Manufacturing's digital data, fed into a special 3D laser printer, literally can turn an engineering concept into a large, fully stressed metal part.
Porsche is taking advantage of 3D printing, or "additive manufacturing," to quickly plug electric vehicle components into its vehicle-development programs. The automaker is working to make not only its vehicles, but also its build processes, agile and fast. But as usual, quicker comes at a cost.
Engineers at Porsche's Weissach Development Center in Germany recently built a light-alloy, electric-drive housing using a laser-fusion 3D-printing process. This technology holds promise for Porsche's special and small-series production and motorsports efforts.
"This proves that additive manufacturing, with all of its advantages, is also suitable for larger and heavily stressed components in electric sports cars," Falk Heilfort, the project manager, said in a statement.
But importantly, this type of "printer" costs between $100,000 and $5 million. So, unless one of the growing number of contract-printer vendors is used, the return on investment will depend on throughput. Parts can be printed in aluminum, steel, nickel, copper, bronze, titanium, silver or even alloy mixes.
"It's called laser metal powder-bed fusion," explained Terry Wohlers, president of consulting firm Wohlers Associates in Fort Collins, Colo. "And in relatively low quantities, it can be an effective way to produce parts. But it's not Jeep doing the Grand Cherokee in the hundreds of thousands. You'd be casting and machining those metal parts."