By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“We need a new kind of car industry . . . one that is more responsive,” Jay Rogers, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Local Motors, told us last week in an interview from the show floor of a massive automotive industry event in Las Vegas.
The venue – the annual “SEMA Show” – and the announcement – a fully homologated 3D-printed vehicle that will begin production in 2016 and be available in 2017 once crash testing is complete – symbolize the disruptive business model and technology approach undertaken by Rogers and the Local Motors team.
They also illustrate just how fast additive manufacturing can advance an idea from the design stage to reality, a clear value proposition that Local Motors brings to the industry.
At last week’s “White House Forum on Connecting Regional Innovation Ecosystems to Federal and National Labs,” Thom Mason, Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), told the attendees that the lab’s initial discussions about the Strati, Local Motors first 3D-printed vehicle, occurred in April, and it was produced months later.
“For 120 years, the automotive industry has mass-produced cars,” Rogers says. “The world today is a different place. We have created a system by which we can innovate a car.”
And that’s just what Local Motors was doing last week, unveiling its newest model – the LM3D Swim – to more than 60,000 people from around the world at the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s annual show. It was the second year in a row that the company has used the event, which ended Friday, to unveil its revolutionary capabilities.
Local Motors uses a co-creation platform named Open IO as a tool to develop vehicle designs. The one for the LM3D was selected in July, and the vehicle was on the Las Vegas floor last week. The build was actually completed on September 18.
“In the past few months, our engineers have moved from only a rendering to the car you see in front of you today,” Rogers told the crowd at the unveiling. “We are using the power of DDM (direct digital manufacturing) to create new vehicles at a pace unparalleled in the auto industry, and we’re thrilled to begin taking orders on 3D-printed cars next year.”
Much has been written in the specialty press about the new LM3D series since the announcement, so a simple search with the LM3D as the keyword will produce many hits. To see the LM3D series as Local Motors does, click here. The link also includes a set of frequently asked questions (FAQ).
Local Motors says the vehicle will sell for about $53,000. While the underpinnings will remain the same regardless of LM3D model version, customers will be offered what the company says is “a wide range of customizable, aesthetic features that are only possible through DDM and 3D printing. Cars could look radically different but be built on the same platform.”
For the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region that brands itself as Innovation Valley, last week’s announcement had extra meaning. First, the company’s brand new micro-factory off Pellissippi Parkway in Hardin Valley will have the DDM technology required to go from design to actual printing. Second, as has been reported on numerous occasions, ORNL has been integral to the progress that Local Motors has made.
“We have it,” Rogers said in answer to our question as to whether the building had been turned over to the company. The team is getting it ready for a “soft opening” before ramping-up for full production later in 2016.
As far as ORNL, Rogers offered nothing but praise.
“We started early looking for a group that could move fast,” he said, calling out Mason, Martin Keller, Craig Blue, Lonnie Love and Claus Daniel. “We could not have done it without them.”
Local Motors says about three-fourths of the LM3D will be printed, with items such as the power train being purchased from suppliers.
“Our goal is to consolidate as much of the traditional bill of materials into a single, 3D-printed piece as possible, eventually making about 90 percent of the car using 3D-printing,” the company says in the previously referenced FAQ.
As Local Motors increases the percentage of the car being produced through additive manufacturing, it seemed natural to ask Rogers about the limits.
“Additive is not great for everything,” he said. “It is an arrow in our quiver.”
Then, as only an innovator can do, he added this comment as we ended the interview: “Everything is possible.”