3-D printing to play a bigger role in auto manufacturing

Where are the biggest changes happening in the manufacturing world? The most recent International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago showcased some of the latest innovations in the industry. The company capturing the biggest headlines has been the automaker Local Motors, a micro-manufacturing firm composed of designers and engineers founded in 2007.

Auto-manufacturing simplified
In the course of 44 hours, Local Motors used a massive 3-D printer to build an electric car called the Strati, explained Techly, an online news source for technology-related information. Using a Big Area Additive Manufacturing machine, or BAAM, the production process is fairly quick. With this tool, the company was able to print 40 pounds of plastic every 60 minutes.

That makes this particular project one of the most rapidly developed usable products with the complexities associated with a car. The electric vehicle was made with comparatively minimal parts – roughly 40 in total. While traditional automobiles often consist of tens of thousands of parts, this has a small fraction of components constructed of plastic and reinforced carbon fiber. In effect, the vehicle's body is one solid piece.

What can consumers expect?
Complete with two seats but no functioning doors, the car will reach a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour. Meanwhile, the engine will hold an electric charge sufficient to move passengers within a range of 120 to 150 miles, explained the Daily Mail, an online newspaper.

Yet, 3-D printing has its inherent limitations. First, many of the core elements of the vehicle can't be printed. For instance, the engine and wheels had to be added to the body. The windows, seats, battery, electronic connections and windshield were also constructed using conventional methods. With this in mind, the electric car is exceptionally light weight compared with vehicles made using standard materials.

Considering the speed and distance limitations imposed on the car, the company will have to consider who the target consumer audience will be when ramping up production. Jay Rogers, CEO and co-founder of Local Motors, indicated the company would like to start its commercial release in 2015.

Alternative 3-D printing applications
Forbes highlighted several 3-D printed innovations that may provide inspiration to designers and manufacturers in the future. Citing the contributions of software maker Autodesk, Forbes wrote that manufacturers and designers are using computer technology that changes their approach to production. For instance, Lightning Motorcycle has begun working with Autodesk to help its engineers create components using 3-D printing that will potentially improve their electric motorcycles' performance.

The future of manufacturing is increasingly tech-driven, and an engineering recruiter can help companies find individuals with the talents to drive innovation.