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3D Printing 101—How to Make a Car: Local Motors Gives Us a Sneak Peek

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5637c4a2bea45f877ea1fe7b_lm-swim-side-right“There is nothing conventional about this car, the way it’s made, or the company behind it.”

For a while there it sounded as if we were going to 3D print everything eventually. What’s changed today? Eventually has become reality for many products, beginning with some pretty big ticket items that we may have never imagined possible—from real estate to body parts. And although we may hear a lot of talk about 3D printed cars, up until now they’ve been a fairly far-fetched idea for the normal driver.

Numerous concepts and projects have appeared on the scene with very serious talk—like plans surrounding the Urbee 2, for example, but still with some gray area regarding production and funding. The Strati, however, has probably stuck in your mind if you have been following the subject of 3D printed cars. Printed before an audience in just six days, many were clamoring to find out more and wondering when it would become available. Local Motors had something different in mind for the general public though, and last year after some evolution in the exact plan, it was announced that indeed they would commence with pre-sales for the LM3D Swim.

The LM3D, set with a targeted MSRP of $53,000, has been set for a launch in the second quarter of this year, with pre-sales beginning then, and the possibility of retail sales later in the year. The fact that there is a real car with a real plan certainly sets Local Motors apart. And not only that—there’s a real manufacturing process in place, as the team shared with us recently. And like the real pros, they make it look awfully easy.

UntitledIn ‘3D Printing 101: How to Print a Car,’ the team shows us exactly what it takes to 3D print a car, with the new Local Motors model being composed of 75 percent fabricated parts—and eventually this will be up to 90 percent, according to the company. Each part begins as a typical .stl file which is manipulated and perfected before it goes to print. Tony Rivera, a mechanical engineer for Local Motors handles creating items like the main assembly in digital form, and then sending it to the print operations department.

“Once we get a file from the engineering department, it comes as an .stl file and we have to run it through slicer software where it breaks it down into individual layers that the printer can read,” says Michael Lachenauer, printer operator.

“We have to take that file and get it transferred over to the BAAM 3D printer, and from there we can start the print.”

UntitledBAAM is short for Big Area Additive Manufacturing, which is the 3D printer Local Motors uses to construct their vehicles—and it’s appropriately named. This is, of course, a seriously industrial machine that’s making some very large and important parts. Once files from the desktop printers are transferred there, the team is in business and ready to start making parts.

The material used to 3D print the vehicles is composed of pellets made up of a blend that is 80 percent ABS and 20 percent carbon fiber. The extruder prints at a temperature of 410° F. Parts are printed very quickly, as you can see in the video below, with the main assembly completed in just five hours.

Local Motors is currently working with a number of other companies as they work to begin offering these cars to the public. An Indiegogo campaign is impending, purportedly, and will allow consumers to begin taking advantage of pre-sales. As the company works to take the car to market, they are collaborating with:

UntitledThe cars will be highly customizable, and Local Motors states they will have numerous aesthetics that are only possible via 3D printing. While underpinnings will be the same for each vehicle, many could look ‘radically different’ overall, according to the company. Safety is of course a primary concern, and they are continuing testing throughout this year, with the expectations that the LM3D series may very possibly be safer than traditionally manufactured vehicles. Indeed, history is being made—and how fun it will be to look to your left in traffic and see one of these ‘vehicles of the future’ next to you at a stoplight very soon. Currently, Local Motors engineers and designers are working around the clock to see that happen. Do you think you might be interested in one of the LM3Ds? Discuss in the 3D Printed Car forum over at

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