In recent years, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has revolutionized the field of advanced engineering. This technology allows for the creation of complex geometry that were previously impossible to manufacture using traditional methods. A remarkable example of this innovation is the redesign of a heat exchanger used for cooling gearbox oil in helicopters. This 3D printed part, developed by Advanced Engineering Solutions, leverages gyroid structures to enhance cooling efficiency significantly. The result is a heat exchanger that provides four times the cooling capacity of its predecessor while being half the size. 

What is a Heat Exchanger? 

A heat exchanger is a device designed to transfer heat between two or more fluids without mixing them. It plays a crucial role in various applications, from industrial processes to household appliances and automotive systems.  

Traditional heat exchangers often use a shell-and-tube design, where tubes carrying one fluid are enclosed within a shell containing another fluid. The heat transfer occurs as the fluids flow past each other, separated by the tube walls. This design, while effective, has limitations in terms of efficiency and size. 

shell-and-tube heat exchangersPlate heat exchangers use a series of stacked plates instead of tubes. The plates in a plate heat exchanger are typically sealed together using brazing or gaskets, depending on the application and fluids being used. The amount of heat that can be dissipated by a plate heat exchanger and can be improved by increasing the number of plates in the stack or the length and width of the plates. 

plate heat exchangers

(Source: Alfa Laval) 

Besides, there are also air-cooled heat exchangers commonly used in vehicles where there is no liquid coolant supply, they use air directed through a heat sink core by electrically, hydraulically, or mechanically driven fans 


The Innovation: 3D Printed Heat Exchanger 

The innovation in this project lies in the application of 3D printing technology to redesign the heat exchanger. Traditional designs, such as the shell-and-tube configuration, are constrained by manufacturing limitations. However, 3D printing allows for the creation of highly complex internal geometries that enhance performance. The new heat exchanger for the helicopter gearbox oil cooler is a prime example. It replaces the conventional tube arrays with intricate gyroid structures, leading to a more compact and efficient design. 

Case Study: Helicopter Gearbox Oil Cooler 

Background on the Helicopter Heat Exchanger Application 

At The Cool Part Showcase competition, Advanced Engineering Solutions impressed with its excellent helicopter heat exchanger, manufactured using 3D printing technology. This innovative product not only outperformed in terms of heat dissipation but also showcased the power of 3D printing in creating groundbreaking solutions for the aerospace industry

The redesigned heat exchanger is intended to replace a conventional unit in a military helicopter. The existing heat exchanger, which has been in service for decades, uses the helicopter's fuel as the cooling fluid to cool the gearbox oil. The new 3D printed design offers significant improvements in performance and efficiency. 

Traditional vs 3D printed designs 

The conventional heat exchanger uses a shell-and-tube design, where bent tubes run parallel to each other, and the cooling fluid flows over them. In contrast, the 3D printed version incorporates gyroid structures internally, providing a much more effective heat transfer mechanism. The material used for the new heat exchanger is an aluminum alloy (AlSi10Mg), chosen for its excellent thermal conductivity and lightweight properties. 

This is a proposed replacement for the heat exchanger on military helicopters that has been in use for decades. This particular heat exchanger cools the gearbox oil and uses the helicopter's own fuel as the coolant. 

3d printed helicopter heat exchangers

3D printed heat exchangers have significantly improved weight and performance 

The outer surface of the component features cross-hatched ribs that serve as a support structure, allowing for a thinner wall thickness. With this external support, we can create a thinner surface while maintaining rigidity. And it allows for material savings and weight reduction. 

In this design, there are no weak axes, so it cannot bend. As a result, it has a very high compressive strength, achieving 10 times the performance required for the pressure. The heat exchanger design has half the volume of existing heat exchangers and 4 times the cooling efficiency. 

Manufacturing Process 

The heat exchanger was manufactured using laser powder bed fusion, a 3D printing technique that builds parts layer by layer from powdered metal. This process allows for complex internal geometry without additional support structures. The printed part required minimal post-processing, mainly threading the holes and performing some surface finishing. The final product is a single, solid piece that replaces a multi-part assembly, enhancing reliability and performance. 

Simulation and Digital Design 

Importance of Simulation in the Design Process 

Simulation played a crucial role in the development of the 3D printed heat exchanger. Digital tools allowed engineers to model and optimize the design before physical production, saving time and resources, fluid flow and heat transfer are simulated to achieve an optimized design. 

design and simulation heat exchangers

Therefore, simulation software is an essential part not only in finding the optimal design but also in verifying that the design will function as intended and print accurately before printing 

Tools Used 

  • PTC and Ansys: These software tools are used for computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations to analyze the flow and heat transfer within the heat exchanger. This helps to identify and eliminate recirculation zones, ensuring efficient fluid flow. 
  • Additive Works: This software was used to simulate the laser powder bed fusion process, ensuring that the part could be printed successfully without build failures. 

design and simulation heat exchangers


Heat exchanger simulation before printing helps minimize errors and save materials

Benefits of Digital Simulation 

Digital simulation provides several advantages: 

  • Design optimization: Engineers can iterate designs quickly and efficiently, testing various configurations to find the optimal solution. 
  • Error reduction: Simulating the manufacturing process helps identify potential issues before production, reducing the risk of build failures. 
  • Cost and time savings: By refining designs digitally, companies can minimize the number of physical prototypes needed, saving both time and money. 

