Motorola is actually making its vision of building smartphones like Lego kits a reality. And 3D printing is going to be part of it.

Motorola’s “Project Ara” is an initiative to create customizable hardware for smartphones where consumers can pick and choose what kind of capabilities they want and “build” their own devices with modular, replaceable components. To achieve this end, Motorola has entered into an exclusive partnership with 3D Systems to use 3D printing to make the hardware that will power these devices. 

Motorola announced Project Ara in late October as unique way for consumers to build their own smartphones. The concept is that a user has a motherboard-like endoskeleton that modules could be connected to. Modules could consist of bigger batteries, computer or graphical processors, sensors like NFC, cameras or more. 

The idea has seemed like some pie-in-the-sky experiment. Build your own smartphone? Yeah, right. But Motorola is apparently very serious about Project Ara and contracting with 3D Systems shows that Ara is not just some pipe dream.

Motorola’s Regina Dugan, senior vice president and head of the company’s Advanced Technology & Projects group explained the reasoning of contracting 3D Systems in a press release. 

With Project Ara, we asked the question, "How do we bring the benefits of customization and an open hardware ecosystem to 6 billion people?" That is our driving application. It requires technical advances in areas such as material strength and printing with conductive inks for antennas. And those advances must support production-level speeds and volumes, which is a natural partnership with 3D Systems.

3D Systems is a company known for using a process called “additive manufacturing” to 3D print different type of objects. According to the release, 3D Systems plans to, “substantially expand its multi-material printing capabilities including conductive and functional materials. The company also plans to combine additive and subtractive manufacturing methods, and deliver an integrated high-speed production platform.”

Essentially, 3D Systems will be the fulfillment center for Project Ara modules. The ability to use additive manufacturing to create customizable smartphone components should give Motorola the ability to ramp up or slow down production of any particular part (or the whole project) with an agility not normally seen in smartphone manufacturing. 

Do you want to build a smartphone with customizable hardware? What would your ideal smartphone look like if you could build it yourself? Let us know in the comments.