Credit: Rolls-Royce
Credit: Rolls-Royce

Many still believe that 3D printing is limited to plastic toys and trinkets, while others don’t even know that it exists if you watch the “What is 3D Printing” video we showed you yesterday. Those of us that know 3D printing is going to be big, very big have already seen developments such as the worlds first metal 3D printed gun and NASA’s 3D printed rocket injector, but a recent development at Rolls Royce could completely change the aviation industry.

Dr. Henner Wapenhans, Rolls Royce’s head of technology strategy, stated that 3D printing would enable Rolls-Royce to create better lightweight structures and slash lead times, the Financial Times reported. According to Wapenhans, the jet engine manufacturer is only “a few years away” from incorporating 3D printed parts into their services and products.

“3D printing opens up new possibilities, new design space,” Dr Wapenhans said. “Through the 3D printing process, you’re not constrained by having to get a tool in to create a shape. You can create any shape you like.”

“There are studies that show one can create better lightweight structures, because you just take the analogy of what nature does and how bones are built up – they’re not solid material.” he said.

Manufacturing aircraft components is usually a long arduous process but 3D printing could change that entirely.

“One of the great advantages in the aerospace world is that some of these parts that we make have very long lead times, because of the tooling process that’s got to [happen], and then it takes potentially 18 months to get the first part after placing an order – versus printing it, which could be done quite rapidly.

Rolls Royce’s interest in 3D printing comes after one of their arch rivals, General Electric, said they plan to build more than 85,000 fuel nozzles for its newest jet engine, using 3D printing to create the units in one piece. These printed components would be lighter and stronger than traditionally manufacturer parts.

3D Printing still has a long way to go before it can be widely used in everyday manufacturing, but developments like Rolls Royce’s shows us that the technology is gaining traction everyday.

Watch the video below to see how Rolls Royce currently makes jet engines.