April 9, 2013 1:13 pm

How 3D printing makes smartphone customization easier

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First 3D movies, then 3D TV, and now 3D printing? Those Star Wars holograms are starting to look a little old hat from where we’re standing in the twenty-first century. But, wait: what actually is 3D printing? And how’s it going to make expressing yourself with your smartphone easier? Surely slapping ink on paper is a pretty two-dimensional process, right?

Slice it right

Well, yes; but 3D printing, aka additive manufacturing, is more like building than printing—or, at least, the part we’d recognise as printing is in fact just one step in the process. Additive manufacturing takes blueprints from software like CAD or animation modelling programmes, and chops them up (virtually) into cross sections, like very thin slices. These slices then get printed (so far, so familiar), and, as the printing proceeds, the machine binds them together in order so that the virtual model from the blueprints takes shape as a 3D reality.

 

The binding methods vary, and the materials used for the slices also vary (paper, polymers, metal and even ceramics, glass and precious metals are all used), but though the tech is complex, the end result is the same: rather than merely printing out the blueprints for construction or model-building or parts manufacturing, 3D printers can be used to print functional components from scratch.

The 3d printed pluses

Any catch? Not really. 3D printing is faster than ordinary manufacturing, and, if you’re working with relatively small quantities of parts, it can also be less expensive than, for instance, injection moulding processes. And, unlike what the industry has started to call ‘subtractive’ manufacturing, there’s very little waste.

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Instead of cutting and drilling into your raw materials to stick them together and leaving large offcuts behind, additive manufacturing only uses the exact material needed to make the part. Plus you cut down on the manufacturing needed to make the very specific manufacturing tools themselves, since the 3D printer does all the work. The tech isn’t perfect yet; it’s not dirt cheap and it’s messy if it goes wrong (think goo!), but it’s improving very quickly.

A swell shell

So how does it affect me? To start with 3D printers are starting to break into the domestic market, with prices in the low thousands, which has got to be getting plenty of cottage industry crafters very excited indeed. The model-making possibilities for engineers and designers have exploded; 3D printing makes it considerably faster to produce a prototype than ever before. What’s more, office suppliers, Staples, are soon to open European branches with a 3D print facility. Then of course there’s the Nokia initiative to help people to 3D print shells for their Nokia Lumia 820s.

MakerBot465 Express yourself

Why have we done this? Well, for a start, personal expression is part of Nokia’s design DNA. In fact, we’ve created phones that help people stand out from the crowd for decades. By working with Makerbot to make 3D printing affordable, we hope to both inspire personal expression, and accelerate the development of an exciting new technology.  Added to that it’s incredibly exciting to see what people create and how they makes shells to reflect their personalities and lifestyles.

Living in the future just keeps getting better and better, but what most excites you about the 3D possibilities? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo credit: My Nokia Blog