3D printing has become an extremely effective technology across a variety of industry. Of these, the automotive industry is see perhaps the most benefits of all. One company, in particular, is experiencing these benefits first hand with countless dollars and hours saved throughout their supply chain management. Local Motors, located in Phoenix, Arizona, has integrated 3D printing technologies into their workflow to help satisfy their manufacturing orders. The company also uses 3D printing to produce customized tooling for their autonomous (driverless) shuttle concept, the Olli.

The Local Motors Self-driving Olli bus. Photo by Michael Petch

The Local Motors Self-driving Olli bus. Photo by Michael Petch

Thanks to this integration of 3D printing, Local Motors has been able to cut their tooling costs by about 50%. The technology has also allowed them to produce these essential parts in a fraction of the time of traditional production methods. The workflow has improved greatly as 3D printing allows them to produce custom fitting parts that are more durable.

Local Motors’ Olli is powered by IBM Watson, a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence. The driverless vehicle has been created to provide the first every autonomous shuttle taxi. The vehicle is set up to work as an on-demand function, with customers hailing the cab via smartphones. Local Motors plans to make the vehicles in small batches as they plan to produce only what is demanded using micro-factories. Local Motors CEO, John Rogers, estimates the Olli can be 3D printed in just around 10 hours with an extra hour for assembly. The speed and accuracy has completely changed their workflow of their production process.

Visualising Olli on MakerBot print/image via MakerBot

Local Motors also utilized 3D printing in the making of their prototypes and templates. The exceptional durability of the prototypes produced with 3D printing has allowed for them to accurately test the functionality of parts. As a result, the company has saved a tremendous amount of money on cutting, shipping, metal and energy.

Frederik Tjonneland, a senior engineer at Local Motors, notes that “being able to print a part and have it in your hand in a couple of hours is not only cheaper, but also reduces lead times and allows us to iterate that much more quickly”.

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