German automaker Porsche has developed a 3D-printer that can make pistons for its 911 GT2 RS model. These parts are apparently lighter and stiffer than the old versions. They also have an integrated cooling system that results in increased power and efficiency.
Working in partnership with German auto suppliers Mahle and Trumpf, Porsche printed the pistons as a development exercise. They wanted to show that it’s possible to make engine parts that will operate under intense pressure and heat. After the pistons were printed, they were analyzed for defects. Then they were placed on an engine test bench and simulated a 200-hour endurance drive. They performed without any issues, according to the company.
According to Porsche’s Advance Drive Development Department, the 3D printed pistons “make it possible to get up to 30 horsepower more from the 700-horsepower biturbo engine, while at the same time improving efficiency.”
Despite the success, Porsche said it isn’t quite ready to start 3D printing parts for regular vehicles yet. That will take about 10 years, according to the company. Future individualized items for customers will start gearing up in about two-to-three years. For small series production with 3D printed parts, it will take about five years to perfect.
Porsche also plans to offer 3D printed parts in other areas. There are plans to 3D print select parts for vintage vehicles that are no longer widely available. However, Porsche won’t be offering 3D files for individuals to print parts at home. They understandably want to be able to control the quality of the parts that are printed.
A New Future For Car Parts?
It’s not a typical 3D printing process, either. Instead of laying down layers from a print head (as you would in a regular 3D printer), Porsche created the 911 pistons using a high-purity metal powder. The power is placed in a 3D printer that uses laser beams to heat and melt it one layer at a time. These layers are built up until they create the part. The process produces a piston that’s not only 10% lighter, but also has higher stiffness than the traditional forged part.
As this technology continues to improve, it could lead to a serious shift in the creation of car parts. Auto makers will be able to make lighter, stronger original parts. In the somewhat-distant future, drivers may even be able to print their own replacement parts at home. Imagine being able to simply download a file and make a replacement part overnight in your garage?