is the result of more than 8 years of research by Ms. Lewis and her Harvard colleagues. Right now, it can’t quite print things as sophisticated as a smartphone. But it is able to make quite complex gadgets, like helicopter drones.
The printer costs about $10, 000 and is aimed firmly at professionals, not the domestic market. Currently, Voxel8 is trying to get feedback from designers to optimize the product for them.
Talking about the future of manufacturing
The Voxel8 team foresees their technology being used around the world. Ms. lewis says that in the next decade, ‘rather than shipping components, you are going to be shipping CAD (Computer Aided Design) files and then you’re going to have local centers of manufacturing excellence, where these CAD files are just ported and then directly products come out.’
Until now 3D printers have largely been used by hobbyists. That doesn’t mean they’re not being used industrially - in China, they’re 3D printing houses, and in the USA and Europe car parts and, notoriously, firearms are getting the treatment too. But 3D printing is especially good for electronics.
Why are Voxel8 betting on a 3D future for electronics?
Voxel8’s co-founder, Daniel Oliver, says, ‘for 3D printing to push the limits of what’s done now, it has to solve key issues that current manufacturing technologies don’t.’ For electronics, that’s the duality of the circuitry and the physical object. Currently, electronic circuit boards are manufactured in standard shapes and sizes and the designer’s job is to fit them into the product. With 3D printing technology, the device and its electronics can be manufactured at the same time.