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A 3D printed diesel engine piston is shown in a cutaway view. (Kami Buchholz)

IAV using 3D printed pistons for engine testing

Engineering services specialist IAV is using 3D printed parts to shorten engine development timelines.

“A 3D printed part is a very fast way to get a new piece to the test stand, so you can compare and analyze variations in part geometry,” said Robert Dolan, Director of Commercial Vehicle and Government Programs for IAV.

Dolan and Kody Klindt, IAV’s Project Development Director for the Powertrain System, spoke with Automotive Engineering at the company’s SAE WCX 2018 exhibit.

IAV recently began 3D printing pistons for engine research and development purposes. The company is producing the parts for customers involved with commercial vehicle diesel engines and passenger vehicle gasoline engines. It also has produced 3D printed cylinder heads for an advanced thermal management system.

The 3D printed pistons “enable us to achieve internal geometries that you can’t get through traditional manufacturing methods,” Dolan said.

In one example, a 3D printed piston designed for a gasoline engine features an internal honeycomb structure under the dome area. “It provides the strength needed to tolerate the cylinder pressure, and it incorporates cooling features,” Dolan explained.

Producing unique piston concepts via additive manufacturing effectively enables engineers to push the boundaries on thermal dynamics. “It’s also means that engineers can push the boundaries as it relates to single cylinder engine development,” Klindt said.

IAV’s 3D printed metal pistons can be up to 25% lighter in weight than pistons produced by conventional manufacturing, said Dolan. He noted that production applications are being investigated.

“It’s likely to happen much sooner with a lower-volume, high-content piston for a diesel engine commercial vehicle before it would happen for a passenger vehicle. And that’s because the boundary conditions are so much more severe with a diesel engine piston,” Dolan said.

Regardless of how soon 3D printed pistons become production reality, testing with 3D printed parts has proven valuable.

“Just put yourself in the middle of an internal combustion engine development program. It’s expensive to operate an engine in a specific test cell, so when you decide that you want to change this or that based on the results, being able to get a 3D printed piston into the test cell in just a day or two days versus several weeks is very appealing,” Dolan noted.

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