Aug 30, 2017 | By Tess

Anyone with an interest in 3D printing and cars will already know about Local Motors, the Arizona-based company that uses additive manufacturing technologies to create innovative, almost futuristic vehicles. From the Strati, which holds the honor of being the first 3D printed car, and now to the Olli, a self-driving bus, Local Motors owes much of its success to 3D printing technologies.

Recently, the company offered a glimpse into its manufacturing facility to see how it has been using the Makerbot Replicator+, a $2,500 high-performance desktop 3D printer, to quickly and efficiently produce parts for the IBM Watson-powered “Olli” vehicle.

“We really don’t have the time to wait for the parts we need,” said Alex Fiechter, Local Motors’ Director of Product Development. “We need to set the making of them in motion and forget about them while we work on other things. The MakerBot Replicator+ has been the ideal example of this ‘set it and forget it’ experience for creating 3D printed parts on both the production and the prototyping side.”

Local Motors currently has operations in five different cities: Phoenix, Arizona; Knoxville, Tennessee; Las Vegas, Nevada; National Harbor, Maryland; and Berlin, Germany. By setting up micro-factories—small, low-volume production facilities—in these five regions, Local Motors is aiming to design and manufacture vehicles locally, following an on-demand ethos.

By opting out of large-scale manufacturing, Local Motors has made it possible to explore truly innovative vehicle designs and manufacturing processes, such as 3D printing. As the company emphasizes, additive manufacturing is a crucial part of their business, as it enables them to stick to small-batch production and to create complex, functional components for its cars.

The company behind the self-driving Olli bus says that 3D printing technologies have helped it to reduce tooling costs by 50 per cent and cut back on production times by 90 per cent. The added benefit of making parts on site has allowed Local Motors to consistently develop new and exciting vehicles “at the lowest cost for maximum ROI.”

As Local Motors design engineer Frederik Tjonneland explained: “There’s a huge difference between using an outside part manufacturer and having that capability in-house. The convenience of being able to print a part and have it in your hand in a couple of hours is not only cheaper, but also reduces lead times and allows us to iterate that much more quickly.”

In making parts for their self-driving shuttle, Local Motors engineers have been using MakerBot Tough PLA, a high-impact filament that is marketed for making durable and strong prototypes and fixtures. MakerBot says its PLA 3D printing material offers “similar tensile, impact, and flexural strength characteristics as ABS plastic.”

“We like Tough PLA because we can thread directly into the part and mount other components to it,” added Tony Rivera, a mechanical engineer at LM. “In the time it would have taken to order a metal part and have it shipped here, we already finished the entire project.”

As Local Motors races ahead in the automotive industry with the help of 3D printing, we at 3Ders are eager to see the Olli self-driving bus take to the streets. Earlier this year, the company announced that its Knoxville factory 3D printed its first Olli shuttle. The 3D printed self-driving bus is also being tested across the pond in Germany by Deutsche Bahn.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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