American car builder makes good on promise of 3D-printed vehicles
I HAVE long put my head on the block by predicting our children’s children will use cars that are made around the corner, each looking as unique as its owner and sporting any number of seats, pending the owner’s needs.
Now a group of American designers at Local Motors have brought this prediction a few years closer.
Local Motors first made headlines last year when it stunned the automotive industry by liveprinting the world’s first 3Dprinted car at Sema 2014.
The group last week announced the staff are now ready to make a fully homologated series of cars using direct digital manufacturing, or DDM.
The group plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign for people to order an electric, 3D-printed car, the LM3D Swim, which is expected to launch in the second quarter of 2016.
The price tag will be steep — $53 000, or R735 400 before import taxes and delivery costs.
For those who don’t like the beach buggy design, Local Motors said it plans to release several different models on the same platform throughout 2016.
The company is taking a similar path as forged by Gordon Murray with his istream process. The Durban-schooled Murray envisages a world in which craftsmen in factories a quarter the size of today’s car plants can weld what are basically advanced roll cages, into which small cars can be built using lightweight materials and various drivetrains.
Local Motors also plan to use small-footprint microfactories in their version of such sustainable car building vehicle development. All cars in the LM3D series will be built at a new Local Motors microfactory in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Like the car, the off-the-shelf electric drivetrain can be customised, with the battery pack protected by 10 cm of panelling in the central tunnel. The panels are currently printed using a blend of 80% ABS plastic and 20% carbon fiber.
Nearly all of the body panels and chassis are 3D printed on the LM3D — roughly 75%. Local Motors said it aims to eventually make about 90% of the car using 3D printing.
Because 3D printing allows unique shapes, Local Motors said it plans a wide range of customizable, aesthetic features. “Cars can look radically different, but be built on the same platform.”
Customers who can afford the steep price tag for what is basically a plastic beach buggy will also have to take their patience pills.
In comparison to Ford South Africa, which boasts sending a Ranger off the test beds at Silverton in eastern Pretoria every two minutes 30 seconds, and Mercedes-Benz, which claims a “slow” five-day process to build 85% of its G-Class by hand, 3D printing is still painstakingly slow.
It took just over two months to built a 3D-printed car, and printing the unique version will take as long. Still, bearing in mind this process started at designing the car, this is unprecedented speed in the car making trade, as anyone who ever just tried to restored a car will also confirm.
The high price tag and long wait for delivery invite some to dismiss Local Motors as mere marketing hype. But their track record to date show this is no Generation Z flash-in-the-pan trend, and several companies think so too.
Local Motors has partnered with IBM to integrate IoT technology through IBM Watson into the 3D-printed car, Siemens’ Solid Edge to provide CAD modelling, IDEO to renew Local Motors Labs, and Sabic to improve materials. As the company state on its website: “There is nothing conventional about this car, the way it’s made, or the company behind it.” • email@example.com
The LM3D Swim is electric, its printed in 3D, and you can reserve one for R735 400, delivery costs and import taxes excluded.