Local Motors plans 3D printed factories image

We have reported numerous times on how the technology and auto industries are colliding and in many sectors even merging – so the fact that a startup wants to build cars out of 3D printed parts should come as no surprise.

While most automakers and other businesses were content with the traditional way of showcasing their vehicles during the North American International Auto Show, the Local Motors startup decided it was simpler to build their models on the exposition floor. Detroit’s Cobo Hall had the honor of seeing some of the company’s 3D printing technology in order to demonstrate to disbelievers how one of its cars – the electric Strati – can be produced using directly a digital file. The cars, powered by batteries just like any other normal full-electric car, are scheduled to go on sale sometimes later this year. Local Motors won’t be printing, sorry, producing the car just about everywhere as they are already running two micro-plants, one in Phoenix and the other in Las Vegas. But they’re confident enough in their future to expand in Washington, D.C., and Knoxville, Tennessee in the near future.

If you don’t know the drill about 3D printing, here’s a quick rundown. The technology, also dubbed stereo lithography, has been known for at least a decade – it uses a computer guided laser beam to flash into a pool of liquid or powdered materials, with the structures being fused one pixel and one layer at a time into solid objects. While some automakers and their suppliers already use the technology to develop prototype parts, Local Motors is among the few ambitious companies that wants to build the entire body of the vehicle. They print the body, chassis and interior parts, then use traditional assembly work to marry inside the rest of the components, such as suspension, wheels, tires and the powertrain.