World’s largest 3-D printer used to print cars in East Tennessee

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – 3-D printers appear to be the future of the automotive industry at Local Motors. 

“The future is here – it’s digital manufacturing of mass-produced vehicles,” says Dr. Maximillian Heres of Local Motors. 

Beginning this summer, Knox County will officially join the auto making family, but not in the traditional sense.

“We’re revolutionizing the mobility industry with a 3-D printed autonomous shuttle.. The Olli 2.0,” Heres said. 

3-D printing is a technique perfected after years of research.

“We are also a research and development facility, so a large part of what we do here is materials research for specific 3-D printed vehicles,” said Heres. “These are plastic cars.. right… but we need to do a lot of research to figure out how to produce these efficiently and how to make them very structural and safe of course.”

That all begins in the facility’s small scale lab. 

“With desktop 3-D printers, we are able to make smaller models using this common technique,” Heres said. “This connects people who have a problem understanding what we do with 3-D printing to what we do on a larger scale.”

What they do on a larger scale is accomplished thanks in part to utilizing the world’s largest 3-D printer.

“So what it does is.. it deposits the polymer – or plastic – each layer.. and it goes up, up, up, up in the “z” direction,” Heres said. “In this facility we are able to upscale this 3-D printing process to actual vehicle size.” 

As a matter of fact, beginning this July, Local Motors, Knoxville will begin the mass production of Olli 2.0..

“The Olli is a self-driving shuttle bus, an autonomous shuttle bus, it is electric,” Heres said. 

The Knoxville micro-factory will be able to turn out one a week, which is a far cry from the 4-week timeline it takes using traditional manufacturing methods.

“One of the great parts about direct digital manufacturing,” Heres said. “It is going from the traditionally manufactured pilot version of the Olli shuttle to the Olli 2.0… we are able to produce the shuttle with the fraction of the parts and the fraction of the time.”

“So, it’s printed, machined, assembled, goes thru the production line… out the door.”

Local motors has set out two goals. One is to revolutionize the transportation industry and two, is to revolutionize the manufacturing industry.

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