AMS Spring 2023

First Ever 3D Printed Ceramic Piston Made for Chaos Ultracar

6K SmarTech

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XJet has announced that it produced the world’s first 3D printed car engine piston made entirely with ceramics. Developed by Spyros Panopoulos Automotive (SPA) for its Chaos Ultracar, the part was 3D printed using XJet’s NanoParticle Jetting (NPJ) technology.

At our Additive Manufacturing Strategies event this year, XJet CBO Dror Danai was able to shed light on the impact of precision 3D printed ceramics in applications that might not originally come to mind. This included industrial applications, like end parts for XJet’s own 3D printer, as well as automotive use cases. Now, XJet has publicized exactly how 3D printed ceramics can revolutionize motorsports.

Once complete, the Chaos Ultracar is set to be the world’s first “ultracar” with over 3,000 hp. Image courtesy of Spyros Panopoulos Automotive.

The founder of SPA, Spyros Panopoulos, is a pioneer in motorsports and has developed what his firm describes as the “most efficient combustion engine on the planet.” With his latest creation, the Chaos, SPA is chasing speeds of more than 500 kph and 0-100 kph acceleration of 1.55 seconds. The vehicle, still under development, may have the fastest-revving production car engine yet, achieving up to 12,200 RPM and a whopping 3,065 horsepower.

Crucial to this performance was the novel “anadiaplasi” piston designed by Panopoulos for additive manufacturing. The shape of the component is based on the forces acting on it, with material minimized where possible and reinforcement added where needed. The weight has been optimized, while strength and temperature resistance are maintained.

The 3D printed ceramic piston for the Chaos Ultracar. Image courtesy of XJet.

Naturally, to create a part with such a complex, organic geometry, AM was required. To achieve the accuracy and surface finish necessary, NPJ was an ideal candidate technology. SPA teamed up with Lino 3D, XJet’s partner in Greece, to 3D print the part from XJet Alumina, chosen for its strength, hardness, light weight, and resistance to thermal expansion.

“Ceramic offers many advantages compared to other materials,” Panopolous comments, “Harder and stiffer than steel, more resistant to heat and corrosion than metals or polymers and weighing significantly less than most metals and alloys. XJet’s alumina parts will withstand the high temperatures expected to develop within the combustion chamber as well as on the fast-moving parts. XJet systems are uniquely capable of producing this part in ceramic, and there’s absolutely no room for error in this project.”

The 3D printed ceramic piston with rod. Image courtesy of XJet.

Of course, AM is increasingly being used throughout motorsports, due the ability of the technology to produce unique, high-performance parts in low volumes where cost is not as important of a factor. However, the Chaos is taking the technology to an entirely new level. Panopolous is applying AM throughout the design of the Chaos. 78 percent of the body is said to be 3D printed, as are other key pieces like the engine block, camshaft, and intake valves.

“We are proud to be using such progressive technology in our Ultracar,” said Panopolous, “Our projects push performance to the extreme and so we are extremely selective about the materials and technologies we use. I believe this is the first-time ceramic AM is being used in motorsport and I feel privileged to take that pioneering step.”

The 3D printed steering wheel of the Chaos Supercar. Image courtesy of Spyros Panopoulos Automotive.

This is mirroring developments like those of Divergent Technology, which has produced a hypercar that is largely 3D printed and then robotically assembled. Though the Chaos Ultracar may not deploy additive to quite that extent, it breaks new ground by using 3D printed ceramics.

The ceramic 3D printing segment is still a small one, but the materials can often be the perfect match for demanding applications such as this. However, most oft-cited use cases for AM ceramics involve medical devices, electronics, and aerospace. Automotive, and motorsports in particular, is not usually the topic of marketing brochures. In this case, SPA and XJet are really working outside of the box. It may be such novel uses as this that push the ceramics 3D printing market to $4.8 billion in revenues by 2030, according the “Ceramics Additive Manufacturing Production Markets: 2019-2030” report from SmarTech Analysis.

Haim Levi, XJet VP Strategic Marketing, said, “SPA is taking ceramic additive manufacturing and design for AM – DfAM – to the edge and beyond with their work on the Chaos Ultracar. We’re extremely proud to be part of such a trailblazing project by offering the top-level capabilities of our technology and system. Designers and engineers from a wide range of industries and applications are exposed to new options now opened for them. We expect the Chaos project ceramic piston to ignite their creativity and imaginations and push the limits in the automotive industry and beyond.”

As XJet progresses with a new CEO and the introduction of its metal 3D printers to the market, we may begin to see more out-of-the-box thinking from the firm. If it can 3D print ceramic pistons for record-breaking vehicles, there’s surely more surprises in store.

Feature image courtesy of Spyros Panopoulos Automotive.

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