Image
Top
Navigation
December 13, 2017

Honey, I Printed A Car

How Additive Manufacturing is Disrupting the Automotive Industry

3d printer, Printing carAs each holiday season rolls around, the landscape of the bookstore changes. And this year, alongside the newest Lee Child or John Grisham blockbuster, a crop of titles has sprung up like weeds on a vacant lot in perhaps one of the more niche areas of the book publishing world: business intelligence. Writings on harnessing new ideas in the marketing/sales strategy/entrepreneurship sectors definitely seem to be a hot topic, and are perhaps a sign that we continue to move further from our traditional business base to  nestle more snugly in the embrace of innovation and creativity. And many of these new titles – from Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crushing It: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence – And how You Can Too to Tools of Titan: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferris of The 4-Hour Workweek fame – have a common thread: adapting to and leveraging the changing face of international business in respect of innovation and agile market share growth. Today, the focus of many business commentators seems to be on understanding and embracing flexibility and nimble manufacture, the art and science of doing more with less, tricks and techniques for securing venture funding, and the trepidant counterbalancing of the contemporary knowledge economy against the traditional manufacturing sector. And then there’s the whole sub-genre of biz-intel tomes on minimizing the workweek by working smarter, not harder – something we fully embrace, of course!

Jobs Theory is a concept floated initially by Clayton Christensen in his now seminal work, Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Consumer Choice.

And one specialty niche is the area of Jobs Theory. Jobs what? We’re glad you asked. Jobs Theory is a concept floated initially by Clayton Christensen in his now seminal work, Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Consumer Choice. A Wall Street Journal bestseller, Christensen’s manifesto debunks the prevailing concept that sales – and therefore corporate profits – are driven by understanding the customer. Instead they’re driven by understanding the task – the ‘job’ – that the customer wants to perform or achieve. Then, the theory goes, you create a solution that ‘customers not only want to buy, but are willing to pay premium prices for.’(1) Christensen contends that understanding the job, as opposed to exploiting overall customer psychology, is the true path to corporate growth and development. It removes the element of chance from business by streamlining the process and blocking off potential dead ends.

And in Competing Against Luck, Christensen certainly makes a compelling case in evoking examples such as the corporate behemoth Amazon – arguably the most successful business of all time – along with Airbnb and Uber as organizations that fully understood and exploited the ‘jobs to be done’ approach to innovation. Additionally, Christensen works hard to provide insight into the ways in which the theory is used on a predictive basis – leveraging the concept to create the next mega-business empire.

From the early times of Henry Ford’s Model T to its heyday…the automotive industry has held a central place in the history of American manufacturing.

Which brings us to manufacturing. From the early times of Henry Ford’s Model T to its heyday and on to the almost inevitable decline to Rust Belt, the automotive industry has held a central place in the history of American manufacturing. But as global markets developed, worldwide free trade agreements were drawn up, and borders became permeable, the industry spiraled into decline, its legacy now one of de-industrialization, urban decay, and population loss across the Midwest and the Great lakes areas.

With a staggering 32.9% decline in employment in these areas between 1969 and 1996, political economist Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of history and the Last Man, saw the transition of the former Factory Belt to the Rust Belt as part of what he termed the ‘Great Disruption.’ Viewing the final three decades of the twentieth century as a time of profound transformation on social, political, and economic niveaux, Fukuyama contends that, as the old structure necessarily crumbles, a new social order is born as the period of the Great Disruption segues into the era of the Great Reconstruction.

And that reconstruction may be what Kevin Czinger, visionary and CEO behind Mountain View, California-based Divergent 3D has in mind.

Outwardly affable and with an easy, generous smile, Czinger seems to represent the new generation of business innovator and entrepreneur. With a view to exploding the old and crafting a new paradigm in automotive technology, Czinger has created a company that could revolutionize the process by building the world’s first ‘dematerialized’ car.

And he’s doing it with additive technology.

In earlier articles, we have touched on the use of additive components – also known as 3D printed parts – in both the automotive and aerospace sectors, but Divergent 3D is different insofar as it seeks to create a disruptive process that completely explodes the industry. With sustainability at its heart.

“If you actually do a life-cycle analysis, that is to start from the very beginnings of taking the ore out of the ground and then calculating the environmental impact all the way to the end when you recycle the car, an electric car is not that environmentally friendly.’

