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Auto companies have been using 3D printing to make more auto parts, including a new set of electric drive units, according to media reports.
The latest 3D printing project is a fully integrated electric drive housing under which is an electric motor and a two-speed gearbox. The transmission is made of aluminum alloy. The device is said to be powerful enough to be configured into a supercar. In addition, its production process is also very cool.
A laser metal fusion (LMF) process is adopted, which uses a laser beam to heat and melt the powder surface corresponding to the contour of the part, and then uses aluminum alloy powder to melt layer by layer. This process allows Porsche engineers to optimize heat transfer and perform real-time load tests.
Finally, the finished 3D-printed housing is 10 percent lighter than traditional castings, and its grid structure increases stiffness. Although it is only 1.5 mm thick, it is much stronger than similar parts without the honeycomb structure.
A 3D-printed piston was built and configured on a sports car for fatigue testing. Similar to the transmission housing, these pistons are also fabricated using laser metal melting, a process that not only reduces the weight of the end product but also optimizes the product performance. The piston has a cooling duct, which would not have been possible to integrate with conventional production methods.
The use of 3D printing technology promises to customize applications and spare parts. Many users expect to retrofit older models with newer parts. With 3D printing technology, this is undoubtedly a breeze. Taking this fully integrated drivetrain as an example, it is not difficult to disassemble and re-install the old equipment of a classic car, and it only takes a day.
Importantly, such processes will help advance conventional machining. At present, 3D printing is not the mainstream production mode, but with the development of technology and the passage of time, the technology is expected to be applied to mass production in the future. Recently, many car companies have changed the name of this type of process and renamed 3D printing “additive manufacturing”.
The market has begun to expand the application of 3D printing technology. So far, with 3D printed classic car spare parts, bucket seat parts, and pistons, it is now possible to make a one-piece electric drive cover.