DETROIT (dpa) – The large apparatus on the floor of the Detroit auto show drew amazed onlookers.
“What’s going on in there?” one on-looker asked. “Is it really printing a car?”
What else? This is, after all, the floor of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) where cars abound.
Through the plastic sheet windows, people could follow the process going on behind tent walls. An apparatus with belts and a metal bay sported a vertical nozzle moving around a set pattern.
Around and around the nozzle moved, squirting a stream of hot plastic reinforced with carbon fiber. Gradually, the body and chassis of a car became more and more visible with each pass.
The US company promoting the microfactory manufacturing process is Local Motors of Chandler, Arizona. The car being made was the Strati, a low-performance electric city car.
The process takes 44 hours, and Local Motors intends to reduce it to 24 hours. After the body and chassis are printed, mechanical components, including the motors, battery, wiring, and suspension, are added.
The process is similar to most desktop 3D printers, but the company says its method is cheaper because the plastic used is in pellet instead of filament form.
The company also says the microfactory is environmentally friendly because it wastes less material and allows cars to be made where they are needed, so they don’t have to be shipped.
A finished version of the low-slung two-seater was parked on a lower level of the show for closer inspection.
Its black matte finish wasn’t smooth like other cars because of the layers of the plastic. But it was complete with headlights and front and back windscreens, but no doors. Drivers have to jump in Batman-style.
Other companies have printed car body parts and assembled them, but Local Motors says it’s the first to attempt to print the body and chassis together.
The company is still working on gaining regulatory approval to ensure the car is street-legal.
The goal is to finish that process by the end of 2015 and then begin taking orders.