3D-printed cars will speed up in-car tech development

3D-printed cars are coming. The faster automotive development cycles that the new manufacturing process brings will also speed up the 'smartness of the vehicle' cycle, the first 3D-print auto maker says.

3D printed cars
Credit: Local Motors

Advancements in direct digital manufacturing (DDM) will help bring the first 3D-printed car to market soon, according to Justin Fishkin, Chief Strategy Officer of Local Motors.

Local Motors is the company behind the first production 3D-printed car, called the LM3D Swim, and will start taking pre-sale orders in the spring of 2016.

Rapid auto-development cycles enabled by 3D-printing will usher in faster car technology cycles, Fishkin said at the Connected Car Expo in Los Angeles this week.

Connectivity

Local Motors uses manufacturing methods that work faster than those used by traditional auto makers.

A big advantage of this kind of instant manufacturing—where hardware can be brought to market quickly— is that it can also keep up with the cycle-time "of the software side of things," Fishkin said.

The "smartness of the vehicle" is able to be updated on a weekly or monthly basis, he says.

That should be competitive.

Replacing a 36-month cycle

Often, auto makers can take three or more years to update software. Having grown used to rapidly updating software cycles on devices like smartphones, consumers are likely to be frustrated by that pace.

And the car tech is developing quickly, that's not the problem. It's just taking too long to get it into the vehicles as the ideas are developed.

Indeed, connectivity in the car is becoming increasingly important to consumers.

Competition in vehicle connectivity is "forcing an accelerated pace of innovation for connected vehicles," consultant firm KPMG wrote in a report released this week.

Point-of-sale making of vehicles

Knoxville, Phoenix, and Las Vegas will be among the locations for open-to-the-public micro-factories where consumers will be able to "participate" in the design and manufacture of their cars, Fishkin said in his talk.

Assembly and uni-body 3D-printing of the thermo-plastic and carbon-fiber mix takes place at the micro-factory.

How quick?

Last year, the company printed a demonstration car in 44 hours. Fishkin thinks his company can ultimately bring that time down to under 12 hours.

The idea is that you walk up to a screen in the micro-factory and make selections. The car is then printed using DDM, which involves 3D printing.

OEM parts

Certain parts, such as the engine and drive train, are sourced from regular OEM sources, Fishkin said.

Tech companies involved include Siemens, IBM, Microsoft and others.

Customers can choose their body style on screens at the micro-factory. Additional options will include a choice of powertrain, wheels, tires, and eventually power sources. Local Motors is starting with electric.

Contract-style pricing

Fishkin says that the LM3D Swim will be sold under a new model of car ownership and pricing will be based on contracts.

That's similar to how smartphones have been sold, until recently.

One reason for contracts is that, similar to smartphones, the residual value of the vehicle isn't expected to be very high. Some parts would be re-used at the end of the term.

Pricing will range from $18,000 to $60,000 depending on options or contract length, Fishkin said.

Using digital manufacturing, each individual "vehicle we make is better than the last because it's open to the general public to suggest making it better and better," he said.

And contributors, whom the company expect to be numerous, get a royalty.

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