Manufacturing technology is having an impact beyond the factory floor. We've seen connectivity and big data analytics spread from the plant to the supply chain and into the product design process. John Rogers, CEO and co-founder of Local Motors, believes the changes in manufacturing and product design will alter the actual form a business takes. "Manufacturing has become a revolution without boundaries," he told Design News during the Siemens PLM Users Conference last month. "The promise of digital design is the power to bring products to market without boundaries. You don't even have to be a company any longer."
Local Motors made a splash last fall with its 3D-printed car, the Strati. The company built the Strati in three phases during the six-day International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) at McCormick Place in Chicago. Once complete, the Strati ran a victory lap around the venue.
In phase one, the car was 3D-printed on a Cincinnati Inc. BAAM (big area additive manufacturing machine) over a 44-hour period using additive manufacturing. Phase two involved subtractive manufacturing, including a day of milling on a machine provided by Thermwood. The third and final phase was rapid assembly, in which a team led by Local Motors put the finishing touches on the digitally printed car. "It was not just printed," said Rogers. "It was printed and milled."
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Rogers insists the vehicle is more than a gimmick. "This car will be highway certified within the next 22 months," he told us. "And it's completely repeatable because it's digital. It was 3D printed, 3D milled, and 3D assembled in just 1,500 square feet."
A team of industry experts came together to build the Strati, including SABIC Innovative Plastics, a company that provided the carbon-reinforced ABS Plastic used to 3D print some of the first iterations of the car. Renault donated the powertrain from the Twizy. Siemens provided the Solid Edge software for the structural design elements, and Fifteen52 built custom wheels to match the design.
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One of the first steps in developing a digital car was to toss out all previous conceptions about how cars are manufactured. "Using 3D printing, we have reimagined how cars are created. We used modern manufacturing techniques," said Rogers. "The results are astounding. We have reduced the amount of car parts from 25,000 to less than 50, proving that we can take a car from designed to driven in less than six months. That is a game changer in the automotive world."
Community is key for the new technology company, according to Rogers. "We brought an online community together, a micro manufacturing community to design, build, and market products. We created a community of regulators, funders, users, and suppliers -- all to get designs into reality," he said. "We're not a car company. We're a technology company that designs, builds, and markets vehicles."
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine, Chile Pepper.
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