Like Buckminster Fuller, Preston Tucker, John DeLorean, and Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk, John “Jay” Rogers is an automobile manufacturing iconoclast. This September, at a huge manufacturing trade show in Chicago, breaking every rule in the book about how cars are usually built, he’s going to make the world’s first 3D printed car. He’s going to be on a stage with a huge 3D printing machine and press a button and the car’s chassis and body are going to emerge, in thin layers of a carbon fiber compound, until it looks a great deal like the photo above. Most of it will be done in a single day, and chances are that traditional car makers all over the world will rear up and take notice: this is how cars can be made, things are changing, the old manufacturing model is headed for extinction.
Jay Rogers at Local Motors’ microfactory in Arizona. (photo © Local Motors)
Much of what’s fun about my job as a freelance writer is hooking up with projects like this and interviewing people like Jay. We connected two years ago on a job for the same trade show – the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), where he and others from his company, Local Motors of Chandler, Arizona, assembled the radical and super-cool looking Rally Fighter, a street-legal two-seater muscle car, in real time in the show’s centerpiece booth – the Emerging Technology Center. The design and engineering of the car was crowd-sourced, via a competition among community of car design enthusiasts, making it the world’s first “community co-created” automobile.
Local Motors’ crowd-sourced Rally Fighter on a tarmac in Arizona. 430 hp from a 6.2 liter engine, custom vinyl wrapped body, yours for about $99,000 – if you help assemble it. Jay Leno has one of these – no surprise. (photo © Local Motors)
Local Motors goes far beyond the Rally Fighter. In 2011, they answered a Defense Department challenge – we need a new combat support vehicle, and fast. From the video we produced for IMTS that year –
Rogers: the US military, through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, came up with a big challenge. They came to Local Motors and said, is it possible for you to make a car five times faster, and for you to do it with 100 times less capital? And we said sure. We did it with the Rally Fighter, we could do it for you.
And they did. To mark delivery of the first vehicle, Pres. Obama and Jay met at a ceremony at Carnegie Mellon University.
Pres. Obama: So [DARPA] found a small company in Arizona called Local Motors, and they gave them a test: you have one month to design a new combat support vehicle, and you’ve got three months to build it… So Local Motors solicited design ideas on their website, chose the best out of 162 that were received, built and brought this new vehicle here, ahead of schedule.
left: the XC2V crowd-derived Combat Support Vehicle; right, Jay with Pres. Obama at Carnegie Mellon University. (photos © Local Motors)
Jay and his company have also designed and built custom motorcycles, retrostyled motorbikes, and have other vehicles in the pipeline, but the Strati – a printed electric car – is in a class by itself. A prototype (a “mule”) was just printed last month – and driven – at Oak Ridge National Laboratories’ Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, one of Local Motors’ partners in the project. The printing happens in a huge, custom built printer made by Cincinnati, Inc., where multiple jets eject tiny particles of the carbon fiber compound, other jets shoot out adhesive, the car builds layer by layer, and later other automated tools in the machine grind and polish the finished piece. So the process is both additive (3D printing) and subtractive (traditional tooling that removes unneeded material from the workpiece). And because it all comes from a CAD file, it’s direct digital manufacturing at its simplest.
- Total number of separate parts in an average sedan built the old way: about 2500.
- Total number of separate parts in the Strati: 20.
The process is cool, the cars are cool, the community co-creation model is cool, and above all, Jay Rogers seems as cool as they come (see his 2010 TED talk here). He’s an ex-Marine with nine years of service, a Harvard Business School grad, a self-described car nut, a manufacturing visionary, and an eco enthusiast. He recently said of the Strati, “the finished vehicle will be an example of how sustainable green technologies can reduce life-cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions, lower production cost, and cut time to market.” He also enjoys jangling the nerves of big automakers and evangelizing democratic manufacturing – cleaner, faster, cheaper, greener, customizable, and more sustainable.
“Disruptive” as Jay and Local Motors are, they’re heroes to the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), the hosts for IMTS and the principle trade/lobbying group for manufacturers worldwide. A co-sponsor of the printed car project, AMT is heavily promoting the need for radical change in how American manufacturing works, if it’s ever going to be competitive again.
There’s absolutely no segue from a 3D printed electric car to sauteed soft-shell crabs. Not a chance. I didn’t even think of trying. And another thing: this is the very first post about a dish that I really wasn’t crazy about. I didn’t go for it that much. I didn’t have seconds. So why even mention it? Well, I thought the photos were pretty, and I know there will be some readers who may actually enjoy eating these things. So here goes -
Sauteed soft-shell crabs
To prepare the crabs, have your fish store clean them, or do it yourself: with a small sharp knife, clean out the gills on both sides, cut out the eyes, and remove the crab’s sex organs (yes, they have them!). Sound delicious? Better to have the store do this work for you.
Saute the crabs in a blend of butter and olive oil with your favorite seasonings, about three minutes a side, drain briefly on paper towels, then serve. Eat them with your hands if you want. Shells and all. They should taste pretty good, but frankly ours were a little bland in the crab flavor department, and a bit too salty. Have lots of cooked shrimp on the side and another side dish so people don’t leave the table hungry.
There you have it, for now.