Technology has changed how our automobiles operate, but it's also changed how we design and build them. Innovations like 3D-printing have exploded within the automotive industry as automakers, suppliers, and aftermarket tuners master the technology's full capability. Porsche is pushing the technology ahead with its new process to produce pistons for the 911 GT2 RS.

It's the first time the GT2 RS uses 3D-printed pistons with several innovations the conventional manufacturing process wouldn't have allowed. Porsche was able to reduce the weight of each piston by 10 percent while also integrating a closed cooling duct for improved efficiency, which wasn't possible on the standard pistons. The new pistons also feature a design optimized for the loads it experiences in the cylinder.

The new, lighter pistons allow for increased engine speed and lower temperature loads, leading to a 30-horsepower (22-kilowatt) increase. That takes the car's already potent 3.8-liter flat-six from an eye-watering 690 hp (514 kW) to 720 hp (536 kW). Porsche makes no mention of an increase in the car's 553 pound-feet (749 Newton-meters) of torque. The car is already quick, too, running from zero to 60 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour) in 2.6 seconds.

Gallery: Porsche 911 GT2 RS 3D-Printed Pistons

Porsche manufactures the GT2 RS's pistons using the laser metal fusion process that heats and melts high-purity metal powder surfaces into shape, partnering with Mahle and Trumpf on the endeavor. This isn't the only part Porsche uses 3D-printing to produce. Back in May, parts of Porsche's 911 and 718's bucket seats were partially produced using 3D-printing. Porsche Classic also uses the technique to create parts no longer in production, like the release lever for the clutch of the Porsche 959.

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3D-printing is slowly showing its relevance to the automotive industry. Other automakers are using the technology long before a car hits the production line, rapidly producing and prototyping new parts during the design and engineering process. This helps reduce development time. Expect to see the technology's continued utilization.

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Innovative pistons from a 3D printer for increased power and efficiency

Stuttgart. 3D printing technology is already used at Porsche in prototype construction, manufacturing spare parts for classic sports cars as well as in other areas. In cooperation with its partners Mahle and Trumpf, the sports car manufacturer is now establishing a new milestone in the use of additive manufacturing processes for highly-stressed drive components – for the first time, the pistons for the high-performance engine of the 911 flagship model, the GT2 RS, are now also being produced with a 3D printer.

3D printing allows the pistons to be manufactured with a structure that is optimised for the loads acting on the pistons. As a result, the pistons from the advance development project weigh ten percent less than the forged series production pistons. They also have an integrated and closed cooling duct in the piston crown that could not have been produced by conventional methods. “Thanks to the new, lighter pistons, we can increase the engine speed, lower the temperature load on the pistons and optimise combustion,” explains Frank Ickinger from the advance drive development department at Porsche. “This makes it possible to get up to 30 PS more power from the 700 PS biturbo engine, while at the same time improving efficiency.”

Building up parts layer by layer permits realisation of new and improved designs

There are a number of different technologies for 3D printing. All are based on the principle that the components are built up layer by layer without the need to previously manufacture a special tool or mould. Practically any geometric shape can therefore be realised. The printer can be fed with the design data directly from the computer. Additive manufacturing processes are thus ideal for producing structures that have been designed and optimised by means of artificial intelligence (AI). The pistons of the 911 GT2 RS were manufactured from high-purity metal powder using the laser metal fusion process (LMF). Here, a laser beam heats and melts the powder surface corresponding to the part contour. Porsche initiated the joint project together with cooperation partners Mahle and Trumpf. The quality and performance capability of the components were validated using measurement technology from project partner Zeiss.

Wide application field and new potential uses for 3D printing at Porsche

Porsche already uses additive manufacturing processes in several areas. For example, a 3D-printed bodyform full bucket seat has been available since May for the model series 911 and 718. Here, the central section of the seat, in other words the cushion and backrest surfaces, is partly produced by a 3D printer. Customers will be able to choose between three firmness levels (hard, medium, soft) for the comfort layer in future. Porsche Classic also uses additive processes to reproduce plastic, steel and alloy spare parts that were previously no longer available. A release lever for the clutch of the Porsche 959, for example, today comes from a 3D printer. Around 20 reproduced parts for Porsche classic models are currently manufactured using additive processes. This manufacturing technology is also technically and economically interesting for Porsche for special and small series as well as motorsports. 3D printing therefore offers significant potential for Porsche with regard to product and process innovations, which will in turn allow customers to benefit from fascinating and individual products.

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