The current state of automotive manufacturing has been at a standstill for pretty much since the time of Henry Ford and not much in the ways of progress has occurred in terms of methods. We of course have new materials and ways of building those materials, such as carbon fiber, titanium, and structural aluminum, but other than that the process of putting a car together hasn't changed much at all. Until now.
Last week, Local Motors set out to display a proof of concept that could possibly revolutionize the way automotive manufacturers build car components, or even the cars themselves. Using advanced, and much larger, 3D printing, Local Motors built a fully functional car within 44hrs from absolutely nothing at a manufacturing and trade expo in downtown Chicago. I got invited down to check out the car by Local Motors, and honestly, it is pretty damn cool.
The car uses a Renault Twizy electric motor that gives the car a top speed of around 50mph, something though that it didn't get up to for its first test run. What it did do was start, run, and function just like any other normal car.
The only difference was that just a few short days ago, this car was still a massive block of plastic.
Speaking while in the car about the use of this technology, Local Motors CEO Jay Roger's said that he hopes that one day Local Motors would be able to provide a 1 day turn around service from the intial design, to manufacturing, to driving so that a customer can walk into Local Motors, pick a design, wait a bit, and drive off with their car later that day.
I was able to get up close and personal with the Strati and every single piece on this car, and there aren't that many with only a total of 57 parts, was captivating and fascinating to see the blend of technologies.
Will this be how all of our cars are made in a few years? Probably not, but it does showcase the power of a technology to rapidly build many of the parts on our cars. Manufacturers are already investing heavily into 3D printing technologies to stay relevant. 3D printed parts are coming, with some already on the road, but that will only increase as more and more manufacturers develop their own 3D printing infrastructures.
While the car was designed and built to showcase a new way of using existing technology, the car definitely had the Local Motors vibe to it. The wheels for instance, for safety's sake, were normal wheels, but also a set of one off Fifteen52's. You may know these from the same company that makes all of Ken Block's Rally and Gymkhanna wheels giving a bit of lineage from the Rally Fighter, Local Motors fist production car.
It was fascinating to check out the car and talk with all the folks from Local Motors. They are truly a passionate bunch, and it shows in all the vehicles they build. They even gave me a ride in the Rally Fighter, the article which will be coming soon to The Smoking Tire so stay tuned. I also got a scoop while I was there concerning the company's next project, the Track Car.
Right now the company is between two engines, a GM sourced Ecotec motor, or a twin turbo 1.5L EcoBoost motor, with them leaning towards the Ford unit. I threw in the Toyota FA20 motor, but the network for crate engines just isn't there to make a business case as I was told, and they are all very excited to begin working on it, and so am I! The next project is also in good hands, the Local Motors CFO used to work on the Mastretta MXT project.
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