Porsche Turn To 3D Printing For Gearboxes
Think 3D printing and you might think of a small 3D printer at a university, or maybe one used by a hobbyist to make specialist parts.
However, the technology is also just starting to cross into car manufacture, with Porsche recently revealing the scope of their ambitions to use 3d printing to help produce gearbox parts.
The famous German manufacturer announced at the end of 2020 that they would be using 3D printing to create prototype housing for their electric drives. Their hope was that the housing would be cheaper to make, be stronger than previous parts and also quicker to produce.
There were even hopes that the switch to 3D printing would boost performance, the part lighter and so reducing the overall weight of the car – the power, therefore, more effective.
It has now emerged that the initial tests at Porsche’s in-house facility were all a success and so they are planning to push ahead with 3D printing of engine-gearbox units.
Where this may be of particular benefit to Porsche is in development – they can now design parts on computer software and then make them a reality through printing rather than having to create the tooling parts to cut these prototypes.
More ideas can be tested and the overall process of R&D will be greatly accelerated. Porsche’s rivals might be left in their wake somewhat!
For new Porsche, there will be potential cost savings, if Porsche can cut their production costs, including R&D, then it may be that some savings can be passed on to the consumer. The printing may also allow for a greater degree of customisation – the printer can switch easily between different designs and little tweaks, without the need for complete re-tooling.
Each printed version could be subtly different from the predecessor if desired.
Owners of older Porsche also haven’t been forgotten. It could be that, in time, obsolete parts could be printed to order – the part therefore no more difficult to create than any other. This would reduce the cost of repairing or replacing rare parts.
This, though, is all some time off. At present, Porsche have only just finished initial testing and this with all eyes on enhancing new models – any move to also use the printing technology to create printable versions of old parts is not likely to be anywhere on the current to-do list.
Will this Become The New Normal?
If Porsche are going to embrace 3D printing, this poses the question of whether this will become more widespread?
If it is beneficial in terms of cost and performance then surely others will utilise 3D printing more?
However, it is perhaps interesting that this hasn’t already become the case. This form of printing has been available for many years now and yet has not become mainstream.
Perhaps it is more likely that 3D printing will be useful for development, it may also be useful for rare or one-off parts. It may be great in creating lightweight supercars, but it may have much less of a role in creating the standard family hatchback.
For now, the old methods remain – if not the best – at least the ones in use.