Rolls-Royce eyes 3D printing of engine parts

Rolls-Royce is looking to use 3D printers to make lighter components for its aircraft engines, its head of technology strategy says.

Rolls-Royce is looking to use 3D printers to make lighter components for its aircraft engines, its head of technology strategy says.

Henner Wapenhans said the new technology could allow the manufacturer to produce parts more quickly, slashing lead times, the Financial Times reported.

"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. And so things that are simple things like brackets can be made a lot lighter."

Dr Wapenhans appeared to rule out using 3D printers, which build up layers of molten plastic to create highly intricate and accurate designs, to manufacture large components for jet engines. But he said the parts that could be made would be done much more quickly.

"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 ... then it takes potentially 18 months to get the first part after placing an order - versus printing it, which could be done quite rapidly," he said.

"Even if it takes a week to print, that's still a lot faster."

Rolls chief executive John Rishton has vowed to crack down on costs to keep up with rivals such as US giant General Electric.

The company saw underlying profits in the first half of 2013 rise 34 per cent to £840 million ($1.4 billion) with an order book 15 per cent bigger than in the same period last year. But it lost cash during the period, largely due to financing costs such as derivative trading related to foreign currency movements.

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