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Team 3D Prints Electric Car at IMTS

Using a 3D printer, CNC router, and existing powertrain components, a team of engineers is building an electric car from scratch on the floor of the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago this week.

Scheduled to be completed today after a four-day print-and-assembly process, the car known as Strati will use a combination chassis and body made on a large scale printer. It is said to be the first car to make such extensive use of 3D printing technology.

"We're trying to show how the process of additive manufacturing can be applied to vehicle design," Kate Hartley of Local Motors told Design News. "With this kind of technology, one day you'll be able to design your own car, print it, and take it home."

Click on the Strati below to start the slideshow.

Local Motors, a manufacturer of low-volume vehicles made from open-source designs, brought Strati to life after challenging its online community earlier this year to conjure up designs for a 3D-printed car. The winning entry, now being constructed in full view of IMTS's 110,000 attendees, is taking shape in three steps. In the first step, a Cincinnati Inc. 3D printer known as BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) is building the chassis in 212 layers of a material consisting of approximately 85% ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and 15% carbon fiber. After the 44-hour printing process is completed, the chassis is transported by forklift to a separate cell, where a five-axis Model 70 CNC router made by Thermwood Corp. does a "subtractive manufacturing" process. In the final step, a team of engineers from Local Motors will add a motor, battery, transmission, suspension, steering rack, and other components from various contributors (including automaker Renault) to the chassis. The company's plan calls for the vehicle to be finished today and driven off the show floor tomorrow, the final day of IMTS.

When it's completed, the Strati will reportedly be the first car to use a 3D-printed chassis and body. Other vehicles, such as the well-known Urbee, have used additive manufacturing to build body panels, but not the car's frame.

Local Motors, which plans to sell Strati production vehicles, launched the idea because it considered current automotive manufacturing methods inefficient. "Producing a new car from a new design represents either a significant investment in tooling or a large commitment in time," the company wrote on its website. "Imagine if you could create the major elements of the exterior, the structure, and the interior associated with the vehicle in one part."

To make its vision happen, the upstart automaker ran a competition for its 35,000 online members, drawing submissions from about 200 hopeful contributors. The community then selected a single design from among the entries. "We just tapped into our designers online," Hartley told us. "We said, 'We want a 3D-printed car and we need your help designing it.' And they came through."

Local Motors says Strati reduces the initial investment in tooling and cuts the total number of parts in the fully functional car from about 20,000 down to 40. Ultimately, it plans to offer a "production-level design in the months following the show," the company said.

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