Or rather, for a sports car, but it’s a start. As of the moment, Porsche has succeeded in 3D printing production-grade pistons for the engine of their newest 911 sports car, the 911 GT2 RS.
Now you might wonder why Porsche didn’t try putting 3D printed pistons on a vehicle with less demanding speed capabilities. Something less… Porschey? Well, according to their Project Manager, Frank Ickinger, there’s no need to worry as they’ve done the exact same stress tests on the new pistons as they do with the traditional machines versions, albeit with a few differences.
Making a 3D Printed Porsche Piston
First, the 3D pistons undergo virtual simulation. By analyzing the loads, areas affected by greater stress are structurally improved and those with too much material are removed. As usual, all this analysis and improvement takes place before the piston is even made.
Once the plans are finalized, the piston is printed using a special high-purity aluminum powder. This material is produced not by Porsche, but by parts manufacturer Mahle. The powder is sourced to another partner, German industrial manufacturing company Trumpf, where they use their laser technology expertise to print out the parts using a laser metal fusion process (LMF).
After the initial 3D prints are created, the pistons are sent back to Mahle where they are stress tested and given the finishing touches. As mentioned, the 3D printed pistons undergo the same tests as the regular pistons to make sure they deliver and withstand the power of a GT2 RS sports car engine.
All this back and forth between companies results in a piston design which weighs a whole ten percent less than the traditionally forged version. Thanks to the decrease in weight, Porsche can increase the car’s engine speed, optimize its combustion, and decrease its overall temperature load.
This was just the start of Porsche’s 3D printing journey. While they are currently improving their existing designs, the company hopes to expand its 3D printing initiative to create parts that would otherwise be impossible to make using the old machining/forging methods. If these pistons are any indication, we are finally on the cusp of a revolution in car manufacturing.