As much as we have – on aggregate – embraced the adoption of cleaner, greener, and more sustainable vehicles (consider the number of electric or electric-gas hybrids that cruise by you in the diamond lane of the freeway during your morning commute), the actual manufacture of these cars is far from being easy on the planet’s resources. As Alex Teng, environmental scientist at Divergent, notes: “If you actually do a life-cycle analysis, that is to start from the very beginnings of taking the ore out of the ground and then calculating the environmental impact all the way to the end when you recycle the car, an electric car is not that environmentally friendly.’(2) The reason for this? Teng’s boss, Czinger, contends that ‘the data [shows] that the manufacturing parts have a far greater impact than the tailpipe exhaust.’(3) In other words, the issue lies in the creation of the components, not in the use of the final product.

And this is where additive manufacturing offers a potential solution.

Partnering with giant traditional manufacturers like the French Groupe PSA, the conglomerate behind such Euro-favorites as Peugeot and Citroen, Divergent 3D’s model has garnered backing interest from investors in Hong Kong and generated enough buzz to be confident of raising up to $100 million in funds to develop and mainline its manufacturing platform.(4) And the strength of the platform is in the fundamental ways it will disrupt the prevailing paradigm. Let’s take manufacturing costs as just one example…

Averaging around $6,700 in production savings, 3D printed cars could effectively make sticker shock at the dealership a thing of the past.

When compared with traditional automotive manufacture, the expenses involved in 3D printing are relatively minor. At a time when building a conventional car assembly plant can run between $500 million and $1 billion, Czinger can do it for $50 million.(5) And this price tag is limited to the acquisition of printing and assembly equipment – tools that are multi-functional and adaptable to a broad spectrum of uses. Moreover, when the up-front costs are lowered, savings can be passed along to the consumer, raising revenue and increasing market share. Averaging around $6,700 in production savings, 3D printed cars could effectively make sticker shock at the dealership a thing of the past.(6)

Assuming dealerships survive and there’s even one to visit.

In an article published recently in Forbes magazine, staff writer Alan Ohnsman postulates that industrial 3D printing will also have the effect of blowing apart traditional supply chains. Quoting Tim Weber, of Hewlett Packard’s 3D printing division, Ohnsman says: ‘Imagine you are on a marketplace like Amazon. You order a car. Maybe it was designed in Lithuania, but it’s built in your hometown and delivered a few days later.’(7) And when you add to that the fact that 3D printed vehicles are lighter, arguably safer, higher performing, and more fuel-efficient, we start to see the massive factories associated with the industry receding in the rear-view mirror of history.

Additive manufacturing of car components and the mainlining of Divergent 3D’s platform will effectively remove the capital barriers that have historically prevented smaller companies from gaining traction

Hailed as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the technology that enables this new breed of customized, ultra-configurable, and personalized vehicle manufacturing has the potential to level the business playing field for niche or boutique operations whose sales volumes are more modest than, say, Toyota or Nissan. Additive manufacturing of car components and the mainlining of Divergent 3D’s platform will effectively remove the capital barriers that have historically prevented smaller companies from gaining traction – and this is good news both for the industry and the consumer. On the one hand, we will continue to see the introduction of the giga-factories envisioned by entrepreneur and visionary Elon Musk whose aim of producing 500,000 new cars per year demands the use of an entirely unique type of manufacturing facility.(8) But on the other, we will witness an increase in small-scale production, a renaissance of interest in personalized, individualistic vehicles with an intended market of one.

Disruptive technologies do so much more than just offer a more sustainable, cheaper, and more convenient way to build a car. They represent the blueprint of a more democratic way of developing the kinds of products we use every day, an acceptable price-point, and complete customization beyond simply that of, say, size and color. And that degree of potential must have Henry Ford – who famously quipped that his customers could have ‘any color so long as it’s black’ – turning in his grave.

What are your thoughts? Could custom 3D printing effectively disrupt the automotive industry? Does the future lie with small-scale production or with the giga-factories? Let us know what you think!

References:

  1. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062435613/competing-against-luck
  2. http://www.divergent3d.com/
  3. ibid
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/joannmuller/2017/08/15/how-can-a-mid-tier-carmaker-like-peugeot-survive-in-the-uber-age-by-outsmarting-the-other-dinosaurs
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2017/11/14/honey-i-shrunk-the-factory
  6. ibid
  7. ibid
  8. https://www.tesla.com/gigafactory

 

Share This!

Submit a Comment

css.php
Show Buttons
Hide Buttons