3D-printed car-maker targets mass distribution

Local Motors electric Strati could be mass marketed by end of 2015

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Credit: DOE

Talk about going from the drawing board to reality. The company, Local Motors that only last September demonstrated the one of the world’s first full 3D printed cars, said this week that by the end of the year they hope to be producing the vehicles for everyday consumption.

 The two-seat car, known as a Strati, was demonstrated at this week’s Detroit Auto Show and is built almost entirely of carbon-reinforced plastic, including the body and chassis, which takes about 44 hours to make. The goal for the next stage of research and development is to speed up the print rate to 24 hours while maintaining quality, the company says.

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 Executives noted that other experimental cars have used 3D printed parts before but this was the first to use the technology almost exclusively.

 Material demonstrations have been donated to Local Motors by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Cincinnati Incorporated. In fact this week the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Cincinnati went another step forward in the 3D car arena by printing a replica of the classic Shelby Cobra in celebration of the racing car’s 50th anniversary.

shelby61 DOE

 “Everything on the [Strati] car that could be integrated into a single material piece has been printed. This includes the chassis/frame, exterior body, and some interior features. The mechanical components of the vehicle, like battery, motors, wiring, suspension, are sourced from Renault’s Twizy, an electric powered city car,” Local Motors says on its website.

 According to Local Motors, the company plans to open a 45,000-square-foot 3-D micro-factory in National Harbor, MD that will turn out printed vehicles in by the end of 2015. Local Motors operates other so-called micro-factories Phoenix and Las Vegas.

 According to a Detroit News post on the Strati: “As 3-D printing technology has become more affordable, the price of printing an entire car has become more affordable as well. It costs the company between $5-$7 per lb to print, with a total weight of 1,100 lbs. This version is a low-speed vehicle, traveling up to 40 miles per hour on an electric motor. When a road-ready version is available, the company says it could sell for between $25,000 and $35,000, depending on the customization that is done. That's another unique aspect of the Strati design. The drive train, seats and other non-printed parts are fully customizable…”

 Some facts about the car from Local Motors:

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*

Battery - 6.1 kwh battery, 62-mile range, 3.5-hour charge time

Body - Approx. 212 layers, direct digital manufactured vehicle (DDMV), carbon fiber reinforced ABS plastic

Top Speed - approx. 50mph*

Wheels - custom made by Fifteen52

 According to the Local Motors website, once the 3D-printed car is cleared by U.S. vehicle rules and regulations, it will be drivable on public roads; our goal is to complete this in 2015.

 According to the Department of Energy and its Advanced Manufacturing Office the first demo car was printed using a new manufacturing machine called Big Area Additive Manufacturing or BAAM. BAAM can build components 10 times larger and hundreds of times faster than existing techniques and print parts up to eight feet in every dimension, an enormous upgrade in printing capabilities that was critical in making the car chassis.

 “The additive printing technology used by BAAM typically works in a build-chamber oven by melting a plastic into a computer-specified pattern, one layer at a time. The need for expensive plastic filaments, oven heating equipment, and energy in the form of heat make the process fairly expensive.

 But, BAAM overcomes these cost and energy barriers in several ways. First, BAAM switches from expensive plastic filaments to pellet-formed plastic that is currently used by the injection molding industry at a tenth of the cost. Second, BAAM prints components in open air, eliminating the need for a heated build chamber. Last but not least, the system also applies advanced process monitoring techniques and control software developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility,” the DOE stated.

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