Porsche is a performance car manufacturer that has a lofty reputation to maintain, with nearly 90 years of German engineering steadily improving upon itself. If Porsche adopts a manufacturing method, it must be reliable and support their inclinations for pushing the curve of automotive performance. The famed automaker recently put 3D printing to the ultimate test by printing aluminum pistons for a Porsche 911 GT2 RS engine, where the new pistons ran figurative laps around the standard pistons in 200 hours of high-speed operation.

Thanks to an integrated cooling channel, piston temperatures were reduced by 68°F, which improves efficiency by lowering the amount of energy that’s lost to heat. Not only are the printed pistons 10% lighter, they’re also stiffer. That’s because the designers could employ generative design, a modeling process where automated computer simulations output the most efficient geometry for the specified scenario.

We have simulated the pistons virtually and entered the loads. The topological optimization finds the load paths and tells me where material should be added or reduced in order for the part to ultimately remain intact. This generates a bionic structure that could not be manufactured using conventional casting or forging methods. Frank Ickinger, project manager at Porsche

Porsche partnered with Mahle, who supplied the aluminum powder and finished the final part, and Trumpf, who supplied a metal 3D printer. Before being installed onto the test engine, the pistons were meticulously inspected at the microscopic level for voids or cracks by Zeiss. They passed with flying colors, otherwise they wouldn’t have been installed for the actual test.

The 3.8-liter, twin-turbo, flat-six engine in the GT2 RS puts out 700 horsepower, but the printed pistons added another 30 horses, an impressive increase of more than 4%. In the performance car world, 4% is huge, especially in an engine that’s already producing so much power. While most automakers have already integrated AM into their production lines of non-critical parts, expect to see Porsche (and other performance car makers) printing more engine and under-the-hood components to get an edge over the competition.

Images courtesy of Porsche