When it comes to automobile manufacturing, Phoenix, Arizona-based Local Motors is certainly ahead of their time, as they set out to build a business based around the manufacturing of 3D printed electric vehicles. Unless you have been living under a rock for the last year or so you’ve more than likely seen their first ever 3D printed car, the Strati, which rolled off of the showroom floor at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago back in 2014.
As the company works its way toward opening as many as 100 microfactories across the world, where they will sell and fabricate multiple customizable, 3D printed vehicle models, they work diligently to fine tune the printing and assembly process, as well as experiment with new materials and production methods. While the Strati’s main body was printed using a carbon fiber/ABS composite, the company ultimately wishes to print vehicles using multiple materials and expand on the range of printable parts within each car.
As a way to further experiment with such materials and techniques Local Motors began printing and assembling two mule-like vehicles back in the beginning of June for their DDM University. With a deadline of July 4th, they certainly had their work cut out for them. The cars, which are about the same size, give or take, as the original Strati, have bodies which have been completely reimagined.
A few weeks back we mentioned that Local Motors was experimenting with two materials produced by Fenner Drives called NinjaFlex and SemiFlex in an effort to perhaps use them for crash structures such as bumpers. The team thought that the rubber-like properties inherent within these materials would minimize the impact to the vehicle during a crash.
As the team at Local Motors continued the development of these two new cars, they had the opportunity to integrate the NinjaFlex material into the cars’ design in several useful ways. First off, they 3D printed front and rear bumpers with the flexible material, providing cushion in areas that otherwise could crack. Printed with white NinjaFlex, despite a Local Motors’ Staff member, David Neal, publicly stating that he wished they would use hot pink, the bumpers are able to attach to the frame of the cars using some simple brackets, bolts and washers at an existing mounting location.
Next, the team wanted to 3D print the seats instead of relying on the more traditionally manufactured ones which were used during the production of the Strati. Once again, the NinjaFlex material made more sense than the ABS/carbon fiber composite as it’s flexible, softer, and obviously much more comfortable to sit on. They printed out two bench seats, one for each vehicle, also using white NinjaFlex, made a battery cover and then carpeted the floors of each vehicle. Now all that they are waiting for are a few hinges to be delivered to allow the seats to be mounted, and both Mules will be complete.
The company is not saying too much about what the DDM University is all about, or why they needed these cars by the 4th of this month. With that said, the construction of these two vehicles is a great example of the versatility inherent within the 3D printing process used by Local Motors. Ultimately the company would like to print as many components of the car as possible, using materials which suit the specific purpose of each component the best. Using NinjaFlex for the bumpers as well as seats is a step in the right direction. Now the only question that remains is what other materials with they experiment with next? Maybe glass?
“I imagine the printing process would not leave the glass smooth enough to reliably see through,” said Matt Jackson, Local Motors engineering community manager, referring to a recent story we published about 3D printed glass by Micron3DP. “It would definitely make for some interesting art projects though.”
Let’s hear your thoughts on these new 3D printed vehicles in the Local Motors 3D Printed Mule forum thread on 3DPB.com.