Printing smart objectsTuesday, August 14th, 2012 by Roberto Saracco
3D printing is now a reality, at the Future Centre we dreamt about the possibility of a market of one, created by the possibility to customise each product to a specific customer, back in 2008. At that time we foresaw a revolution in the value chain, since a stronger relation between manufacturer and client would become possible, intermediation of resellers would disappear and third parties would enter into the game by providing specific software.
That vision required 3D printing capabilities and embedded software. Over these five years we have seen a good portion of this vision become reality. The smart phone world is now approaching the market of one if you think in terms of functionalities (it is very likely that each single smart phone is different from any other because of the different set of apps it has), many industries are now 3D printing their products, although we do not have 3D printers in our closet (that was forecast for the end of this decade so the jury is still out).
Something we did not explicitly foresaw, but is surely part of the vision, is that 3D printing would accelerate the transformation of any object into a smart object. Indeed, with the possibility of 3D printing the object it becomes possible to print electronics as you create the object.
This is what Optomec is doing.
They have developed a technology for creating nanosized particles of silver. At that dimension they melt around 140 degrees Celsius, so it is easy to transform them into a ink that can be used to create electronic circuits as the 3D printer prints the object.
A recent article in the Economist about this technology goes as far as to say that with Optomec technology it has become possible to print your own cell phone (take a look at it, there is a nice cartoon about “printing a phone”).
What I feel is really interesting is the implication of this production technology. Basically, as industry moves towards 3D printing it becomes cost free to embed basic electronics in the object, like microchip for processing, sensors, antenna and so on. All of a sudden, that object has become a smart object, able to interact with us and with other objects, thus creating smart ambient.
Take a look at the clip showing the printing of electronics as part of the printing of a drone wing made by Optomec:
Tags: 3D printing