The CIDEAS team has designed and built over 40 replacemet parts for this ultra-rare Lotus 340r. Photo: CIDEAS

The 3D printed model cars on display at the CIDEAS booth was one of the most eye-catching exhibits at the 2018 RAPID + tct additive manufacturing conference. Mike Litterell, who founded the 3D printing services company 20 years ago, says that he uses the exquisitely detailed models to show off all the technologies and skills they can offer their customers. A lifelong auto enthusiast, Litterell also uses the full-sized Lotus sports car from his personal collection to show how 3D printing can be used to make replacement parts and accessories for rare, or exotic cars not supported by mainstream OEM manufacturers.

You can learn more about CIDEAS and some of the amazing things they’ve built in the interview following this video.

PD&D - How long have you been in business, and how did you get into the business?

Mike Litterell - 3D printing is both a livelihood and a way of life. I started CIDEAS in 1998 (we're celebrating our 20th anniversary). Prior to that I was in Graphic design and jumped on the website design and hosting side of marketing.  Originally, I was considering creating a service bureau providing 2D scanning and color proofing services.

While setting up, designing and hosting websites, (well before they were considered relevant) my Father whom had recently sold his company providing raceway conduit systems for sky-rise buildings, approached me with a 3D printed part from a recent meeting he had with the company that had him on a consulting contract. This was back in '97, I was amazed and started researching 3D. I bought a refurbished FDM 1650 for $75k with borrowed money and used a 10 x 10 spare office at my Dad's shop... and CIDEAS was born. Within 6 months I had two machines... within three years I had moved to our location in Cary Illinois and amassed 10 machines.

PD&D - What types of customers do you typically serve and what types of work do you do for them?

 Mike Litterell – Ah, tricky question. We started as a design verification shop but started producing bridge tooling and low production volume models... In 2008 we started adding high resolution models and offered finishing services. Our customer base is enormous, anything from a "Mom and Pop" design shop to Hobbyists', Fortune 50, Entertainment, Consumer Product and Medical Patient specific training models for pre-surgical applications. We work in Aerospace, Automotive, Dental, Electronics, Medical... You name it...

PD&D  - What printers do you have in your stable?

Mike Litterell - We run everything Large Frame-Industrial: FDM, PolyJet, SLA, SLS, and DLS/DLP (this is in order of acquisition), I believe when I bought my first FDM machine from Stratasys there weren't more than 50 employees there. In total we run 30 machines but it fluctuates as we peel off legacy equipment and add new technologies.


PD&D Do you have a little more info on the Lotus – i.e. what’s the model, what year was it made, and some details on the parts you printed for the car?

Mike Litterell That's a Lotus 340r, considered one of the best sports cars ever built. Only 340 were ever built and only 12 were imported to the U.S.A. There’s a special page on our website devoted to the Lotus - That web-link provides a lot of details on the car, as well as the 40+ parts we’ve built for it. But the reality is, I am a huge car fan. I bought it because I wanted to bring a car to Detroit with 3D printed parts on it (it was also a great excuse to buy a bucket list car). However, it is pertinent in realizing what 3D printing can accomplish, tricky replacement parts on rare cars that pre-date CAD, as well as, customizing cars without hurting the original components.

CIDEAS built this 1/4 scale model of a Miller Special almost entirely from 3D printed parts.