Last summer, 3D printing-friendly tech and automotive company Local Motors teamed up with IBM’s Watson IoT’s AutoLAB to release the self-driving Olli shuttle, which was created with 3D printing technology and can operate as one car or in a network of smart vehicles; it’s already been used to transport commuters in Washington, D.C. and Berlin. The autonomous vehicle celebrated its first birthday this June, not long after the company’s microfactory in Knoxville, Tennessee produced the first fully 3D printed Olli.

Local Motors has also set up localized micro-factories in Phoenix, Las Vegas, National Harbor, and Berlin, which design and manufacture automobiles in the regions they serve – this plan has helped the company achieve a small-batch, on-demand business model, so they can keep a small footprint while working on big ideas, like the Olli bus, that have the potential to redefine existing industries.

The company needs specific, high-tech tools to help meet prototyping and production needs. By using streamlined 3D printing, Local Motors design engineers can keep parts production in-house, while lowering tooling costs by 50% and production time by 90%.

“There’s a huge difference between using an outside part manufacturer and having that capability in-house. The convenience of being able to print a part and have it in your hand in a couple of hours is not only cheaper, but also reduces lead times and allows us to iterate that much more quickly,” said Design Engineer Frederik Tjonneland.

Local Motors turned to MakerBot, and its Replicator+ cloud-enabled desktop 3D printer, to produce parts for the autonomous Olli.

Alex Fiechter, Local Motors’ Director of Product Development, explained, “We really don’t have the time to wait for the parts we need. We need to set the making of them in motion and forget about them while we work on other things. The MakerBot Replicator+ has been the ideal example of this ‘set it and forget it’ experience for creating 3D printed parts on both the production and the prototyping side.”

The design process for the Olli parts begins with MakerBot’s intuitive print preparation software, MakerBot Print. The software comes with a powerful interface, and a list of professional capabilities, such as automatic build plate arrangement, native CAD file importing, and the ability to save different build plates and assemblies as one single project – this last feature is essential for collaboration and iteration.

Local Motors needs quality tools, and processes, that can make its existing workflows stronger, so it’s able to keep churning out disruptive solutions, like the sustainable Olli shuttle, to mobility issues – that’s why it turned to MakerBot.

Tjonneland said, “Fast and iterative desktop 3D printing is absolutely critical at Local Motors…it’s integral towards what we do. MakerBot will always have a place with us.”

The company also makes good use of MakerBot Tough PLA, the company’s strong, impact-resistant material. The filament experiences longer plastic deformation under severe tensile loads, and greater tensile elongation as well. This is why Local Motors uses Tough PLA for its 3D printed Olli parts, which need to function well under stress.

Local Motors engineers use the Tough PLA filament to create high-impact, durable strength fixtures and prototypes for metal parts on-demand. It replaces long lead times with instant results, and has tensile, impact, and flexible strength characteristics similar to ABS plastic.

“We like Tough PLA because we can thread directly into the part and mount other components to it. In the time it would have taken to order a metal part and have it shipped here, we already finished the entire project,” said Mechanical Engineer Tony Rivera.

As the idea of autonomous vehicles like Olli picks up speed around the world, Local Motors turns to MakerBot products for pretty much everything – from development and testing to final parts manufacturing. Thanks to the benefits of 3D printing technology, the Olli can be refined without having to completely modify it, and the company believes that it will eventually involve other professionals, such as city planners and urban designers, in the design work for the Olli. Discuss in the Local Motors forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source/Images: MakerBot]

 

 

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