When it comes to 3D printing there are few, if any, companies that are making as big of a splash, at least from a media standpoint, as Phoenix, Arizona-based Local Motors. The company that surprised us all last September, when they 3D printed an entire functioning car live at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) within a 44 hour time frame, is progressing at a rapid rate. With plans to open 50 microfactories around the globe over the next 5 years, creating a thriving 3D printed automobile manufacturing business, Local Motors is sure to continue to garner the attention they deserve.
Back in September I had the pleasure of speaking with the the company’s CEO, Jay Rogers, who expressed to us his short-term plans and long-term goals. In the 6 months that have gone by since that conversation, the company has continued to make substantial progress in the efficiency of their 3D printing process, and has met every goal that they had set.
With new plans emerging, and the company getting ready to begin offering 3D printed vehicles to the public this Fall, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Justin Fishkin, Chief Strategy Officer for Local Motors, and have learned a great deal about where the company is headed in both the short and long terms. The plans of the company, and the general feeling I get when speaking with executives from Local Motors, are certainly a breath of fresh air.
Fishkin started off the conversation speaking about the Local Motors community, which involves more than just 3D printing. The community includes individuals and designers who love to participate in the company’s design process, and in the future people like you and me may be able to earn a living based on our participation. Design the next 3D printed car that the company produces, and you could earn royalties on each sale.
“We currently pay royalties to community members who contribute to products we bring to market,” explained Fishkin to 3DPrint.com. “I think that as our community grows and our product offerings continue to expand there is a lot of opportunity to have an outward facing sort of gamified platform. I think it will become more exciting for us and [our] community. At this point you can’t make a living just participating in our community, but we hope some day you could.”
As the company grows, the design opportunities for their community will grow as well, as Fishkin tells us that eventually they plan to unveil 3-4 new 3D printable car designs every quarter. We are likely still a couple of years away from such rapid rollouts of new models — however, it’s coming soon. In fact, customization is what this business model is all about as Fishkin explained to us how Local Motors envisions their microfactories operating:
“Imagine walking into one of our stores, walking up to a screen, choosing one of 9 bodies, choosing one of 4 powertrains, like electric, natural gas, diesel, etc, choosing your tires and wheels, your color and pressing ‘Go’ — and having those sorts of ranges of choices, that’s what we are driving for.”
Initially over the first several months they plan to offer just one model of car, which actually will not be the Strati that we have been seeing. After a few more months they will likely make another couple models available and expand their selection from there. The selling point of these vehicles will not be the fact that they are 3D printed, but instead the fact that they are easily upgradable and even recyclable.
Local motors plans to offer trade-in programs unlike any other. Want a new powertrain? Then simply bring the vehicle into your local microfactory and they can swap yours out, provide a credit, and add a brand new powertrain to your vehicle. Want a whole new design after a couple of years? No problem! Just bring your vehicle into the microfactory and Local Motors will grind it up, melt it down, and recycle the the car, providing a credit, which Fishkin tells us he hopes would be close to 50% of the initial purchase price of the vehicle, but at this point it’s too early to guess. This credit can then be put towards a new car that you are able to design and have 3D printed within hours.
“Recyclability is a key piece of this, where we think of it as upgradable hardware, where you bring the car back, and we’ll strip down the components of which there are 49 today, and sort of take the material back and repurpose it by reusing it in your new car or reusing it in somebody else’s,” explained Fishkin. “That will be the final piece that we tag onto this whole process, and we are just starting to work on that now. We are finding that the material we are using is recyclable to about 80% and we have to just keep doing the work to determine how many times we can recycle it without risking the integrity of the material.”
So, just how quickly will the turnaround time be from when a customer walks into one of these microfactories and designs their own car, to it being ready for pick-up? Within 12 months Fishkin envisions a 12 hour print time and about a 4-5 hour assembly time, which is certainly extraordinary progress when considering that in September it took the company 44 hours to print the Strati at the IMTS. Fishkin also tells us that in the future additional materials may be used within the vehicles, and instead of a PLA/carbon fiber composite, they may incorporate graphene into the cars as well as 3D printed metal.
“I can tell you I just got back from Korea where we were meeting with the largest producer of graphene, or according to them, the largest producer of graphene in the world. We are going to begin to do some research on the possibilities of graphene being extruded within the thermoplastic and we will start to get into metals as well,” Fishkin explained to us.
For now though the company is very satisfied with the current materials being used and they look towards these other new materials as future possibilities once their business model is well established. Certainly Local Motors is rethinking the entire automotive manufacturing process as well as the traditional retail model. As the company branches out and opens new microfactories shortly — in places like Los Angeles, Detroit, Berlin, Singapore, and South Korea — the Goliaths within the industry will likely take notice. Is Local Motors worried about these companies coming in and quickly crushing their command of the market for 3D printed cars? Not exactly.
“As far as established manufacturers, I think that maybe somebody else will try and do what we are doing at some point, but established manufacturers have so much money invested in their facilities,” explained Fishkin. “It costs $1-$5 billion to put up a big factory and then they have to amortize that cost over every unit they make for many years. It’s hard for them to unwind that process and start making cars in a new way. I think that they will, and will continue to expand into prototyping, but I think it will be a little longer [than] people expect for them to directly challenge us. We aren’t coming into this with these legacy facilities and expectations to make a million units. We don’t have to make inventory, we only make a car when someone buys it.”
Regardless of whether or not competition eventually comes in, this technology will continue to develop at a torrid pace it seems. As Local Motors begins offering their 3D printed vehicles to consumers later this year, it will be interesting to watch and gauge the market’s demand for such a foreign method of car buying and manufacturing.
Let’s hear your thoughts on all this news in the Local Motors forum thread on 3DPB.com.