To reduce the weight of a car engine by 35%


Optimizing design and using multiple materials in one piece

Solution used

SLA, Casting


Co-creation with Materialise; R & D, Design & Engineering and Certified Manufacturing

Greek philosopher Heraclitus is known for saying, “Change is the only constant in life.” Röchling could not agree more. In the late 1800s, they started to explore steel’s full potential for different markets, customers, products and technologies to see how it would be more optimal than coal – the main technology at the time. In 2006, when plastics gave a lightweight-but-durable alternative, they saw that it solved some of their biggest problems in automotive, medical and other industries. Since then the Röchling Group is a market leader in researching, testing and applying plastics for new and challenging applications to fix some of their customer’s pain points and add value. It’s because of this mentality that they became an early adopter of 3D printing, by starting to work with the technology over 15 years ago. Today, they continue to look to additive manufacturing because it has proven to solve some of their biggest challenges.

When a customer came to them and asked to reduce the weight of an engine by up to 35%, Röchling came to Materialise to make a prototype of their design. After some iterations they are on their way to meeting this goal.

Step one to lightweight design: Put metal only where needed

Röchling and their customer first thought of how to trim metal off the design. If something is too heavy then an easy win would be to remove any material that isn’t completely essential. What they did was pare down as much as possible the amount of metal needed for the engine block. 
But this wasn’t enough. So what they did next was look into replacing the heavier metal areas with a material that is more lightweight. 

And the combination of the two did the trick. Materialise’s daughter company ACTech, which specializes in rapid prototyping casts, produced the aluminium core of the cylinder block. They left in metal where the engine combustion happens – the part that has to hold up despite strong forces and high temperatures bearing down on it. The unusual geometry was easily converted into a ready-to-use prototype by using additive technology of 3D-printed sand mold packs.


In most engines, there is usually a metal casing around the inlet. However, what the team found was that this could be replaced with a strong plastic. Replacing the casing in plastic drastically cut down on the weight while having the right properties to hold the metal parts in place. However, the actual printing was quite complicated since it was a shell and therefore needed to be made in interlocking parts that could be constructed over the aluminum center. What the project team did was create all the parting planes and cut profiles in 20 portions altogether, with complex cuts to hide as much as possible the cut marks.


Once this was complete, the printing process began. More specifically, two models were printed in Tusk T material using Stereolithography, one of which was painted and the other which was left transparent. This one integrated part was printed so that it could be tested to further tweak and optimize.

Quicker development process

Even though Röchling’s aim was to make a more lightweight engine, they are working in an industry where development times are getting faster and faster. As specialists in the field, ACTech has a wealth of experience creating designs with unusual shapes in the absolutely shortest amount time necessary. When coupled with 3D printing, the process goes much faster as changes can be made digitally with a few clicks instead of resetting large milling machines as was done in the past. 

Materialise’s custom-made software is what ultimately lets these changes happen much faster – so there can be a functional prototype faster that the designers can hold in their hands, examine, test and define what they need in their next iteration: “The software is important. This is one thing we saw in Materialise that other 3D print manufactures don’t have,” said Fabrizio Barillari, Head of Product Line for Engines and Propulsion Solutions at Röchling Automotive.


A partner through thick and thin

Röchling knew that 3D printing could make products more lightweight – ideal for the automobile industry that they are working in. But what they found by working with Materialise was more than just the end-product. They found a true partner that they could advise them on how to design, print and who understands the industry. 

“With Materialise, we see the potential to truly work together – finding new materials, new processes – which bring additive manufacturing to the next level.”

Fabrizio Barillari, Head of Product Line for Engines and Propulsion Solutions at Röchling Automotive

Fabrizio Barillari, Röchling Automotive

Fabrizio Barillari

This process called co-creation, allows the two sides to have a closer working relationship. And the results have paid off: “In this industry, partnerships are vital. And when two partners really understand each other, then something really great can come out of it,” said Fabrizio. “The prototype was exactly what we expected because we had constant communication with Materialise throughout the process. We really appreciate this. By working with Materialise, we could rely on their expertise and know-how and knew they were not bias to work only with one type of machine or technology. They really understand the full spectrum and this allows for the best product to be made. We could really create something great together.”

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