It was clearly a moment when the world moved forward, literally and figuratively, as the Strati, the 3D printed car which took just 45 hours to build, rolled out before a live audience at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago.
The car is a two-seat "city" electric car with a range of up to 120 miles per charge and a top speed of 40 mph, and while those numbers are satisfactory on their own as a demonstration of the practicality of the vehicle, the Strati is so much more than numbers.
It's the first additively manufactured vehicle to capture the public imagination and it happened over the course of two days with the use of the Big Area Additive Manufacturing printer. The body of the car was made of a 15 percent carbon fiber and 85 percent ABS plastic composite material and then fine-tuned with a Thermwood CNC router.
Even though it is technically correct to call the car a 3D printed chassis or simply "bodywork," it's a startling demonstration of technology which may spur a rebirth and reinvention the kit car concept.
The kit car, a vehicle based on a chassis and running gear from an existing auto, was once a viable – if kitschy – alternative to driving a cookie-cutter product from a major automotive manufacturer. In the case of the Strati, while the seats, coach work and structural components were 3D printed, the drivetrain came courtesy of a Renault Twizy.
The idea behind the creation of this unique 3D vehicle is to show the viability of this kind of technology and to prove that it has a place in the automotive industry. Although this first vehicle isn't for sale, they plan to be 3D printing cars for the public sometime in the next few months.
Following his win during a design contest hosted by Local Motors, Italian Michele Anoé saw his Strati model take to the road. The prize Anoè earned for his Strati, $5,000, came after a judging panel of industry heavyweights chose Anoè's model for its aesthetics and compatibility with additive manufacturing technology.
While Anoè's design and the technology behind the feat will prove game-changing, what is likely to be the long-term advancement which results is an idea that a car's appearance can now be fully personalized without the sort of coach building effort it now requires.
The CEO of Local Motors, John Rogers, says that he believes it will soon be possible to drop the time it takes to produce the car to a single day and, ultimately, to less than 10 hours. That 10 hours is a benchmark of sorts as Rogers says that's the amount of time it takes to produce a vehicle using current automotive manufacturing processes. It's the idea that at some point microfactories will be able to produce vehicles tailored to the specific tastes of their buyers at a profit.
The Strati wowed the crowd at McCormick Place as a result of a collaboration between the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Local Motors and Cincinnati, Inc. The BAAM, or Big Area Additive Manufacturing printer, was adapted from an enormous CNC machine, and once it was fitted to use an extruder and pelletized printing material, it's build envelope of 3.3 ft x 8 ft. x 20 ft. is now capable of outputting material at speeds which rival traditional car building methods.