3D printing has an apparently irresistible appeal, and has been conquering growing popularity ever since its first appearance on the scene. In just a few years it has become an increasingly practiced pastime, thanks to the emergence of low-cost printers and easy-to-use software.
Home hobbyists can now print objects like smartphone cases, coffee mugs and all the way up to semiautomatic rifles.
But the idea of printing a workable car seemed a bit extreme. Until the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago where, on 13 September 2014, "Strati" was presented: a perfectly functioning car, designed by an Italian and constructed by the American Local Motors company.
Local Motors had initiated the project in April by launching a design contest aimed at producing a car via a process involving 3-D printing technology.
The company received more than 200 submissions, eventually choosing a design by Michele AnoÃ¨, an Italian automotive designer. Mr. AnoÃ¨ named his entry “Strati” — the Italian for “Layers” — referring to the elaborate buildup process used in 3-D printing.
The Strati was constructed in one single piece using "Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM)" technology… never used before in automobile construction.
The car’s structure is made entirely from a composite — acrylonitrile butadiene styrene — reinforced with carbon fiber, commonly called A.B.S.: in practice, the same thermoplastic used to make Lego bricks.
All the printing was carried out on a printer roughly the size of a shipping container, and was completed on-site in Chicago in just 44 hours. A team from Local Motors then finished the assembly by sanding and shaping the body for a better finish and by fitting the mechanical components to the body.
The entire process took about four days. (Assembly video.)
The Strati is propelled by a Renault Twizy electric engine. It can reach speeds close to 50 m.p.h. and can travel up to 62 miles on one electricity charge. It is now ready to enter production and will cost between $18,000 and $30,000. Early versions will serve as low-speed runabouts, i.e. neighborhood electric vehicles.
The 3D-printed car is the offspring of a new way of looking at manufacturing process. Local Motors states that "We operate a growing global network of microfactories and our co-creation community is made up of enthusiasts, hobbyist innovators and professionals. We are designers, engineers, and makers and we can bring hardware innovations to market at unprecedented speed."
Co-creation and micro-manufacturing are unusual terms to apply to the automobile industry. But it’s promising to hear them used, because when the way we see thing changes, the world changes too.