How additive manufacturing provides greater design flexibility for the next innovation step in turbocharger performance

An image showing 3D printing in action
Additive manufacturing is changing the face of turbocharger development, providing considerably greater flexibility, driving innovation and supporting older turbochargers.

We’ve discussed additive manufacturing, or 3D printing as it’s also known, on charge! previously, with Accelleron collaborating with Formula One’s Sauber Group to overcome technical challenges and discover competitive advantage. For turbocharging, additive manufacturing creates a whole new world of possibilities. 

Additive manufacturing has become increasingly popular over the past decade, as manufacturers and hobbyists have embraced the ability to create components literally at the touch of a button. For Accelleron, the concept behind additive manufacturing remains remarkably similar to the 3D printers found in homes around the world, only with much stronger materials replacing plastics.

The three pillars of additive manufacturing at Accelleron

In an industry that often relies on traditional manufacturing methods, such as casting or milling, additive manufacturing provides benefits in three key areas for Accelleron, including: Flexibility for production, the ability to create replacement parts for older turbochargers, and the opportunity to develop and create better performing components.  

Dirk Bergmann, Accelleron’s CTO, explains: 

“We are currently looking at additive manufacturing in terms of three pillars. The first is using additive manufacturing as a second potential source for production lines. We’re looking to substitute conventional production methods with additive manufacturing technology, helping us to be more flexible when it comes to sourcing components.”

Substituting conventional production methods means that Accelleron can create the components required almost immediately, when it requires them. This additional flexibility provides more options when it comes to scale, helping to create new components more quickly, and ensuring that turbochargers can be manufactured as efficiently as possible. 

“The second pillar includes using additive manufacturing to produce spare parts for our older turbocharger portfolio,” says Dirk. “This is particularly important as we have a huge fleet of turbochargers out there which still need to be maintained. We need to have spare parts, and additive manufacturing means that we can produce these components where necessary.”

When it comes to older components, the benefits of additive manufacturing are clear to see. 3D printing enables Accelleron to create components that there may not be much demand for, but which are still required for the company to support older equipment. This means customers can get replacement parts whenever they need them, without Accelleron having to stockpile hundreds of different parts for older equipment. 

“The third pillar involves our work with Sauber Group, our partner in the Formula One,” says Dirk. “We’re currently exploring the freedom that additive manufacturing offers together, and looking for ways that we can use this in the design of our turbocharger parts."

The benefits for customers when it comes to Accelleron’s partnership with Sauber Group are more long-term. The collaboration enables both companies to work together to share knowledge and put new ideas to the test, driving innovation and potentially changing the face of turbocharging in the future.

The future for additive manufacturing

“We’ve already printed a hollow compressor wheel which looks like a normal milled part and appears to provide the same performance, but which is a fair bit lighter,” says Dirk. “Of course, we still need to conduct experiments, especially in terms of durability and reliability, but at the moment things are looking promising.

“My hope is that with additive manufacturing, we can match the turbochargers to the engine even more efficiently,” adds Dirk. “3D printing can potentially help us to create lighter turbochargers that deliver the same flow rate and pressure ratio as more traditional turbochargers, but if we can reduce the materials required, we can also reduce the CO2 footprint.”

Further efficiencies can also be made when it comes to the weight of the components themselves. “Reducing the inertia of the rotating parts also means that the engine can react faster in terms of load changes,” says Dirk, “providing benefits when it comes to performance and fuel savings.” 

Challenges to overcome

Of course, additive manufacturing is still a relatively new solution, especially in relation to the overall lifecycle of a typical turbocharger, with some of Accelleron’s offerings still in use after half a century. That means there’s a lot to learn about the process.

“Engineers have had centuries of experience when it comes to casting,” Dirk explains. “That means we know how different materials and different components will perform. We can look at the weight and density of different components, for example, and guarantee how long a part will last. This is where we need more experience when it comes to additive manufacturing.”

There are also challenges that are more specific to turbochargers when it comes to additive manufacturing, such as the longevity of Accelleron’s products. Unlike lots of other 3D-printed components, such as prototype parts used in R&D, for example, the components used in turbochargers are expected to last for a long time in demanding conditions, and reliability and durability are both particularly important. 

Despite these challenges, Accelleron has already been able to develop several 3D printed components, such as nozzle rings and other static parts, providing the same quality and reliability as their cast or milled counterparts. 

As the company’s knowledge and experience increases, it’s only a matter of time before we see more and more components created using additive manufacturing, providing better performance and a lower environmental impact, while also making it easier for customers to source the parts they need.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Nordroden