Cars in 3D

September 19, 2022
1939 Pontiac Plexiglas

One day, in the not-too-distant future, you’ll be able to walk into a car dealership, choose a design — including the number of seats — and have a 3D printed car by the end of the day.

This is Jay Rogers’ vision. Rogers is the CEO of Local Motors, the company that just built the world's first 3D printed car known as the Strati. The electric, pint-sized two-seater was officially unveiled last week at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago, Illinois.

“Telsa made the electric drive train famous, we’re changing the whole car, ” Rogers told Mashable, clearly still relishing his community-based design and his company’s moment in the 3D manufacturing sun.

According to Ford Motors, most cars have somewhere between 5, 000 and 6, 000 parts. The Strati has just 49, including its 3D printed body (the largest part), plus more traditional components like the motor, wheels, seats and windshield. While many 3D printed car models exist, there haven't been any other drivable ones that we could find.

Strati's 3D-printed body.

The original design for Strati, which means “layers” in Italian, did not bubble up directly from Local Motors. Rather, the company — similar to the inventions company Quirky — encourages members to share vehicle design ideas, which the community then works to perfect and productize. The finished products are then sold online and in retail stores by Local Motors.

StratiPrintLocal Motors launched a project 18 months ago that sought to simplify the car design and manufacturing process through Direct Digital Manufacturing. When it put out the call for workable 3D printed car designs, it received more than 200 submissions, ultimately choosing a design by Michele Anoe, who is based in Italy.

Rogers said Anoe’s design stood out because it fit perfectly with Local Motors’ desired production technique, combining 3D printing and a subtractive machining.

Yet even with the design in hand, Local Motors spent the better part of a year finding a company that could print the first car. The eventual production partner, Oak Ridge Labs, found a company with the base of a large laser printer, which they retrofitted with a 3D extruder. The second half of the 3D production process took place in a separate Thermwood Corp. manufacturing routing machine, which refined the overall look of the car.

Printing the car took roughly 44 hours, and milling it to perfection took another full day. Local Motors then built the Strati over the course of four days at the IMTS.

“We probably could have done it in two days or less, ” Rogers said — but they stretched it out for the show.

Printed in carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic or ABS, the finished Strati can drive at speeds up to 40 mph and can travel 120 miles on a single charge. It’s fine for a neighborhood jaunt, but is not yet allowed on highways. Rogers said there are plans to test the car extensively before selling it to customers or putting it on the freeway.

The Local Motors team builds the Strati 3D printed car.

Auto manufacturers like Ford have been using 3D printing techniques for decades, but according to a company spokesperson, currently only uses the process for prototyping. (So far, there haven't been any 3D printed parts in Ford vehicles.) Thus, the concept of building a vehicle almost entirely through the 3D printing process is likely intriguing to traditional car makers like Ford.

Although the Strati is just as expensive as a full-sized sedan, Rogers does not envision it as a luxury item. Instead, he believes it will be an affordable and highly customizable option that could be widely available by 2016 for between $18, 000 and $34, 000.

"It will be positioned like a car for the masses, or many different cars for the masses, ” Rogers said.

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