In January 2015, Arizona startup Local Motors 3-D printed a car live at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A machine the size of a single-car garage, a scrolling arm much like the paper printer on your desk scrolling back and forth, added successive layers of carbon fiber-infused plastic to build the vehicle up micron by micron. The vehicle, called the Strati with a top speed of 25 miles per hour, took 44 hours to print. An electric battery, motor, suspension and wheels were added to complete it.
It was an engineering marvel. Futurists at the time projected homes, cars, televisions and nearly another other durable product could be manufactured in this new, innovative form — additive manufacturing.
But like most shiny new inventions, the hype has subsided and four years later, 3-D printed cars aren’t much closer to mass production. Yet the industry is blossoming as it’s moved further along the hype cycle from the peak of inflated expectations toward the plateau of productivity.
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