We have heard of 3D-printed guns, ears, and limbs, but researchers from Cornell University further proves the potential of the technology by producing the first ever 3D-printed loudspeaker. Instead of producing the electronic device by assembling parts together, the engineers that worked on the project was able to print out the magnetic, conductive, and plastic parts that functioned right off the printer.
Mechanical engineering graduate students Apoorva Kiran and Robert MacCurdy collaborated with associate professor Hod Lipson, who is also a well-known innovator in the field of 3D printing for the project.
The team made use of a research printer developed by Lipson and colleagues that is specifically engineered so scientists can experiment on 3D printing parameters, different software, and cartridges. Kiran made use of a silver ink to print the conductor needed for the loudspeaker and asked the help of another graduate student to come up with strontium ferrite material for the magnet.
"Everything is 3-D printed," said Kiran during a demo of the loudspeaker. He explained that the loudspeaker is a simple object that consists of a housing, coil, and magnet but the challenge they faced is coming up with the design and materials that are good for co-fabrication.
According to Lipson, it may take some time before consumers will print electronic devices at home since most 3D printers are still inefficient in handling different kinds of materials.
"What we have done here is basically print a consumer electronic device, a very simple electronic device. But what we are trying to do is move printing away from just printing passive parts made of plastic or metals to printing integrated systems, active systems that can do something to have batteries, wires, electronics in them," Lipson said.
The team of engineers made use of two printers to create their project. While the speaker needed to be clipped to wires to tap to an audio source, it is still a good measure that 3D printing is not just a hype.
Lipson's laboratory was also involved in printing a working replica of the Vail Register, the telegraph used to send the first Morse code, in 2009.