3D printing's usefulness is growing at a staggering rate. What started out as little more than a way to fabricate tchotchkes is now a darling of the manufacturing industry. Automotive startup Local Motors is taking this new technology to the extreme -- it's just introduced the LM3D Swim, the first 3D-printed car aimed for mass production.
The all-electric LM3D Swim comprises approximately 75 percent 3D-printed parts, but the company aims to increase that number to 90 percent as the technology continues to develop. The Swim's body is the result of a crowd-sourced contest that ended in July. "In the past few months our engineers have moved from only a rendering to the car you see in front of you today," Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers told the crowd at SEMA, where the car debuted.
One of the biggest benefits of 3D printing is its speed, and Local Motors is taking advantage of that. The company hopes to roll out several LM3D variants on the same chassis throughout 2016.
Speaking of speed, the company is operating on quite the fast timeline. Local Motors' press release mentions that preorders for its car will take place in spring 2016, at an estimated retail price of $53,000. Initial deliveries are slated for 2017.
That assumes several things, though. First, the factory needs to be completed on schedule. The company's assembly facility in Knoxville, Tennessee, is still under construction and is slated to open at the end of 2015.
Next, and most importantly, the LM3D needs to pass federal crash testing. The company has not completed that step yet, which means any cars produced cannot be delivered to customers. There is no guarantee the Swim's initial design will pass regulatory muster, but the company remains confident that it will adhere to the timeline set out before it. "We expect [the timeline] to happen, as we are already in the early stages of that crash-testing. If the certification takes longer than expected, we will simply push the timeline back slightly," said Local Motors spokesman Adam Kress.
He also noted that, once the LM3D's chassis has passed federal crash tests and is approved for sale, the company can offer different body styles on that one platform without requiring additional tests. Thus, the lineup can grow rather quickly, especially given the short time between the design and production phases. As for what comes after the LM3D, Local Motors is determined to continue growing its lineup beyond the single chassis. "The longer-term plan is for us to make vehicles on three different size platforms," Kress said.