The role of Gyroids in Heat exchanger design 

Explanation of Gyroid structures 

A gyroid is a type of triply periodic minimal surface (TPMS) that is infinitely connected and exhibits complex curvature. These structures naturally occur in some biological systems and have been studied for their unique properties. Gyroids provide a large surface area within a given volume, making them ideal for applications requiring efficient heat dissipation. 

Advantages of Gyroids in Heat exchangers 

Gyroids offer several advantages for heat exchangers: 

  • Increased surface area: The complex, undulating surfaces of gyroids maximize the contact area between the heat exchanger's material and the fluids, facilitating better heat transfer. 
  • Self-supporting structures: Gyroids are inherently stable and do not require additional support structures during the 3D printing process, simplifying manufacturing. 
  • Optimal fluid flow: The continuous curvature of gyroids helps in maintaining smooth fluid flow, reducing turbulence and improving efficiency. 

Advantages of Additive Manufacturing in Heat exchanger production 

Additive manufacturing, particularly 3D printing, offers numerous benefits for the production of heat exchangers: 

  • Complex geometry creation: Unlike traditional manufacturing methods, 3D printing can produce intricate designs with internal features that enhance performance. 
  • Weight reduction: The ability to design structures with optimized geometries leads to significant weight savings, crucial for aerospace applications. 
  • Material savings: Additive manufacturing uses only the material necessary to build the part, reducing waste. 
  • Enhanced performance and efficiency: The precise control over internal structures allows for improvements in thermal performance and overall efficiency. 
  • Reduced size: The compact design achievable through 3D printing reduces the size of the heat exchanger while enhancing its cooling capacity. 

Broader applications of 3D printed Gyroids 

Other uses in Aerospace and Automotive industries 

Gyroid structures are not limited to heat exchangers. Their unique properties make them suitable for various applications in aerospace and automotive industries, where weight reduction and thermal management are critical. 

Applications in reusable ceramic Heat shields for Spacecraft 

Gyroids' high surface area and excellent thermal properties make them ideal for reusable ceramic heat shields in spacecraft. These structures can dissipate heat effectively, protecting the spacecraft during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. 

Weight reduction in quantum physics research equipment 

In quantum physics research, maintaining equipment at extremely low temperatures is essential. Gyroid structures help achieve this by providing effective thermal management while also reducing the mass of the equipment, crucial for experiments requiring precise conditions. 

Adjustments in performance through stretching and warping of Gyroids 

Gyroids can be stretched and warped to fit specific design spaces or adjust their performance characteristics. This flexibility makes them suitable for various applications, such as cold plates for electric vehicle (EV) race cars, where they can be tailored to optimize cooling performance. 

Radio Frequency (RF) energy devices 

Gyroid lattices can be used in RF energy devices to adjust the focus and direction of the energy. By printing these structures in gradients, engineers can fine-tune the performance of the devices, enhancing their efficiency and effectiveness. 



The redesign of the heat exchanger for a helicopter gearbox oil cooler using 3D printed gyroid structures exemplifies the transformative potential of additive manufacturing. This innovative approach not only enhances the cooling efficiency but also reduces the size and weight of the heat exchanger. The successful implementation of digital simulation and manufacturing tools highlights the importance of these technologies in modern engineering. As 3D printing continues to evolve, its applications will undoubtedly expand, driving further advancements in various industries and paving the way for more efficient, lightweight, and high-performance components. 

Vinnotek: Your Trusted Partner for 3D Printing Design and Simulation Solutions 

To fully leverage the potential of 3D printing, professional design and simulation services are essential. At Vinnotek, we pride ourselves on being a reliable partner, providing 3D printing design and simulation services for critical components across various industries. 

We not only deliver the benefits of advanced 3D printing technology but also serve as the official representative of Nikon SLM Solutions, one of the world's leading metal 3D printer manufacturers, and Titomic, a pioneer in large-scale additive manufacturing applications such as tools, parts, and machinery components, replacing traditional manufacturing methods. 

Combining creativity and professionalism, we are committed to partnering with your business to optimize design, reduce production costs, and enhance work efficiency. 

Contact Vinnotek today to experience innovation and advancement in your industry. 



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