Amer­i­can car builder makes good on prom­ise of 3D-printed ve­hi­cles

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - AL­WYN VILJOEN

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.” • al­wyn.viljoen@gmail.com

PHOTO: SLASHGEAR.COM

The LM3D Swim is elec­tric, its printed in 3D, and you can re­serve one for R735 400, de­liv­ery costs and im­port taxes ex­cluded.

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