A new kind of vehicle and manufacturing process debuted at the 2015 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, US in January.
Local Motors 3D printed, assembled and debuted the world’s first 3D printed car – live from the show floor.
Called the Strati, the vehicle is the first in a line of 3D printed cars from Local Motors. The design was chosen in May 2014 from more than 200 submitted to Local Motors by the company’s online co-creation community after launching a call for entries. The winning design was submitted by Michele Anoè who was awarded a cash prize plus the opportunity to see his design brought to life. Less than a year after the original design was chosen, Local Motors premiered a mid-model refresh, which began its inaugural print on Monday, January 12 on the show floor during NAIAS.
“Since launching in 2007, we have continuously disrupted the way vehicles are designed, built, and sold,” says Local Motors co-founder and chief executive John B Rogers, Jr.
“We paired micro-manufacturing with co-creation to bring vehicles to market at unprecedented speed. We proved that an online community of innovators can change the way vehicles go from designed to driven. We pioneered the concept of using direct digital manufacturing (DDM) to 3D-print cars. I am proud to have the world’s first 3D-printed car be a part of our already impressive portfolio of vehicles.”
Three-phase process – print, refine, finish
Local Motors showcased the proprietary three-phased manufacturing process for 3D printing cars during NAIAS 2015. The first phase in 3D-printed manufacturing is additive. Made from a carbon fibre reinforced thermoplastic material by SABIC, the current model of the Strati takes approximately 44 hours to print 212 layers. The end result is a completed 3D-printed Car Structure™.
“SABIC is pleased to have contributed the materials and processing knowledge to support Local Motors and help enable this advanced additive manufacturing approach,” says Scott Fallon, general manager, Automotive, SABIC’s Innovative Plastics business. “We have built expertise in additive manufacturing to further strengthen the product development support that we can deliver to our customers, from ideation through prototyping, testing and validation. We will continue to invest in the technology to help the automotive industry realise as much potential from it as possible.”
The second phase of 3D printed manufacturing is subtractive. Once 3D printing is complete, the 3D printed car structure moves to a Thermwood CNC router that mills the finer details. After a few hours of milling, the Strati’s exterior details take shape.
“Thermwood has been involved within a multitude of various markets, but none, until now, has led us to the Detroit Auto Show. Thermwood is proud and excited to be part of this Local Motors venture,” says Dennis Palmer vice president of sales at Thermwood.
The last phase of 3D printed manufacturing is rapid assembly. After the 3D printed car structure is printed and refined, the non 3D printed components, including the drivetrain, electrical components, gauges and wiring, plus the tires are added. A vinyl wrapping, paint or other surface treatment is used to complement the 3D printed texture, resulting in a showroom-ready vehicle.
Micro-factories – the future of manufacturing
Local Motors also offered the automotive industry a glimpse into the future of manufacturing. The technology company hbuilt a working micro-factory on the show floor, giving a front-row seat of how cars will be made in the near future. A micro-factory is home to additive manufacturing, which uses digital 3D design data, called Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM), to make a product to exact specifications, without traditional and costly tooling.
“Gone are the days of an economy of scale in order to introduce and commercialise a technology,” says Rogers. “Micro-factories are a great counterpoint because they employ an economy of scope by taking advantage of low cost tooling and co-creation, resulting in the ability to get products to market faster and in less time while using less capital to find a winning concept.”
What’s more, a micro-factory, which is typically located within 100 miles of major urban centres, creates more than 100 plus local jobs, reduces freight and distribution costs by 97 percent, increases recycling and reduces waste while speeding delivery time to market.
A Local Motors micro-factory is typically 40,000 square feet and includes 20,000 square feet for a lab, used for co-creation, research, technology, education and free community events; 10,000 square feet for a vehicle showroom and retail store; 10,000 square feet for a build floor to accommodate light assembly of products and vehicles.
Local Motors is a technology company that designs, builds, and sells vehicles. From bytes-to-bits, the Local Motors platform combines global co-creation with local micro-manufacturing to bring hardware innovations, like the world’s first 3D printed car, to market at unprecedented speed.