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Layer-upon-layer printing fabricates 30kW inverter

Posted: 30 Oct 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D printing  silicon carbide 

3D printers have evolved into an indispensable prototyping tool, a long way since they started years ago as just toys. Ultimately, the technology will become integrated with mainstream manufacturing, with a portfolio of IP to gear them up when that time arrives, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL).

"We are hoping that in just a few years from now someone will come up with a way to mass produce 3D printer designs," ORNL's Madhu Chinthavali told EE Times. He is leader of the ORNL's Power Electronics and Electric Machinery Group's first completed 3D project—a 3D printed power inverter for electric cars.

Power inverters convert the direct current from batteries into the alternating current electric cars' motors use—for which ORNL used a wide bandgap material made of silicon carbide to improve power density while reducing weight and volume. By learning the ins and outs of 3D printing these devices, ORNL hopes to amass patents that will put it in the leading position worldwide in how to used 3D printers to solve real-world problems.

3D-printed 30kW power inverter

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's 3D-printed 30kW power inverter offers greater reliability and power in a compact package. (Source: ORNL)

"I want to be the first to do this—a first-ever kind of deal," Chinthavali told us. "Eventually we want to put the specs you want into our CAD file and print out an entire inverter for you."

ORNL claims that its design would be impossible to manufacture in any other way, as a result of its using complex geometry to increase power density and reduce weight—packing a 30kW inverter into the palm of your hand.

"Some of the parts on the interior of the inverter are not manufacturable by any other means," Chinthavali told us. "This inverter combines germanium semiconductors with silicon carbide—that is what makes it different."

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