Over the past year, the 3D-printing community has begun to move away from only printing passive models and parts towards printing entire systems with moving components. This has opened the door to 3D-printable consumer electronics, including speakers and toys of any shape. Recently, researchers at Cornell were able to 3D print an entire speaker including the driver, cone and conductive materials - in only two pieces that are then pressed together. Traditional consumer speakers contain dozens of parts that need to be assembled together during manufacturing. 3D-printing allows full assemblies to be produced and assembled together at the same time. This cuts down on cost, labor, and production time. Additionally, if companies have no need for mass workers to assemble goods, then they have no need to export themselves abroad and can instead stay in the United States.
3D-printing also allows individuals to design and print their own customizable electronics. Inspired by the speaker Cornell produced, we designed and built our own 3D-printable speaker, consisting completely of printed parts with the exception of the magnet and the speaker coil. The speaker cone and basket were printed as one piece, with a single thin layer of plastic connecting the two. This thin layer of plastic allows the cone to vibrate within the basket and produce sound. When connected to an amplifier, the speaker produces quiet yet clear sound. This speaker demonstrates how consumer desktop 3D printers are capable of printing not only a speaker, but other consumer electronics as well. As 3D-printing becomes more widespread, users will be able to create customized electronics and accessories for their homes.
Large corporate enterprises such as Disney are also recognizing the potential of 3D-printable speakers and have recently developed small toy figurines that act as omnidirectional speakers. The speakers consist of a 3D-printed figurine that is then encapsulated by a thin membrane of the same shape. Each of the two pieces are charged and the membrane vibrates based on an electrical signal, essentially turning the entire object into one speaker. 3D printing has allowed Disney to create a speaker of essentially any shape, opening up the possibility of embedding speakers in ordinary objects or toys.
Of course, Disney is not the only company developing 3D-printed speakers. Recently HTC unveiled the Gramahorn II, a large 3D-printed acoustic amplifier for the HTC One cell phone. This product is however truly for the audiophile, it costs $1,600 for the plastic version and a hefty $8,000 for the metal iteration.
3D-printing is inserting itself into most major industries. The ability to produce pre-assembled parts is what will propel the technology to the forefront of the consumer electronics industry.