Porsche manufactures e-drive housing using 12-laser 3D printer

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The optimised topology of the housing reduces the e-drive's overall weight by 10 per cent. (Image: Porsche)

Porsche has used SLM Solution’s new multi-laser metal additive manufacturing system to print the complete housing for an electric drive for the first time.

The e-drive unit measures 590 x 560 x 367mm and was built in 21 hours using the NXG XII 600, which is equipped with 12 overlapping 1kW lasers and offers a 600 x 600 x 600mm build envelope.

The alloy housing is 40 per cent lighter than a conventionally cast part thanks to its optimised topology – a lattice honeycomb structure achievable only via 3D printing.

As a result, the overall weight of the drive has been reduced by approximately 10 per cent. 

In addition, the stiffness in highly stressed areas of the housing has doubled due the honeycomb structure, which also reduces the oscillations of the housing walls to considerably improve the acoustics of the drive.

The additive technology was also used to integrate numerous functions and parts into the drive. In the same housing as the electric motor, a downstream two-speed gearbox has been integrated. As a result, the cooling of the drive has been improved thanks to the optimised heat transmission of the gearbox heat exchanger.

This integration of parts made the drive unit more compact while reducing the required assembly work by around 40 steps, equating to a 20-minute reduction in production time overall. 

The engine-gearbox unit passed all quality and stress tests without any problems, according to Porche, which envisions it being used in the front axle of a limited-edition super sports car.

In addition to enabling an optimised topology, additive manufacturing was used to integrate numerous functions and parts into the electric drive. (Image: Porsche)

‘Our goal was to develop an electric drive with the potential for additive manufacturing, at the same time integrating as many functions and parts as possible in the drive housing, saving weight and optimising the structure,’ said Falk Heilfort, project manager in the Powertrain Advance Development department at Porsche. ‘No other manufacturing process offers as many possibilities and such fast implementation as 3D printing.’

Using the printer, design data could be fed directly from a computer without intermediate steps such as tool making. The housing was then created layer by layer from high-purity aluminium alloy powder using laser metal fusion.

Flexible, low-volume production

Porsche is driving forward the use of additive manufacturing for the development and optimisation of low-volume, highly stressed parts. Last year the firm demonstrated newly printed pistons in its 911 GT2 RS high-performance sports car. 

‘The housing produced using the 3D printing process again shows the potential of additive manufacturing for Porsche when it comes to product innovation in the future,’ the firm said on its website. ‘Potentials also arise in the areas of process innovation – agile development and flexible production – and for new areas of business such as customisation with new offers for customers and spare parts. This manufacturing technology is technically and economically interesting for Porsche specifically for special and small series as well as motorsports.’

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