Heat exchangers + gearboxes

How 3D printing optimises heat exchangers and gearboxes in vehicles and helicopters.

3D printed heat exchanger

Innovation in 3D printing heat exchangers and gearboxes

3D printing gearboxes’ housing and heat exchangers is not new. Companies have been using carbon fiber and metal 3D printing to optimise structure and weight. Studies has shown 3D printed gears are not only lighter; lighter gears can significantly reduce vibrations and as a result improve torque performance.

3D printing gearboxes’ components save weight

A typical steel spur gear weighs 180g. Additive Engineering’s 3D printed gear in titanium with a honeycomb structural core and solid gear teeth saved 75% in weight. These weight savings are significant when you factor in multiple gears in gearboxes and leadtime to customise gears in limited volumes.

Porsche produced its first engine-gearbox housing using laser metal additive manufacturing process, passing all quality and stress tests in 2020. Porsche estimated that 3D printing the gearbox housing itself is more lightweight than conventionally cast part, reducing the overall weight of the drive by ten percent. Rodin cars 3D printed their first titanium 3D printed parts, the Rodin FZero gearbox in 2021. To 3D print in titanium lends benefits of a lighter, stronger, more durable and compact gearbox compared to traditional methods.

3d printed gearbox gears

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3D printing complex structures to increase surface area

3D printed heat exchanger

When we called for cool products to be printed for a manufacturing showcase, a customer sent though a heat exchanger with a request to add a gyroid  structure. Heat exchangers are typically made by assembling many tubes together. By 3D printing in one piece, replacing tubes with gyroids allows the heat exchangers to be more compact, saving weight and improving efficiencies in cooling. A similar redesign of an actual military helicopter’s heat exchanger with a gyroid internal structure resulted in four times the cooling at half the size of the original part. 

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3d printed heat exchanger

Improve structural properties with 3D printing

No other manufacturing process offers possibilities and speed like 3D printing without the cost and time around validation for tool making. Special structures that can only be made with 3D printing can add stiffness in high stressed areas. Porsche could increase the stiffness between the electric motor and the gearbox by 100% with  lattice structures despite a continuous thin wall thickness of 1.5mm. The honeycomb structure reduced the oscillations of the thin walls and improved the acoustics of the drive. 

More design freedom with 3D printing

Design validation requires iteration and prototypes. A good way to start the process is to utilise nylon for test and validation prior to metal 3D printing. This is a more cost effective way to optimise and integrate components such as bearings, heat exchangers and oil supply. The use of structures inspired by nature, similar to bones and plants are proven approaches in design, as seen in a fractal heat exchanger.

Once design is validated, the next step will be to explore materials that are strong and light. Titanium’s superior strength-to-weight ratio to steel and 3D printed mechanical properties are well-documented and demonstrated use in aerospace and automotive.

Fractal heat exchanger

3D printing enables part integration

Parts can be integrated with 3D printing, improving part quality and reducing assembly costs. Porsche took several days to print the first housing prototype, integrating functions to make the drive unit more compact, reducing the weight of the parts by 40%. The integration of Porsche’s gearbox heat exchanger with optimised heat transmission improves the cooling of the drive, and further enhancing performance. Source : Porsche newsroom, 2020.

Working with Additive Engineering’s 3D printing service allows businesses to explore different lattice structures, specific criteria in design data, material and 3D printing technology without having to invest in a 3D printer.  Have an idea for a 3D printed part? Contact us today.

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