C. J. Abate: Local Motors co-creates open-source vehicles. Tell us about your business model. What are the benefits of co-creation and low-volume manufacturing?
Matthew Rivett: Local Motors believes in co-creation and low-volume manufacturing as a sustainable way to design, develop, and create products. Utilizing the Local Motors co-creation community of nearly 200,000 online members, we are able to harness ideas, solutions, and viewpoints from many backgrounds and industries that we otherwise would not. Co-creation enables the end users to help define the products of the future that they will be using, providing an inherent sense of ownership and pride, as well as providing an opportunity to win prize money and royalties depending on the challenge. We firmly believe that direct digital manufacturing (DDM) enables us to create and produce more types or iterations of a product, at a low volume and maintain profitability. We do not require the massive capital investment for tooling and set-up as most major OEMs do and are then not held to the same guidelines of having to produce hundreds of thousands of one product in order to be profitable.
C. J.: Is Local Motors developing automotive product lines, or do you design and deliver concepts or custom vehicles?
Matthew: Local Motors conceptualizes, designs, and proves out products, mostly automotive (Figure 1). We do not develop full automotive product lines as standard OEMs. Instead, we provide our customers with a more customized experience and end product, while utilizing DDM and micromanufacturing. This allows us to offer a customizable product as well as the opportunity to develop vehicles bespoke to a region with particular needs.
Matthew: Direct digital manufacturing, or DDM for short, is the process of producing parts or products directly from a CAD file. Local Motors utilizes small and large-scale 3-D printers depending on scale and scope of the project. The world's largest 3-D printer is currently being installed in our Knoxville, TN, microfactory and allows us to print and mill (additive and subtractive process of DDM) on the same bed, without having to move the parts or product, allowing for a more precise and accurate end product.
C. J.: Local Motors is building a network of microfactories in the United States and beyond. Tell us more about the network, the number of microfactories, and the sort of projects in the pipeline. Is each facility an autonomous factory that manufactures vehicles from start to finish, or does each factory have a separate, specialized focus?
Matthew: Local Motors currently has two microfactories in the US — Chandler, AZ, and Knoxville, TN. But we also have an R&D facility in Tempe, AZ, a sales and demonstration facility in National Harbor, MD (just outside of DC), and an office in San Francisco, CA, where our parent company, LM Industries, and co-creation arm, Launch Forth, are located. We are partnering with companies around the world including in the Nordics, Europe, and Australia to seed the demand that drives further growth of the micro factory network.
C. J.: Many of our readers first learned about Local Motors a few years ago when it announced the Strati 3-D-printed car. What are the advantages of printing cars and small vehicles?
Matthew: Local Motors finds that 3-D printing is more cost effective and sustainable, while allowing us to move quickly and integrate new materials and technologies into our products at a fraction of the time and cost (Figure 2). Local Motors doesn't require the enormous capital investment in tooling and set-up of a facility each time a new model is going to be produced, as OEMs incur, which allows us to offer a more competitively priced vehicle. It also offers our customers flexibility since we do not have to produce hundreds of thousands of one "model" or product to reach profitability.
Matthew: Olli is the first co-created, self-driving, all-electric shuttle and is currently being deployed in the Nordics, Australia, and across the United States. We envision Olli being a complement or companion to people's everyday lives, aiming to provide a product that enhances or makes our lives easier (Figure 3). Olli is the perfect addition to a current transportation ecosystem or as a stand-alone shuttle service to get people around town or large campuses. Olli is more than a vehicle; it's an experience! Our community members helped design and create Olli for the betterment of all of our futures. We are providing a reliable, efficient, and sustainable solution for transportation while being customizable and engaging.
Matthew: We can't predict where the entire automotive industry is headed, but we feel that we are disrupting this industry by leading the co-creation, open-source, and collaborative approach in not only the automotive industry but product development in general. A number of OEMs have begun experimenting with 3-D printing for modeling, prototype parts, etc., so maybe they will follow suit in open-source and collaborative manufacturing and development.
C. J.: Launch Forth is Local Motors's co-creative design community. Elektor has 200,000+ electronics enthusiasts and makers in its community. Can our members get involved in the Launch Forth community? What are the advantages?
Matthew: Absolutely! We have nearly 200,000 current community members in the Launch Forth community. Advantages to being a community member: ability to have a say in your future, develop new skills, receive access to free software and tools only our community members receive, sense of being a part of the community, support from people from all different backgrounds with all types of skill sets and of course, prize money, royalties, and recognition for contributions.
Editor's note: The complete interview will be published in Elektor Business Edition 4/2018, which is slated for publication in July 2018.