- 3d-printed pistons, a joint effort by porsche and two supplier partners, are 10 percent lighter and the construction method allows for an integrated cooling duct, making them more efficient.
- the pistons are printed using a metal powder that is melted with laser beams and built up one layer at a time.
- 3d-printed parts in high-volume series porsche vehicles won't likely happen for about another 10 years.
sure, if you own the equipment, you could 3d-print a tiny porsche at your home. you could even 3d-print engine parts if you want. of course, they would all fail within seconds if you tried to actually use them in a vehicle. that is, unless you use the method porsche just did. the german automaker has 3d-printed pistons for its 911 gt2 rs that are lighter, stiffer, and have a integrated and closed cooling duct that results in increased power and efficiency.
the automaker, in partnership with german auto suppliers mahle and trumpf, printed the pistons as a development exercise to show that it's possible to make engine parts this way that will operate under intense pressure and heat. in fact, after the pistons were printed, finished, and analyzed for defects, they were placed on an engine test bench and simulated a 200-hour endurance drive without any issues.
but before they could test the parts, they had to be made. instead of laying down layers from a print head as you would in a home 3d printer, mahle created a high-purity metal powder that's placed in a trumpf printer that uses laser beams to heat and melt said powder one layer at a time. these layers are built up until they have a piston that's not only 10 percent lighter, it also has higher stiffness than the traditional forged part. it also has an integrated cooling duct.
this integrated cooling channel could not be added to the piston using the traditional methods of forged production. thanks to the additive manufacturing, porsche claims the temperature in the piston's ring zone is reduced by more than 68 degrees fahrenheit.
according to frank ickinger from the advance drive development department at porsche, "this makes it possible to get up to 30 hp more power from the 700-hp biturbo engine, while at the same time improving efficiency."
but the automaker isn’t quite ready to start 3d printing parts for regular series vehicles. that’ll take about 10 years, according to ickinger. currently, porsche offers 3d-printed body form bucket seats for the 911 and 918 and some parts for classic porsches. future individualized items for customers will start gearing up in about two to three years. for small series production with 3d printed parts, it'll be about five years.
while the technology is impressive, it's also expensive, and it takes quite a while to print parts this way.
porsche also plans to offer more porsche classic parts for pieces that are no longer available for vintage vehicles. one thing the automaker won’t be offering is 3d files for individuals to print at home. ickinger said that maybe in the future, customers could go to the porsche center and have parts printed. the automaker understandably wants to be able to control the quality of the parts printed.
when the 3d printed-pistons will end up in an actual 911 gt2 rs that hits the track, porsche isn't saying yet."we are just investigating this topic," ickinger said. but when they do, they might be joined with other pieces of machinery that were built up with lasers and powder instead of forged.