Researchers 3D print a fully functional loudspeaker

Researchers at Cornell University have managed to 3D print every part of a speaker: coils, magnets and all.

Researchers at Cornell University have managed to 3D print every part of a speaker — coils, magnets and all.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

When it comes to creating parts, 3D printing is on the rise. A variety of materials are becoming available that allow easy, automated part fabrication and it won't be long before the technology becomes integral to manufacturing, as well as prototyping.

But could an integrated system be created with 3D printing? Well, as researchers at Cornell University in New York have just demonstrated, yes. A team led by graduate students Apoorva Kiran and Robert MacCurdy, working with associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering (and 3D printing innovator) Hod Lipson, has managed to figure out how to create a fully functional speaker using a customisable Fab@Home 3D printer used for research.

For the speaker housing, the team used the usual plastic material. The conductive coil was printed using a silver ink. The magnet was a little trickier — for that, the team called upon chemical and biomolecular engineering graduate student Samanvaya Srivastava to devise a viscous material composed mainly of strontium ferrite.

3D printers aren't yet sophisticated enough to print with several different materials concurrently — metals and plastics require different temperatures, for example, which makes things difficult — so the parts were printed one at a time and assembled. However, it's another step towards a replicator-style printer that can print holistic systems rather than just individual components.

"It's a little bit like a colour printer," Lipson said. "With multi-material 3D printing 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."