Someday, you may meet a friend for coffee and hear her say, “I have some time to kill. I just ordered a car and they’re printing it for me now.” And if Local Motors lives up to its recent promises, the day of custom 3-D car printing may arrive as early as next year.
While the idea of mass customization—the use of CAD (computer-aided design) software to produce custom output—has been around for decades, new advances are starting to make the dreams a reality, in fields ranging from houses to human body parts. As made-to-order 3-D products become more common and more sophisticated, the idea of precisely satisfying a consumer’s individualized desires may become the next big, new thing in merchandising.
Content for One
Phoenix-based Local Motors showed a prototype of its 3-D printed car, the Strati (Italian for “layers”), at the Detroit Auto Show in January. The stubby, so-homely-it’s-cute electric city car will win no beauty contests, but its manufacturing innovations may be a sign of exciting things to come.
Almost all of the nonmechanical elements—the chassis, the exterior bodywork and some of the interior—are produced in plastic and carbon fiber using a 3-D printer. The electric motor, the wiring, the battery and the suspension come from the Renault Twizy, though Local Motors says it is studying other powertrains. (Go for a virtual ride in the Strati here.)
The company has set up “microfactories” in Arizona and Nevada and plans to build or franchise 100 around the world in the next 10 years. The Strati is not the first printed car—the Urbee was produced in 2011—but it has the most printed parts.