AMS Spring 2023

Laser Wars: Porsche Uses SLM’s 12 Laser Metal 3D Printer for E-Drive Part


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Porsche has used SLM Solutions massive 12 laser system to print a demonstration E-Drive component for a sports car front axle. The company’s NXG XII 600 has a 600x600x600 mm build volume, bi-directional recoating, Double Jump Speed which lets the company build at 1000ccm/h, and claims that one machine can make up to 10,000 kg of parts per year.

Porsche engineers working in the advanced powertrain engineering department are used to designing and making powertrain components. One of these is an E-Drive, a housing that holds the electronics, transmission and electric motor. The team has now designed a proof of concept for a topology optimized part and printed it using SLM’s machine in 21 hours. The part measures 590 x 560 x 367 mm.

The motor is made up of “a permanent magnet motor with 800 volt operating voltage delivers up to 205 kW (280 hp). The downstream two-stage transmission is integrated in the same housing and drives the wheels with up to 2,100 Newton meters of torque. This highly integrated approach is designed for use on the front axle of a sports car.”

The part includes, “lattice structures to reduce the weight, functional integration of cooling channels, higher stiffness and reduced assembly time by the integration of parts as well as improvements in part quality.”

Porsche powertrain development engineer Falk Heilfort, says, “This new manufacturing technology is technically and economically interesting for us. Possible use cases are especially prototypes in the development phase, special and small series production as well as for motorsport and classic spare parts.“

Even though this is only a proof of concept, it is great to see large companies experiment and use our technology publicly. I for one would be very surprised if similar components on F1 and Le Mans cars had not been 3D printed already. KERS, turbo, or similar housing components throughout the engine would be great candidates for this kind of topology optimized treatment.

With Porsche and Audi’s involvement in Le Mans and similar series, SLM Solutions should have a good client in just their racing divisions. Especially with the new transition to the Le Mans Hypercar class, which Porche will join in 2023, it will be well worth using 3D printing to make the new hypercar. This would probably also mean that the 918 successor would include 3D printed components on the drivetrain or perhaps other parts. Given the low numbers (the 918 sold 918 units), this could be doable. Smaller production runs in Bugatti’s and Koenigsegg have already used 3D printed components.

The “functional integration of cooling channels” could be hugely beneficial for this and many other parts on race cars. I’m also very excited by the mention of “reduced assembly time”, which can really matter in high-end vehicles. Additionally, it really matters in racing, where pitstops and rebuilds are significant, and where the best engineer’s time is limited.

To reduce the mass of the E-Drive housing and make it stiffer would be beneficial, but a lot more value would be created on engine components or in making items like turbo, cooling or heatsinks, which can really be optimized with 3D printing. Generally, mass reduction is exciting, however, especially on new platforms or in a shift toward electric and hybrid. Anything that can reduce the weight of components or make them smaller would make the car designer’s job easier.

Small series production is also exciting terrain. Porsche Classic and customized Porsche components are a sizable business. With so many cars in the field as well, their spares business could be considerable. Old Porsches have increased significantly in value in the past several years and the company has expanded significantly in production. Last year, the business sold as many cars in North America as it used to sell globally. It remains to be seen if Cayennes will become classics as well, but the volume there is significant. Techart and others also have Porsche-specific aftermarkets that would be potential users of this technology. All in all, it would be great for SLM Solutions to further engage with Porsche and its sister companies to 3D print more components on cars.

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