You knew the printed car was going to happen, but as soon as this weekend? That’s when the first printed car arrives. It will be built up from carbon-reinforced plastics, then driven out of Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center and onto the streets of the Windy City. The vehicle will be printed over 44 hours. Technicians will add in the unprintable — electric motor, battery, wiring, window glass — and the car, called Strati, should be out the door Saturday.
Rather the print dozens of smaller sub-assemblies and screwing, gluing or bolting them together, the concept car has a main body structure built up as a single module using something called the BAAM Machine. BAAM stands for big area additive manufacturing, with a deposition rate of 40 pounds per hour.
Can your trade show do this?
All this happens at a trade show called IMTS, the International Manufacturing Technology Show. It’s being held this week in the Windy City, attracts 100,000 attendees, and is awash in acronyms. IMTS is run by AMT, the Association for Manufacturing Technology, which promotes US-based manufacturing technology. Many of the manufacturing technologies used to make Strati were pioneered at the DOE (Department of Energy) manufacturing demonstration facility at ORNL (Oak Ridge National Laboratory).
The Strati components that aren’t printed in the trade show microfactory from carbon reinforced ABS plastic (see, another acronym; photo right) will be added to the car by a company called Local Motors. The company also creates specialty cars and motorcycles using more traditional construction techniques.
The built-up, 3D-printed body comprises everything that doesn’t move, doesn’t need to be clear, or doesn’t conduct electricity. Local Motor additions include the motor, battery, wiring, seats, windshield, suspension, wheels and tires, steering wheel, windows, and headlamps. AMT touts the American nature of the operation. France’s Renault supplies much of the EV running gear, though, sourced from the components that go into its Twizy electric cars.
Could this be the future of automaking?
Ford’s River Rouge complex in Dearborn, MI, has 16 million square feet of factory space and can build several hundred thousand vehicles a year. A microprinter doesn’t need much more than the footprint of the car to operate, about 100 square feet, and can build a car every two days, if Strati is typical. (It’s a two-seater, smaller than most cars.) And it would be easy to configure different cars. Want more back seat room because you carry four adults a lot? Want extra headroom for someone who’s six-foot-six? All that is theoretically possible.
Right now, custom-ordering is frowned upon or impossible with cars shipped in from overseas, especially Asia. The same mindset continues even now that they have factories in the US. American automakers will build to order, but it can take a couple months, and a lot of incentives or rebates cover only the cars in dealer stock. German automakers do a brisk business in custom-order and European delivery and the majority of Minis are sold built-to-order. But those are the minority.
If a regional facility or even your dealership printed the car of your dreams this week, it might change the nature of the car business. We’d say it’s for the better. Someone working an assembly line might feel differently.
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