New and Different Perspectives: Highlights from the Local Motors Plant Tour

21 Mar 2014 12:04 PM | Deleted user
APICS Phoenix visited the Local Motors microfactory on March 20th, and attendees got to see, some of them for the first time, disruptive technologies and business models abundant within Local Motors.  It's flagship vehicle, the Rally Fighter, was designed not by Local Motors R&D engineers huddled in a room, but by worldwide crowdsourcing contests.  Winning designers are financially rewarded, either with a lump sum upfront or with incremental payments as each product bearing their design is sold.  Winning designers are also recognized on the product itself.  For example, each Rally Fighter bears a small plate with the name of the person whose sketch of the body became the overall design of the car.  

Our tour guide, Tony, walked us through the assembly area where motor cycles and Rally Fighters were built.  You can't buy a new Rally Fighter off a lot; buyers participate in the manufacturing and assembly of their own vehicles. 

Among one of the most awe-inspiring gadgets were the many 3D printers that were running.  The MakerBot Replicator 2 is one of the most popular 3D printer model.  The ones at Local Motors were literally printing parts that would be used on the Rally Fighter, as well as protective cases for the tiny quadcopters they sell in The Shop.   

Another innovative technology we learned about was their live, on-screen work instructions displayed on iPads that could be mounted on or near the unit being assembled.  If there is an error on the work instructions, mechanics can update the work instructions, which then gets routed to the creator for approval.  Those work instructions are also available on the web, so anyone working on their unit at home can see how to repair or put something back together, or provide improvements from their experience.  

The service area of the microfactory was very small, mainly because, as Tony pointed out, when you build your own vehicle, you know how to fix it.  Many of the components used in the Rally Fighter are off-the-shelf products from large OEMs, so that they "don't have to reinvent the wheel."  The engines and transmissions carry warranties from the car manufacturers they come from, so you could take your Rally Fighter into a dealership repair shop for, say, if your engine needs maintenance or repair.  

Our next stop was the inventory racks, which are right next to the assembly floors.  Local Motors assemblers pick their own components, so the inventory racks are organized based on the assembly timeline; what you need for day 1, and 2, etc. of assembly.  Procurement is based on a tightly-controlled min/max system.  

Through a set of hinged panels we came to an area where more of the fabrication is done.  A CNC waterjet and a CNC laser cutter were among the impressive pieces of equipment.  All of the designs are open to the public, Tony explained, so you can build your own Rally Fighter at home, if you wanted, "but good luck!"  

As the tour came to a close, we got to see the construction of a new wing of Local Motors, a workspace for inventors and tinkerers to bring their projects and utilize the tools and knowhow of other experts.  

Local Motors is much more than a car manufacturer, although the cars they make are pretty awesome.  They are a big part of the Maker movement, one of the prime examples of crowdsourcing product design and collaborative manufacturing projects, focusing on small-run, niche requirements instead of large, mass assembly manufacturing sites.  "GM knows how to make thousands and thousands of cars, but they don't know how to make just a thousand." 

3D printers like the MakerBot Replicator 2, as well as CNC machines and other rapid fabrication tools like the ones seen at Local Motors, can also be seen at our next tour in April at TechShop.  There, you can take classes on everything from how to use the machines, how to design products in AutoDesk Inventor CAD and CAM programs, and much more. 

If you attended, please take our survey here.


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