The future of American manufacturing is 3D printing


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Olli a self-driving shuttle bus from Local Motors
Olli, a self-driving shuttle bus from Local Motors and its curb-ready ramps were made possible with 3D printing.
Michael Lachenauer
Michael Lachenauer

Guest blog post by Local Motors


Manufacturing in the United States is undergoing a transformation -- from the inside out.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the idea of mass manufacturing has gained speed to the point that hardly any product on the market today is manufactured on a small scale. However, changes in technology are making small-scale manufacturing viable from a business perspective.

Direct digital manufacturing (DDM) has created the ability to produce low-volume goods and make rapid enhancements to original designs. This benefits consumers by offering flexibility in the products they buy and benefits manufacturers since they can adapt quickly to local and consumer demand.

Do you want a 3D-printed car, desk, skateboard, or even a pair of ramps to help you drive over curbs? You can have them all with the same tools and equipment. This is potentially a transformational change to the manufacturing sector since it reduces costs while maintaining optimal productivity.

To appreciate evolution of American manufacturing, you have to talk with someone who welcomes the industry’s changes. Michael Lachenauer (right), who operates the large-scale 3D printers at Local Motors, shared his perspective on those seeking to enter the modern-day manufacturing workforce.

How did you become interested in manufacturing and process technology?
I've had an interest in knowing how things are made ever since I was a child. This interest over the years led me down the path to learn the skills needed to become a fabricator, which drew me to Local Motors. Since then, working at Local Motors has opened my eyes to other manufacturing and process technologies, specifically 3D printing.

What is the coolest part of your job? Why is this the right career for you?

The coolest part is being part of the company that leads the industry in large-scale direct digital manufacturing (DDM). This is the right career for me because of the opportunity to learn and expand my talents from the ground up — specifically by enabling me to master the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) 3D printers. Our company recognizes and rewards employees that work hard and encourage our creative abilities.

What advice would you give to young people looking for a career in manufacturing?

Try different jobs before investing a lot of money in your education. People that typically gain satisfaction from building or creating things are the ones who should pursue a career in manufacturing. If you enjoy what you’re doing, it's easy to put forth your best efforts to learn and create great things.


In recent years, critics of 3D printing have said the technology is useful only for prototyping, but that is beginning to change. The variety of materials now available for 3D printing (e.g., carbon fiber, ABS plastic) can produce dramatically different results in terms of strength, weight, and overall desirability by consumers. We’ve learned that our vehicles can resist an extensive amount of abuse by simply printing the vehicles in a different pattern. If we know that the speed of our print affects its durability, within a few clicks, the next product we design can improve with great speed.

As our microfactories have evolved, so have the people working in them. The tools are versatile so they can produce anything on demand. No molds or expensive re-tooling costs are needed to make changes to a given product. The people who operate the equipment can be just as flexible and understand the broader concepts without minding the finer details. As a result, manufacturers can better capitalize on human talent and offer them more autonomy in their roles, and build better products.

We believe that DDM is the next chapter in American manufacturing. The shift toward low-volume manufacturing blends the right amount of technical challenge, autonomy in employees’ roles, and efficiency to adapt to market demands. 3D printing enables companies to develop products at a rapid pace -- which helps them offer a strategic advantage over the competition.

For more information, CEO of Local Motors, Jay Rogers, shared why local manufacturing is key to sustainability and why we need to change the way we manufacture cars to adopt the latest in technology. Both are a great read for those who are fascinated with what’s next for manufacturing.

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Last updated: 2016-10-03 16:21

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