It's been awhile, 2009 in fact, since Cornell University professor Hod Lipson created his version of the Vail Register, the original telegraph machine responsible for sending out the first message via Morse Code way back in 1844.
Now Lipson and his team of researchers have once again taken on a communications challenge by 3D printing a functional loudspeaker. The speaker is a complete entity – from the enclosure to the conductive and magnetic parts – and it's nearly in working order from the time it's output from the printer.
Graduate student Apoorva Kiran, one of the prime movers on the team, says the entire project was 3D printed.
Kiran, trained as a material scientist, physicist and mechanical engineer, works on robotics, materials technology and chaos theory along with his studies of 3D printing technology. He says his ultimate goal is to create artificial life and machine learning to achieve an artificial intelligence.
While it may not be the most complex object ever produced via 3D printing, the speaker does include a plastic housing, a conductive coil and a magnet, and Kiran said the difficulty in making one lies in choosing the proper design and the correct materials. Lipson agrees, and said the efficient handling of multiple (and still compatible) materials is the key to solving the problem. Lipson says his team had to factor in the varying optimal printing temperatures and curing times for the conductive copper, ferrous metals and plastics used in the project to make them all work together.
The project was printed using Cornell's Fab@Home's customizable research 3D printer. The machine, developed at the university, lets scientists use various cartridges, control software and manipulate different parameters to control the final output.
The conductor itself was made from a silver ink, and the magnet was made with a blended liquid which included strontium ferrite.
The goal, aside from creating a working speaker, is to develop methods which will allow engineers and designers to 3D print entire systems and products in one pass.
"With multi-material 3D printing," Lipson says. "We'll be able to combine lots of different materials to create new things, new functionalities and new material properties we haven't seen before."