An Arizona custom car company hopes to produce what it calls the first 3D-printed, street-ready vehicle early next year.
Local Motors is readying a "neighborhood" electric car to go on sale sometime during the first quarter of next year. A highway-ready, higher-speed version will go on sale later in the year, a spokesman said. As with a previous car design that was not 3D printed, Local Motors held a contest to design the newer vehicles, both of which it calls ReLoad Redacted.
Kevin Lo, an engineer living in Vancouver, Wash., won with his design for two models: The Swim, which looks like a dune buggy, and the Sport, a sleek-looking 2+2 coupe. Lo also happens to work for Hewlett-Packard on advanced printer systems. The designs of the finished cars may ultimately differ, however, according to a Local Motors spokesman.
While the 3D-printed cars may look sporty, the ReLoad Redacted vehicles will not be tearing up roads with their speed. The battery-powered neighborhood vehicles will have a top speed of between 25mph and 35mph and will be priced between $18,000 and $30,000.
A faster vehicle is expected to follow the initial, lower-speed models, the company said, but didn't specify what the faster speed would be. It is "likely" the highway-ready version of the vehicle will be electric, the Local Motors spokesman said, but "we are also experimenting with other technologies as well. Theoretically, we are creating a car ... that could support various powertrains."
Industry analyst Terry Wohlers applauded Local Motors' efforts, calling them "interesting and bold," and saying "it's pushing the limits of what's possible." But, he said, it's also misleading to call Local Motors cars 3D-printed.
"Many (and maybe most) of the parts in the car are not 3D-printed. Even so, it's impressive work and I fully support what Jay Rogers and his company are doing," said Wohlers, founder of research firm Wohlers Associates.
Generally, 3D printing processes are relatively slow when compared to high-volume production processes like injection molding, where molten metal or plastics are poured into a mold, Wohlers said.
However, Local Motors is using what's known as the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) process used by fabricator Cincinnati Inc. and developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which can be far faster than traditional 3D printing methods.
Nor is Local Motors the first to develop 3D printing processes for car manufacturing. The Urbee by Jim Kor and the follow-up KOR EcoLogic were the first cars with a body that was 3D printed.
Earlier this month, Rezvani Motors unveiled The Blade, what it called a "super sports car" that features many 3D-printed parts. Rezvani Motors claims the car can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds -- faster than a Bugatti Veyron and anything that Ferrari makes.
The Blade is also very lightweight -- its body's only a tad over 100 lbs. -- as it's made with aluminum and carbon-fiber tubing. But unlike Local Motors' vehicles, The Blade features 3D-printed "node" or carbon fiber tubing used to create the chassis. The body, the interior and anything else that can be seen is created using traditional manufacturing methods.
For its cars, Local Motors is 3D printing the entire body of the car and is working with several universities and Oak Ridge National Lab to create the vehicles.
The 3D-printed vehicles are expected to showcase the advantages of direct digital manufacturing (DDM), which may someday offer consumers the ability to create customizable vehicles at the factory. DDM allows adjustments to a design to be made on-the-fly using computer-aided design software. A 3D printer can then execute the design changes.
"What's more, its design boasts a flexible foundation that can support many different styles and technology options," Local Motors stated in a news release.
A lithium-ion battery will power the first of the 3D-printed cars. Local Motors, however, said it is already working to identify other battery options for the vehicles. For example, the company is exploring lithium sulfur battery technology, which creates three times the energy at half the weight of lithium-ion models.
Last year, Local Motors produced its first 3D-printed car, the Strati, which had a visibly course body created by the thick layers of thermal plastic material.
The Strati was produced by Cincinnati Inc. for Local Motors and took about 44 hours to print using a fused filament fabrication (FFF) method where thermoplastic is melted and extruded layer by layer. Depending on the thickness of the layers, the surface of an object printed with a FFF 3D machine can have a course, ribbed surface.
For the ReLoad Redacted cars, Local Motors has been working with the Oak Ridge National Lab.
Local Motors also hopes to launch a fleet of vehicles based on the ReLoad Redacted design that it is calling LOCO University Vehicles. LOCO (Local Motors Co-Created) reflects a partnership where the LOCO vehicles will be used by universities to develop technology that could eventually go into the 3D-printed cars -- including new and better materials, robotics and, eventually, autonomous (self-driving) technology.
The first three universities to participate in the program are the University of Michigan, Arizona State University and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
The University of Michigan this week took delivery of a LOCO, with its research efforts focusing on the development of autonomous technology. U of M plans to use the LOCO to develop a fleet of autonomous vehicles to transport students around the university's north campus, while also serving as the nation's first testbed for on-demand autonomous cars.
"Think Uber, but with low-speed, autonomous cars," said Ed Olson, an associate professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan, who is leading the project. "The goal of this program is for us to begin to understanding the challenges of a transportation-on-demand system built around autonomous cars."