3d Printing Radically Improves Power Inverter Design

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created a power inverter that could make electric vehicles lighter, more powerful and more efficient, by utilising additive manufacturing.

“Wide bandgap technology enables devices to perform more efficiently at a greater range of temperatures than conventional semiconductor materials,” said ORNL’s Madhu Chinthavali, who led the Power Electronics and Electric Machinery Group on this project. “This is especially useful in a power inverter, which is the heart of an electric vehicle.”

3D printing helped researchers to explore complex geometries, increase power densities, and reduce weight and waste while they built ORNL’s 30-kilowatt prototype inverter.  “With additive manufacturing, complexity is basically free, so any shape or grouping of shapes can be imagined and modeled for performance,” Chinthavali said. “We’re very excited about where we see this research headed.”

Using 3D printing, researchers optimised the inverter’s heat sink, making for better heat transfer throughout the inverter and allowing them to place lower-temperature components close to the high-temperature devices, further reducing the electrical losses and reducing the volume and mass of the package.