In the spring of 2015, Fiat-Chrysler’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, issued a statement in which he called on the auto industry for what he saw as an incredible waste of money. The specific waste he wants to cut is in the car design and manufacture process, some of which is not made public. He suggested that the industry should focus on eliminating redundancy.
Local Motors’ solution to change the way they manufacture cars is “Strati”, the world’s first 3D printed car. It’s a sleek, modest yet unique machine. It was built, or rather, printed in Detroit, in cooperation with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The Strati is a compact two-seater electric car that was the first of many models in Local’s plans. So far there are two factories, the size of which employs 100 people, each of which is under construction and will come into operation by the end of 2015. The locality plans to manufacture its own cars and is capable of operating as a supplier to original equipment manufacturers, some of whom met Rogers. This new medium has a high capacity for inexpensive prototyping. It was a radical big idea, the idea that prompted Popular Mechanics publication to award the “Breakthrough Award” to Local Motors.
Although the world’s first 3D printed car is rudimentary in terms of design if you look at it by modern automotive standards, that is only the first step. Its dashboard looks like silicone beds stacked from a freeze gun. Meanwhile, its flanks are smooth, similar to the exposed parts of the BMW i3’s matte carbon sink. The sides are machined to show what it will look like but most of the other parts are just how they come from the printer so make sure they’re made by one person. In the future, it might look like anyone wants and the materials the car made from is completely recyclable.
Strati is printed from carbon fiber reinforced plastic, which is a versatile, durable and relatively inexpensive material that could allow for some new approaches to safety. Thanks to the nature of 3D printing, in which the vehicle is fabricated in multiple layers extruded from the nozzles of a large printer, manufacturers can embed energy-absorbing crash structures or even Sturdy seat belts are anchored deep into the bodywork. Spring bumper panels can be linked to the frame to reduce pedestrian impact (Local is currently testing a printable elastic polyurethane material they call “NinjaFlex”). And if the driver gets serious damage to the body / frame (or the “tub” as Local mentioned), the owner can actually unlatch the engine and suspension, melt the vehicle and print a new one, it’s a complicated process and most auto buyers may not be interested in molten cars, but it has many potential applications. The Strati parked in Knoxville didn’t even have a seat belt, but that’s proof of concept.
The prototype Local provided to journalists was said to have been in print for 40 hours. The company is currently looking for an electric drivetrain supplier, so Strati instead uses a powerful golf cart motor as the rack. The rear-wheel-drive Strati was envisioned as a city car, but Rogers was not blind to maneuverability. “If you put a motor with 150 or 200 horsepower in here, it would be a lot of fun,” he said.
The rear suspension is housed on an aluminum subframe, and without distinction between body and frame, the car feels solid, substantial. Obviously the golf cart motor would create some clunking despite relative silence however if you were to put a performance motor back there who knows how the power-to-weight ratio would affect this..
The one-piece carbon tank they print for journalists based on the McLaren 650S costs more than $300,000. Even so, the Strati, the lackluster engine, will only cost around $5,000. No, it’s not a McLaren. But for a family of five crammed in a compact car to travel, as is common in suburbs, it is also possible.
Developing countries may love this technology for its cheap transport, but big-spending car enthusiasts may also want a thousand-horsepower, self-designed, printed car. during the production of one piece. Perhaps an automaker that wants to produce a complete car in ten hours instead of 24 might prefer this as an alternative means of building their own ride. Modern cars are more complex than ever, but the combination of 3D printing and an electric motor – where the engine has only one moving part – looks to a future where that’s no longer a given.