“Why would we stop at cars when we can do things that need structure, other kinds of vehicles…. Boats, planes, satellites.” – Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers to 3DPrint.com
I’ll be honest, when Local Motors announced earlier this year that they soon would be 3D printing an entire car within a span of just 6 days, at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), I was one of their biggest skeptics. How could you blame me? After all, we have all seen how long it takes to print out a simple smartphone case on a Makerbot Replicator, or similar machine.
Boy did I underestimate the team at Local Motors, and their CEO Jay Rogers, who happens to have a background in the U.S. Marine Corps. Earlier this month, the company managed to 3D print the Strati car, which they drove out of the IMTS venue and into a Chicago street without any trouble. In a brief 30 minute conversation I had with Rogers, his drive to success, innovative thinking, and ability to recognize boundaries prior to breaking right through them, has shown through. The man truly has a plan to take 3D printing to the next level, and use his company, Local Motors, as the vehicle (quite literally) to do so in a big way.
In the short interview, I was able to obtain a tremendous amount of information about the future of the company, and where Rogers sees Local Motors headed next.
We started off discussing their immediate plans after this groundbreaking accomplishment, and he quickly wanted to take the attention away from last week’s event, stressing that:
“The coolest part about this technology is that it is not restricted to one type of car. We could have printed a 7 passenger bus. It didn’t matter. I have said this a thousand times in the past week. It’s not about the car, it’s about the process.”
Local Motors will begin offering the Strati car for sale as a neighborhood electric vehicle, meaning it will not be permitted on the highway at first. It will be priced at between $18,000 and $34,000 and go on sale within 12 months (likely sooner according to Rogers). The Strati will not be the only model offered, however.
“We as a company are proof positive that we don’t stick to one type of model,” stated Rogers. “Month by month, [when] we do different vehicles, people are really going to get it. I think what I will tell you as a teaser is that we are going to do a lot more models, and quickly!”
Rogers pointed me to the 207 design proposals that they had received for vehicles when they launched their 3D printable car design competition back in June. Fifteen of those models could easily be 3D printed, he said, and this gives them an immediate slate of designs for future models.
Local Motors is very serious about their business plan. They don’t intend to just sell a couple 3D printed cars per month. They already have three microfactories set up in Phoeniz, AZ, Las Vegas, NV, and Knoxville, TN, with ambitious goals of opening up 50 microfactories within the next 5 years, and 100 over the next 10 years, all around the globe. In the immediate future, both Berlin, Germany, and Crystal City, VI (Washington D.C. suburb) will be seeing microfactories going up. Even more surprising is the fact that they may be printing more than just cars within these microfactories. When I asked Rogers if they plan on perhaps printing a motorcycle or other vehicle, his response was quite surprising:
“Why would we stop at cars when we can do things that need structure, other kinds of vehicles. Boats, planes, satellites, there are a lot of things which can use this methodology. I think the answer is, we are going to swap it up because we believe that the method is good for all vehicles, and not just some.”
For those of you doubting that planes and boats, or even satellites could be 3D printed any time soon, ask yourself this: Did you believe a car could be 3D printed this quickly? The technology is advancing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up with. Manufacturing processes which seem impossible today may be commonplace within a year or two. To understand this, consider how quickly Local Motors has improved the very technology used to 3D print the Strati. Just three weeks prior to the IMTS event, where the car was printed within a 44 hour window, it took the company 140 hours to print the same vehicle during internal testing. This represents a staggering 357% increase in time efficiency over just a few weeks. When I asked Rogers if he was nervous, considering the progress they needed to make in order to meet the deadline at the show, he replied:
“Yes, I love to make a challenge, and we challenged ourselves. Holy cow, we challenged ourselves big time, so yes, we were nervous, we were very nervous.”
If they could manage this sort of productivity increase over just a three week period, imagine where this technology could be in another year, three or five.
“The theoretical limit of extrusion technology is 1000 times faster, so I don’t think it will be long before we can print much faster,” Rogers stated.
It’s not only the speed of the printer which will progress. The team at Local Motors is already looking into a variety of other improvements. One such improvement is the ability to print with multiple materials. Just my mention of multiple materials, got Rogers excited:
“Yes, now you are talking! That’s where the future is. Starting to combine soft materials and rigid materials, and materials with different ductility or durometer, and to get it out of the same machine, that’s the money. And colors too, that will unlock even more customizable designs.”
He went on to explain that there are currently over 50 different polymers which could be used right now in the production of a 3D printed car. ABS has the advantage of being affordable, however, polymer science has come a long way and there are certainly some tremendous options out there.
There are certainly some very exciting times ahead, both for Local Motors, and the future of 3D printed cars in general. As for what happened to the first Strati car to be 3D printed? It’s already sold. How much you ask? Well, Rogers wouldn’t provide us with an exact number but did give a few hints:
“We sold [the buyer] a whole package. The point is, we said publicly $18-34k. What will you pay for the first 3D printed car? Some people will pay $1 million, some $2 million. I would say people aren’t going to just pay the [base] price of the car.”
For those of you interested in printing your own Strati, there’s some good news. Local Motors has plans to shortly upload the model to their site and allow you and I to 3D print a model of the car on our desktop 3D printers at home.
“Not an actual size car, although I’m sure some people are going to try and do that too,” stated Rogers with a chuckle.
What do you think of these ambitious plans by Local Motors? Discuss in the Local Motors forum thread on 3DPB.com.