The auto industry has gone full circle – when it really got moving back in the early 20th century so did the aero industry, however unlike the industry on the ground, it was imperative that aeroplanes would stay up in the air so the technology rapidly improved and lessons learned were applied. Many pioneers in the auto industry took aircraft technology and added it to their cars – EL Cord who owned Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg also owned an aircraft engine maker (Lycoming) and an airline (what is now American Airlines).
100 years later and auto technology is now in demand in the aircraft industry and to prove that, I read that Airbus Industrie has invested in Local Motors, a pioneer in 3D printed cars and components.
Airbus Industrie was formed out of several European Governments’ desire to make their respective aircraft companies collaborate to beat the US manufacturers like Boeing. Airbus is mostly famous for flagship aeroplanes such as the enormous A380. Last year Airbus created a new subsidiary called Airbus Ventures, gave it $150M in venture capital and opened an innovation centre in Silicon Valley just south of San Francisco. Now they have started to spend!
Local Motors was founded in Arizona during 2007 to pioneer a new way to design and develop components and have recently showcased the world’s first 3D printed car! Their ethos is simple: build and support a community. This brings together a wider array of clever people – many who wouldn’t have had access to facilities to explore their own creativity. Now Local Motors have three micro factories with hundreds of projects being developed – and they want to open a 100 factories over the next decade!
Airbus Ventures joins General Electric (GE) as an investor in Local Motors and I can see why. Airbus are looking for new ways to design and manufacture components. Today, aircraft manufacturers use their own design teams and strict manufacturing processes to build planes. They control the final build however would outsource component manufacturing to other companies. What if they could use a community to provide component designs that are tested by Airbus before they are printed in a micro factory.
Media reports suggest that Airbus will shake up the aerospace industry through this investment. I disagree, I see this as an evolution in design and manufacturing techniques. The aerospace industry is renowned for this – sometimes it’s competitive advantage, sometimes it’s to fix a serious problem.
Other manufacturers are likely to follow – especially if they see the time to delivery of components is speeded up, however I do think Local Motors and their community can share their knowledge of 3D printing and possibly faster design processes.