April 9, 2015

GrowCo 2015: Why a 3D-printed Car Is the Future of Business

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Note: This is part of our on-going coverage of Inc. Magazine’s #GROWCO15 conference in Nashville, Tenn. Check back tomorrow for additional insights and takeaways from the best speakers.

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Local Motors has a vision for how companies large and small across all industries will use technology to conduct business in the future.

And it looks like a 3D-printed car.

Kurtis Hodge, Economist at Local Motors shared this vision — and the world’s first 3D-printed vehicle — with TechnologyAdvice’s Clark Buckner during an interview at the Inc. GrowCo Conference.

Local Motors is a next-generation car company that is creating an open-source community that works together to design and develop unique motor vehicles in micro-factories around the world. However, Hodge believe the automotive industry is just the beginning. Over the next five-to-ten years, he predicts this collaborative approach will revolutionize business and technology practices in just about every industry.

Here’s a few highlights from his conversation with TechnologyAdvice about how it will happen:

TechnologyAdvice: How does Local Motors work, and how is it disrupting the automotive industry?

Hodge: Local Motors is a tech company the designs, builds, and sells vehicles. We do that in a really unique way. There are two parts to the company. The first part is we design these vehicles in an online community of 50,000 people in more than 130 countries. These people are designers, makers, engineers, tinkerers and enthusiasts who work together to make the coolest vehicle online, and then we manufacture these vehicles in local communities. For example, we’re putting up a micro-factory in Knoxville that is open to the public. Anybody can come in and work on and experiment with vehicle designs and see their dreams come to life. Imagine the automotive industry is a big glass jar. In that jar are a bunch of rocks like Toyota Camry or Honda Accord that are mass-produced units meant for the general population. We don’t make those types of cars. We make cars that are little grains of sand in between those rocks. They’re unique vehicles that fit unique needs of an enthusiast, like an off-road racecar, or the unique needs of a local community. For example, in a big city we might make a city car, but in Phoenix we make an off-road racecar that can go 100 mph and you can buy groceries on the way home because it’s street legal.

TA: There are many people who believe 3D printing is just a fad. Why do you think it will grow to such a large-scale business impact?

Hodge: I don’t blame them for being sceptical. People are making really neat designs in homes, but still can’t figure out how they can be translated into useful products. People make models or sculptures, which is important because people have learned to design at home digitally and have it printed out physically into a 3D form. If you take that same methodology and thought and put it in a classroom, you can imagine how to design and prototype and build large-scale objects in real life. As this technology improves, it will be rolled out in more and more settings — in the working world first, then in domestic.

I was at a speaking event a couple months ago with a famous venture capitalist. He identified that one of the skill sets that will be most useful over next 20 years for entrepreneurs is learning how to design and build products. Learning how to design and build hardware will become increasingly important for startups, just like coding ability has been incredibly important over the past 15 years. I think [3D printing and design] will be an incredibly important world because 3D printing is becoming so accessible to everybody. You can download simple CAD software for free and 3D printers are now available at public libraries in cities everywhere. It’s a technology that is accessible to all, and is allowing people across the world to design, invent and experiment from their own home.

local-motors-3d-car-team

Photo credit Inc.com

TA: So how do you see this technology actually starting to disrupt so many other businesses and industries?

Hodge: It starts with the democratization of CAD software in a B2B setting. Companies used to pay thousands of dollars five-to-ten years ago for a CAD suite, but now it is served to you online for free in an collaborative setting where people can collaborate and work, kind of like a Google docs for CAD. It’s a clear example of how all of these technologies are now converging together. We have the ability to share documents across the world and have mass communication amongst people working together on this design software, and now we also have access to tools like 3D printers and other computer-controlled machines that allow us to bring these inputs from the web to life. It’s a whole ecosystem that’s blooming right now, and we’ll see a complete disruption that allows small local businesses to compete against fortune 500 companies around the world. That’s helping us move towards a meritocracy in which those who are talented, no matter if they are in East Tennessee or on the other side of the world in Australia or India, can collaborate with other talented people all around the world. There was a phrase that the founder of Sun Microsystems used to say: No matter who you are, some of the brightest people are still going to work for somebody else. The reality is in today’s world, those people can collaborate with you, as well. Work is distributed. Talent is distributed, and the best of both get to shine through in this world.

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To learn more about Local Motors, visit their website at LocalMotors.com, or connect with Hodge on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Listen to the entire show above in order to hear our full conversation, or download this interview to listen later. You can subscribe to the TA Expert Interview Series via Soundcloud in order to get alerts about new episodes.