Jan 13, 2015 | By Alec

For those of you who’ve never been to an auto show, those events ideal locations for the giants of the automobile industries to show off their latest multi-million dollar designs; flashy, futuristic cars that have sometimes taken years to be designed, redesigned, refined, constructed, assembled, disassembled, assembled and tested. It’s not typically a good place to start constructing and assembling your car, as Local Motors has done at Detroit Auto Show yesterday.

But then again Local Motors aren’t a regular automobile manufacturer, and their Strati car is everything but a regular car. Since being founded in 2007, the Phoenix, AZ-based Local Motors has been trying to reinvent the car as we know it. This has resulted in the world’s first (and absolutely awe-inspiring) 3D printed car last September. Designed by Italian designer Michele Anoé, the Strati that has just been assembled in Detroit is its second iteration and a slight improvement of its predecessor.

Images via jalopnik

While it’s absolutely amazing that they were able to simply print this cool vehicle at the Auto Show in Detroit, in full view of countless car enthusiasts, it’s even more exciting to report that the Strati is fully capable of being driven within a week’s time, and that Local Motors is going to open two micro-factories to commercially produce these vehicles in 2015. That’s right, you can soon even own one of these 3D printed marvels of manufacturing.

As the company’s CEO John B. Rogers said, this car illustrates how a small group of innovative designers can change the whole concept behind car manufacturing. ‘Since launching in 2007, we have continuously disrupted the way vehicles are designed, built, and sold. 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.’

But let’s start at the show, where only the world’s second 3D printed car is being manufactured. In total, it only takes about 44 hours to fully print all 212 layers that make up the Strati. To do so, Local Motors is relying on Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM), using a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic filament that is extruded at 250 degrees. Effectively, this means they’ve been using a giant FDM 3D printer and a filament resembling ABS. After these full two days of printing, it will take another five or so to fully mill,  and assemble the car, when it can hit the streets. Finer details for the car will be milled with a Thermwood CNC router.

Now these cars are two-seaters capable of reaching maximum speeds of up to 40 MPH (powered by a small electric motor) and weigh about 1,100 pounds. On their website, Local Motors argued that this will make the car fully road-worthy in the US, and they expect to be approved for use on public roads in 2015. The car’s fully specifications are:

  • Engine - 100% electric
  • Features - electronic engine immobilizer, regenerative disc brakes
  • Drivetrain - front and rear, rear- wheel drive
  • Transmission - Automatic, single speed
  • Battery - 6.1 kwh battery, 62-mile range, 3.5-hour charge time
  • Motor - 5 bhp or 17 bhp, 42 lb-ft torque*
  • Body - Approx. 212 layers, direct digital manufactured vehicle (DDMV), carbon fiber reinforced ABS plastic
  • Top Speed - approx. 50mph*
  • Wheels - custom made by Fifteen52

Really, there’s just one problem with this very impressive car, and that’s its price: current estimates put the price tag between $18,000 to $32,000. How many people are going to purchase a car with top speeds of 40 MPH for that kind of money?

Fortunately, Local Motors is working on plans to open two new factories this year, and increasing their production capacity will doubtlessly do much to lower prices. Their current two factories are located in Phoenix and Las Vegas, and another two will open in Knoxville, Tennessee and Washington, D.C. Another factory could even follow outside North America.

Rogers has also been very optimistic about the potential of these micro-factories, 40,000-square foot workspaces that independently produce 3D printed cars. ‘Gone are the days of an economy of scale in order to introduce and commercialize a technology. 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.’

As it is, the micro-factory in Washington D.C. is planned to be the location where first fleet of 3D-printed cars is to be manufactured and sold. The factory is to be constructed in the latter half of 2015, and Local Motors promises that the first cars will be available soon afterwards.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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