What? Local Motors, a motor vehicle manufacturing company based in Arizona, is developing vehicles using 3D printing technology. The company's business model is centred around microfactory production, co-creation and open source development, relying heavily on the global community to innovate and reinvent vehicles. During the 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show, Local Motors 3D printed the Strati electric car in just 44 hours, a printing time that has since been reduced to less than 24 hours. In 2016, Local Motors unveiled Olli, an autonomous electric-powered bus with IBM Watson technology installed to communicate with riders. Recently, the company presented plans for a new vehicle that includes an integrated drone launching platform and a video screen allowing passengers to view live drone footage during the ride. Although additive manufacturing is not associated with concepts such as mass production or economies of scale, the Local Motors example highlights the level of innovation and customization that could result from using 3D printers to produce cars in the future.
So what? Backed by major investors like Airbus, Local Motors could become the symbol of this emerging digital economy where the design of a product is produced by the community and then shipped via internet to microfactories around the world for local production. 3D printing software makes it easy for anyone to modify the original design to meet local needs. For example, Canadian engineers could easily engage in the manufacturing process by proposing design modifications (essentially hacking the design) that would produce 3D printed vehicles that can drive optimally in snow. Governmental certification agencies would need to re-design standards to make it quick and easy for Canadian customers to purchase, manufacture and use 3D printed cars or other certified goods in the digital age of mass customization.